Every week I receive unsolicited inquiries from folks—young and old, who think they’re goin’ to be the Jay-Z of this ever changin’ real estate beat. Kings and Queens they wannabe. Seems that those reality shows, like Million $ Listing and so on, make this biz look like Easy $treet and an Oh-So-SEXY gig. Ooh La La! Ummm, not really.
So here, I go, again. The reality in Selling New York.
Yes, being a NYC agent can be glamorous—multi-million dollar homes, glitzy clients, chauffeured cars, dinners at Per Se and so on. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to keep that professional persona going at full force—24/7. It’s damn expensive. We’re agents after all, not bankers. We work for commission with no extra bonuses. In real life, even the best of us, including some of that primetime publicized gang, aren’t grossing seven-figures a year. The average NYC agent nets something in the low six-figures—and that’s if they’re having a great year. Keep in mind: We do have families; pay high rents and taxes, monthly et ceteras, and most of the time our job is far from glamorous.
Sometimes we work months without receiving a dime. Sometimes, we work with buyers for two straight years and then they change their minds. “We just don’t think Manhattan’s for us, now.” Talk about a killjoy. And this is after we’ve spent hundreds and sometimes thousands—to wine and dine, hire drivers to chauffer, showing off New York to them like some high-class-tour-guide for gratis. But we still love our buyers. We truly do.
Then sometimes, sellers hire us to sell their precious homes, and don’t listen to us when we say: “You need to lose the Moosehead in entry-way,” or “Your apartment needs a big price reduction—if you want to sell.” And no matter how well we’re connected with New York or Europe’s Über Elite, or the multiple languages we speak, or even the small fortune we spend to creatively advertise that over-priced- taxidermy-palace-in-the sky, we just can’t sell it. This doesn’t mean we’re not trying. God knows, how hard working, creative and generous we are! In the end, with no commission—yet earned, our clients tell us, “You’re awesome. We’ll give you referrals.” They don’t, and yet we still love them, too. So we put on a happy face, responding to their vocal accolades, “No problem. It was a pleasure to work for you.” Inside, we’re cringing, stressing over paying our own mortgages, as we add-up all of the cash we’ve spent to make nada. C’est la vie.
On Selling New York and Million Dollar Listing, viewers think we have the easiest job in the world as real estate agents and we’re milking Gotham’s fat cow for all she’s got. Frankly, sometimes we do—and that’s rare; most of the time, we don’t. You know that little box the producers have on the upper left corner of your TV screen—with those flashy numbers? Yes, the one with the asking price and the potential commission—that’s the one! Here’s the unknown disclaimer: The commission isn’t all ours. The commission belongs to the firms—the brokerages—and they give the agent a percentage of it, which we refer to as our split. That $5 million, co-brokered, Park Avenue pad isn’t deeming a $250,000.00 pay-check to us in the end. It usually gets split four ways, Dear TV Viewer, deeming the agent, something like $62,500.00. Then the brokerage charges the agent(s) an additional fee, known as the “Cost of Doing Business,” which varies in price, and some firms deduct a “Marketing Fee.” And then, we do have to pay taxes on that remaining—leftover, gross commission of ours. The house holds the purse strings, which is fine with us, most of the time. Listen, we’re not complaining. Really.
We knew when we got into this business that our brokerages weren’t going to pay for things like our SmartPhones or reimburse us for all of those cabs, hired drivers, or those international calls we would have make to our clients. We knew our brokerages weren’t going to give us a 401K option, pensions or offer health insurance. We would have to pay for those things ourselves if we wanted them, because we’re 100% independent contractors—and that isn’t sexy. This city kicks our asses time and time again, like a brutal sadomasochist. Yet, we keep coming back for more, chasing that dragon of po$sibility. Commission. And let’s be honest, we’re not selling $5 million dollar apartments every week. That happens maybe once or a few times a year—if we’re super duper lucky.
Heck, I know lifers in this business and they’ve never sold a $5 million dollar property. But they’re successful, selling a lot apartments in the under-a-million-price-point, almost like waiters at TGIF on 42nd Street, who turn tables after tables of tourists during a Sunday brunch. That’s not sexy, either. Yet, those “lifers” are making some serious MULA and more than some of the agents we see on TV.
It’s not all a bed of roses in NYC Real Estate. That’s reality.