The stars of ‘Million-Dollar Listing’ share their secrets to success (and tell you to love your haters)

One of Bravo’s most successful and talked-about shows in recent years is Million Dollar Listing, which has two different versions bicoastally in New York and Los Angeles.  The Los Angeles version has been on for nine seasons now, and developed some fresh and interesting new blood in season seven when they added real estate wizards James Harris & David Parnes to the show with originals Josh Altman, Josh Flagg and Madison Hildebrand to the mix.  

James & David who are directors at The Agency Real Estate in Beverly Hills, have sold over $400 million dollars in real estate alone in 2017, nearly doubling what they sold in 2014 as a result.  That’s proof that if you have an idea, you should stick with it, since the results can be absolutely incredible.

So what’s the secret to their success?  The answers might surprise you.  I spoke with both James and David recently about how they got into this field, how being on the show is ultimately a marketing tool, their no nonsense approach to business and how finding a balance in work vs. home  is very beneficial with the success of your life overall.  

What inspired both of you to get into the field of real estate?

James: From an extremely young age, I was always very much infatuated with real estate.  My mother was an interior designer so growing up we would end up buying a house and then she would remodel it and then she would sell it and then we would have to move.  I always grew up seeing these homes getting redone and as a young kid, and with seeing all of this it sort of becomes spellbinding and what ultimately spurred me to get into the business.

David: Well, I’ve always done real estate.  My family, more specifically my parents, were always building houses when I was young and loved it.  For some bizarre reason, I always took an abnormal interest in these houses.  I remember I was 8 years old, I was so excited to go on a construction site and look at everything and the details, it was something I really enjoyed.  That was really my interest, growing up with it really gave me a head start and better eye for residential real estate.   

What’s the formula to your success that has gotten you to where you are now?

James:  In our business, information is key so having all the information at your fingertips and that you work harder than everybody else out there.  Always keep your eye on the prize.  

David: I think it is a lot of circumstance, we have ridden a very strong market.  When we compare ourselves to our competition, we are doing really well.  I’ve always had the motto of “never give up” and I know it’s cliché but the harder the grind, the better the reward. Ultimately there is always down periods or deals are falling through, but if you just stick it out and never give up that way it comes back and its better than ever.  Everyone works even harder when things are going wrong, because there is more pressure, so my argument would be that if things aren’t good, work double as hard because there you will build up your pipeline.  I find that cycle with work ethic in general: when it gets hard, work harder.

Has the experience with Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles been a positive one, and what has been your favorite moment so far?

James: Of course!  The show has been great.  It’s a lot of hard work, but it really gives us the opportunity to show the world the way you work and how you work.  I think my favorite moment on the show was filming a scene with Larry Flynt, the CEO of Hustler, and wheeling himself into the conference room in a 24 carat wheelchair.  Being able to sell that iconic building on camera for $18.5 million dollars was probably my favorite moment.  It was a pretty surreal moment sitting in his boardroom and having his big security guard walk in and comb his hair in that wheelchair while we are negotiating that deal.  We presented our pitch, and he just said yes. It was crazy.  The other was my five-year wedding anniversary with my wife.  Two very different kinds of scenes, but both enjoyable to shoot.

David: Yeah, it’s been very good because it’s been a marketing tool at the end of the day.  You can’t buy that kind of exposure. We had a great business before, because we are real estate agents essentially what we do is marketing.  I think that the show has given us a lot of exposure and we are very grateful for that. As far as the best moments have gone, we have thrown some crazy open houses on the show but my favorite was the Burning Man party that we held at a house in Hollywood.  It was a really difficult sell at the time, and we wound up getting over asking price for it as a result of the party.  Burning Man sounds random, but the owner loves it so it was a great party and a memorable one and we all dressed in crazy outfits and sold the house.  

On the show, you have a “no nonsense” approach to how you handle business.  Do you find that always plays out to your advantage?

James: Sure, I think again it goes back to being in a very highly competitive industry.  There is a lot of nonsense in this town, and I feel like if you are honest and transparent and work hard and there is that “no nonsense” approach, you are almost separating yourself from the herd.  It has been hugely beneficial for both David and I to get there today with this approach.

I know you both have had a ton of success, but with success there are bumps in the road.  Can you each tell us about the biggest obstacle you had to overcome and how did you do that?

James: You know something, the biggest professional obstacle is balance.  Being able to learn balance from a work life and a family life.  I’m married with two children and in our industry, it is 24/7, so the biggest obstacle for me is learning how to get home and not look at my phone 3,000 times an hour or check emails at 2 in the morning and just be present and be in the moment.  As important as business is, your family is even more important and without them you don’t have business, so for me the only professional obstacle is to adapt to a healthy balance between the two.

David: I think the main thing was when we were starting out was “chicken vs. the egg”, how do you get a listing without a track record and how do you get a track record without a listing?  That was the main hurdle when we were starting out, and the beginning was most difficult. We weren’t even from Los Angeles.  How do we get established?  The way we overcame it was to basically advertise, there were a lot of new developments going on.  That was how we were able to overcome our professional setbacks and establish ourselves in the high end market.  

How have you dealt with the naysayers in your life, both ones who have meant well and ones who are “haters”?

James: I love a hater!  I hate to say that but I do, because the truth is, you need haters to only further achieve success.  They don’t bother me in the slightest, I feel like if you have a hater you are doing something right.  From a very young age, I worked since the age of 16, I always believed in competition but healthy competition and for me that is the most important thing about business.  Essentially looking who is at the very top and trying to beat them in a healthy way.  Of course, there is going to be people who are going to get in the way or pull you back, but as long as you are taking two steps back but know you are moving forward, then you are going in the right direction.   

David: Haters are ok!  Ultimately that’s going to happen anywhere in any industry.  I get it, you take it for what it is and keep your head down, keep focused, stay humble and keep on working.  Hopefully they will change their opinion on you and change how they are on their end of it as well.  

Finally, what is the best advice you would give to someone who wants longevity and success in their career, similar to what you guys have had?

James: The best advice I can give, and I always say it but I really mean it and stick by it which is be creative and think outside the box.  For me, it was always pinpointing the most successful people in our industry and then looking at what they do, how they do it and then doing it better.  It’s hard work with a strong work ethic and always making sure you work harder than everybody else.  That’s my best advice.

David: I think you have to be patient, Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say.  Stay steady, have a game plan and be willing to make changes through the experiences that you pick up