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Realtors and Reality TV/Users/adamp/Desktop/reality

Sales associates who grace the reality television airwaves gain exposure, boost their image and field odd requests from well-meaning fans. Here are their stories.

Two years ago Home & Garden Television (HGTV) was scouting for Miami real estate experts to showcase homes to the rest of the world. Hemley Gonzalez, broker of Affordable Real Estate in Miami Beach, jumped at the chance, and in doing so, brought exposure to his firm and his Web site, AffordableRealty.com, that few other marketing strategies could provide to the single-office, 11–sales associate firm.

“They contacted one of my agents, but she was shy and didn’t want to be on camera,” says Gonzalez, who’s now done 17 HGTV shows over the last 18 months. “I sent in an audition tape and was chosen for my first show. It just snowballed from there.”

Over the last year and a half, Gonzalez has appeared on “National Open House” and “My House Is Worth What?” “National Open House” travels the country, picking two or three cities and showcasing homes in several price ranges for a quick overview of what buyers can get for their money in the respective areas. “Every time they come to Miami, they contact me,” says Gonzalez, who goes on the air to talk about specific properties. “It’s a fast-paced, entertaining format.”

With a longer format, “My House Is Worth What?” is a more “relaxed” look at properties in different U.S. cities. For each show, three homeowners are selected, and a real estate expert (in this case, Gonzalez) is called to go over the pros and cons of the property and to come up with a suggested market value. “Sometimes it’s right at what the homeowner expected,” says Gonzalez, who sees himself, not as a spokesperson for HGTV, but as a voice for real estate professionals nationwide. 

In return for the time spent filming, Gonzalez says, he’s elevated his firm’s visibility in a competitive real estate market, where buyers have become more difficult to come by and many sellers are holding onto dreams of double-digit property appreciation. “It’s all about bringing leads in the door for my agents,” says Gonzalez, who continues to film shows and expects to be on TV three or four times a month for the rest of 2007. “We get calls, visits and Web inquiries every time an episode airs,” he says.

The experience hasn’t come without challenges. Putting a company name and brand out in front of the masses means being able to substantiate all information and claims, and to be “on queue” at all times, says Gonzalez, who often spends an entire day filming a 10-minute segment. “We can’t [just] throw numbers out there, because we’re on camera,” he explains. “We have to do the research, give the statistics and back everything up.”

Admittedly nervous for his first few on-air appearances, Gonzalez says he’s also had to get used to working with producers, and knowing what they want. “You have to know everything you’re going to say and be able to deliver without freezing when the camera turns on,” says Gonzalez, who has since overcome the stage fright. “I just tell myself that this is good for my company, smile and get on with it.”
 
Not Always Reality
Some sales associates choose to stick to traditional marketing methods, using advertising, the Web, word of mouth and networking to find clients and customers. Others stick their necks out a little further, bringing their game to the television airwaves, where reality shows continue to dominate.

Michael Lissack falls squarely into the second category. A sales associate with Downing-Frye in Naples, he answered a call for reality real estate sales associates for HGTV’s “House Hunters” show. “I called, and they were interested,” says Lissack, who quickly learned that reality television isn’t always as “real” as it looks on the screen.

“They asked me if I had an existing client who had already bought a house, was living in his or her old house and not moving for a month or two (so the producers could have access to both homes),” recalls Lissack. “Yet on the show, the client is supposedly picking one of three houses. The reality is they’ve already bought a home, so there isn’t a chance in the world that they’d pick one of the other two.”
The most difficult chore for the television crew, says Lissack, is getting the customer to give negative feedback about the home they just bought. “They’re already attached to it, and haven’t even moved in yet,” says Lissack, who’s done one such “House Hunters” show for HGTV and arranged to do two others.

For his efforts, Lissack says, he’s gained exposure for his company and “a lot of fascinated prospective clients” who want to hear about his experiences on television. Unfortunately, he says, the buck stops there. “Here’s the downside,” says Lissack, “I got no leads from it.” 

The Trump Card
For Kendra Todd, winning “The Apprentice” was less of a boost for her existing career and more of an opportunity to start a new business as broker-owner of The Kendra Todd Group in Delray Beach. With 40 sales associates and three offices, the company is the brainchild of Donald Trump’s season three winner, who after walking away with the honors, went to work for the real estate mogul for a year.

A real estate sales associate before going on “The Apprentice,” Todd says she tried out for the show at a friend’s urging and because “I’ve always had great respect for Donald Trump and his ability to push the envelope and do incredible things.” Seeing real estate as a great way to achieve financial freedom, Todd focused her new company on both residential and investment real estate.

And when she finds a free moment, Todd appears on Fox News, providing market commentary and expert opinion, and on HGTV’s “My House Is Worth What?” among other shows, all of which have helped shape her career as the head of a new real estate agency. From Trump, Todd says, she learned “the value of branding a real estate practice in order to achieve maximum exposure and create a valuable identity in a competitive industry.”

Survivor of the Fittest
Another reality sales associate who started a new venture after appearing on television is Jan Gentry, a former teacher who placed third on “Survivor Thailand.” One of 83,000 people who sent in audition tapes hoping to appear on the show, Gentry was invited to interview with the show’s producers in Miami. After doing her time on the island and coming in third, Gentry returned to her hometown of Tampa and decided to get her Florida real estate license.

“I wanted to find something to do after teaching—something I could enjoy,” says Gentry, a sales associate with FIRST in Real Estate in Lutz who was originally licensed in Texas several years ago. She says that she’s often recognized from her stint on the reality show and that her broker even had name badges made up for her that say, “Jan Gentry, Survivor Thailand.”

“I’m showing homes and walking around and suddenly a customer will glance at my name tag and say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re that one!’” says Gentry, who adds that her real estate career has been boosted by her television appearance. “Everything about being associated with ‘Survivor’ has been positive for me,” she says. “It’s always a great thing when someone realizes who I am without having me tell them. It provides an instant comfort zone, and a trust factor, since they saw me on TV for 40 days.”

Patiently Waiting
Sue Paskert hasn’t quite had her 15 minutes of fame on the reality airwaves yet, but that hasn’t stopped this sales associate with Keller Williams Gulf Coast Realty in Tampa from talking up the part of the experience that she’s already completed. When a friend e-mailed her a note about HGTV’s “House Hunter” show’s upcoming visit to Tampa, Paskert gave the producers a short synopsis of her experience and was selected to host the show.

“I had to have a buyer, and I was working with one that had just gone under contract,” recalls Paskert, who did a videotaped audition with her buyer and submitted it to HGTV. Filming took place in segments, with Paskert selecting and scheduling the three homes to be used on the show, getting releases from the owners and handling the logistics for the HGTV crew.

“Getting everything coordinated took time; then we shot for three days straight from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” says Paskert, who isn’t jumping to do any more reality shows, but admits that the exposure she’s already gained from the experience has helped her business. She’s incorporated information about the shoot into her listing presentation and created a newsletter that includes shots from the show. “My local Board of Realtors® featured me in a newspaper article,” Paskert adds, “I’ve been asked to do some Keller Williams training and generated some word-of-mouth business because of it.”

As of press time, Paskert’s show had yet to be scheduled for television showing. “As stated in the contract with the network, it takes a long time to put these shows together and reserve the network time for them,” says Paskert, who’s realistic about the chances of the show’s ever seeing airtime. “If they’re going to scrap it, I wish they would just tell me.”
 
Making the Pitch
As the sales associates interviewed for this article already know, being on reality television is a time-consuming process that often results in few direct leads. Still, the opportunity to grab those few minutes of fame is so compelling—and there are enough sales associates who do get business from them—that it’s often hard to ignore the opportunity.

But as simple as it may look to the viewer, reality TV is not for the faint of heart. “People don’t realize how much work goes into a single 30-minute show,” says Paskert. “It gave me a greater appreciation for the people who do this for a living.”

Lissack is so eager to jump back into the reality TV pool that instead of waiting around for an invitation, he’s pitching his own show to producers. Tentatively called “Real Estate Voyeurs,” the show would focus on Americans who spend one day a month (usually a Saturday or Sunday) looking at open houses that they have no intention of buying.

“They like to look at them and talk about them, but they don’t buy,” says Lissack. “I thought it would make great reality TV if we were to attend the planning sessions, follow these people around as they make their rounds and then go to a coffee klatch afterwards.”

With his fingers crossed about the fate of his new-show pitch, Lissack says any sales associate who has the chance to be on a reality TV show should go for it—but don’t expect it to bring you a slew of new business. “It’s fun, and your existing client base will enjoy seeing you on television,” says Lissack. “But when the TV show calls and says you’ll get a lot of business out of it, know that it’s a bunch of hokum.”


Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.