Any time Eddie Shapiro, president and CEO of international real estate firm Nest Seekers International, has the opportunity to put his company’s listings and brand in front of millions of viewers across the world, he says he wants to take it.
After having employees on such shows as Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York,” the firm is now taking center stage in Netflix’s “Million Dollar Beach House.” The new streaming series is six episodes featuring five of Nest Seekers’ young, “next generation” of brokers trying to get new listings and close sales in the Hamptons between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2019.
“It gives you incredible exposure; it’s a subject of conversation; it’s brand, brand, brand all around,” Shapiro tells Variety. “It becomes easy to penetrate foreign markets because you come in with the credibility and [recognition] of, ‘It’s those guys from that show.'”
The Hamptons — the almost-120 mile long east end of Long Island — has become predominantly known for its vacation culture and celebrity inhabitants and, as such, its real estate market is both opulent and busiest during the summer months, when people flee the oppressive humidity of Manhattan for ocean breezes and acres of land on which to golf, play tennis and/or throw lavish parties.
All of this is captured in the first season of “Million Dollar Beach House,” as cameras follow the brokers as they work with buyers and sellers in homes that range from approximately $6 million all the way to Marine Blvd., a custom-built home that one big-dreamer (Noel Roberts) wants to put on the market at $35 million.
“It’s the American Dream [to have] that white picket fence — this is just on a much larger scale,” says showrunner Paul Yuan.
“We wanted to go for the ‘wow’ factor. We wanted to show spectacular homes. Sure, there are plenty of homes in the Hamptons that are much more modest, and the brokers had other listings — many listings that were much more attainable — but we wanted to show great properties and that’s why we set that bar where we did,” adds Nick Rigg, executive producer and head of unscripted content, Diga Studios. “It’s escapism: ‘This is what I could get, if only — if only I won the lottery or made it big. The Hamptons is a brand. It’s its own character in that sense.”
Historically, the Hamptons has also been an enclave for wealthy (white) New Yorkers, but as the years have gone on, buyers have flocked in from the West Coast, as well as internationally, notes Rigg. As the clientele has changed, so too have the agents.
“Million Dollar Beach House” focuses on just a slice of Nest Seekers International’s employee roster — and a smaller slice than they originally intended, notes Shapiro, who says “there were a number in the beginning who ran for the hills after the cameras were involved.” The producers of the show wanted to capture “diverse entry points” into the world of Hamptons’ real estate, says Rigg, which is why they were glad to have J.B. Andreassi, who grew up in the Hamptons and was “coming home,” as well as Roberts and Peggy Zabakolas, Esq., who entered the Hamptons market after years of success in the city. They could balance Michael Fulfree and James Giugliano, who were already hitting the ground running with some decent sized properties at the start of the season.
“Traditionally it has been an older group that has made up the brokers out there, but we were interested in the fresh faces in this highly-competitive market because of the challenges they were going to face as they’re building themselves into the market,” says Rigg. “Old Hamptons real estate was predominantly male. [Peggy’s] coming in from the outside as a strong woman and she’s trying to put her mark on it. The season ends with her driving off into the sunset vowing to take over, and should we get a Season 2, I think she’ll make good on that promise.”
“Million Dollar Beach House” manages to avoid the stereotypical melodrama of the men feeling threatened when a woman enters their world, in part because Peggy is far from the only woman at the company (although she is the only one with cameras currently following her). But that is not to say there is not a competitiveness in addition to the collaboration the team claims to celebrate.
“They’re all jockeying for position — so many agents fighting for same listing,” notes Yuan. “What’s interesting about Hamptons real estate in general is it’s much more relationship-based than I think other markets [can be]. The agents have to exude the lifestyle. It becomes a very highly-competitive market, but on the surface they make it seem like they don’t break a sweat.”
Andreassi makes it clear to the cameras that he is concerned when Giugliano starts bringing Roberts into deals, having believed he was Giugliano’s main guy, but doesn’t seem to want to make as many waves with his co-workers. Similarly, Zabakolas stays mum when she is close to landing a major client that Giugliano and Andreassi were both courting. However, right off the bat in the premiere episode, seemingly unprompted, Fulfree indicates he has an issue with Roberts and when Zabakolas has an issue with the way Roberts speaks to one of her clients — a potential buyer for Marine Blvd. — she calls him out directly.
“Peggy is very literal in the way she works, so it was a tug-of-war between them when Noel was being more evasive, and that played out,” Rigg says.
The producers believe Roberts “cultivates” a “man of mystery” persona in both his personal and his professional life and they wanted to capture that but not necessarily dig underneath it to see who he is when the mask slips — or in his case, the sunglasses come off.
“He’s happy to present this image that you’re not quite sure what it is. He actively works for that. And when you’re a newcomer into a group, many of whom have known each other for many years, they’re going to question, ‘Who is this guy? What’s he up to? Does he have an ulterior motive?’ He keeps his cards close to his chest,” says Rigg.
Still, the show managed to capture a bit of the man behind the mystery when his twin brother Joel Roberts visits and reveals “a little bit more about Noel than Noel was projecting,” including the real pronunciation of his name, Riggs points out. Moments like these “dropped in our lap,” he says, but were included to show off different sides of agents in such high-pressure scenarios. Similarly, Yuan points out that the timing of Fulfree’s son being born during filming was just serendipitous but important to show just why he was working so hard. Such personal stories, he adds, “tie in the world that could be, for a lot of people, unattainable.”
And it is not just potential buyers who may have a hard time attaining such high-end properties but the brokers themselves.
“They are commissioned workers and the competitive nature of the industry can be tough. I don’t mind being more real about it,” says Shapiro. “The format of our show is not about, ‘Here’s 12 houses [and] here’s the beginning, middle and end,’ meaning we listed it, marketed it and closed the deal in two phone calls — because that’s not a true depiction of how our business works. The truth is, certain properties can sit on the market for a year to two years — some even longer.”
In other words, if Marine Blvd. takes a few years to sell, that would neither be unexpected nor problematic.
“If Season 1 is about landing the listing, then subsequent seasons would be about closing some of those,” says Rigg.
“Million Dollar Beach House” is streaming now on Netflix.