Culture Scan

At the intersection of real estate, media, and pop culture.

Are REALTORS® Sold on "Selling Sunset?"

Going behind the scenes of the luxury real estate business, the reality show has been a hit during the pandemic among largely homebound viewers. We delved in to try to learn why.

“Selling Sunset,” the real estate reality show steeped in southern California’s uber-luxury market, has taken popular culture by storm. What’s behind the show’s success during these restricted pandemic times? We reached out to a few REALTORS® in hopes of discovering what makes “Selling Sunset” different than its real estate reality predecessors.

The first season of the Netflix Original series premiered in March 2019, somehow completely escaping my notice. The second season of the Los Angeles-based reality show premiered in a completely new world in May 2020, one in which almost every aspect of life had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the show reflects business and life in a pre-pandemic world, it catapulted to the forefront of pandemic popular culture, seemingly overnight.

It began with text messages from friends saying, “Have you watched Selling Sunset?!” Soon there were memes and tweets about the identical twin REALTORS® who ran the company, the features of a $40 million property, and whether Christine, a particularly brash agent on the team, was a villain or a hero flooding my social media feeds. The consensus was overwhelming: With only eight 30-minute episodes per season, this show was impossible not to binge. But why?

Selling Sunset
Photo Credit: Netflix

“Selling Sunset” is about the Oppenheim Group, a boutique real estate brokerage headquartered on West Hollywood’s famous Sunset Strip. The show follows the professional and personal lives of twin brothers Jason and Brett Oppenheim (Brett has since left the brokerage) and seven of their agents: Amanza, Chrishell, Christine, Davina (who has also left the brokerage), Heather, Mary and Maya. Executive Producer Adam DiVello, of “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills” fame, has brought his signature bright, sweeping shots of Hollywood and upbeat, interstitial music to this year’s breakout show.

Viewers follow the group as they deal with professional issues like favoritism, celebrity clients, project management, serious asking price disputes ($70 million, anyone?), and even a major sale by Mary, while she is quite literally getting ready to walk down the aisle at her own wedding. However, like any successful reality show, the real entertainment comes in the form of the cast’s interpersonal relationships. Mary and Jason used to date, Amanza goes through a serious custody battle, and Chrishell (spoiler alert!) finds out her television-star husband wants a divorce via text message—just 45 minutes before the tabloids find out.

And those are just the major events. In between sales, the women have time for plenty of smaller clashes, like whether Mary secretly had two bachelorette parties or if Christine was too mean-spirited when she named a drink at her party after her colleague and castmate, Chrishell, calling it the “Two-Faced Tonic.” (Ouch.) From a “Goth Barbie” wedding to Taye Diggs’ house hunt, “Selling Sunset” has something for everyone.

To me, the lure of the show was in how far away it felt from my reality. The glittering rooftop pools, the “Burgers and Botox”-themed open house, and the (often gauche) designer clothes all created a much-needed sense of escapism. This sentiment was echoed by many of my friends, some of whom were completely new to the real estate reality show genre. Even though the show centers around unfathomably large financial transactions and very real people, the cast seems so larger than life that the whole thing feels, to many viewers, like low-stakes drama compared to our current reality.

I, however, am not a REALTOR®, so of course the show feels like escapism to me. I asked a few of our members to help me get to the bottom of the “Selling Sunset” phenomenon.

Like me, Kirsten Keller, ABR, an agent at @properties in Downers Grove, Ill., started watching the show when the second season premiered in May and knew immediately that the show was not necessarily meant to “showcase REALTORS®,” but to provide entertainment. This is Keller’s attitude toward other real estate-focused reality shows as well. She always keeps in mind that every market is different, and these agents are working in a way that works for their market, even if it would not work for hers. She found Chrishell’s season one storyline, as a new agent learning the ropes while trying to fit in with a tightknit group of big personalities, very relatable.

Beth Lowe, CIPS, an agent at Coach REALTORS® in West Sayville, N.Y., has watched the show from the beginning, and sees it as a workplace drama, or something more akin to Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise, than a show about real estate. Lowe watches for the drama and the beautiful houses, the same reasons she watches “Million Dollar Listing.” Though she cannot personally relate to the stories portrayed on the show, she appreciates that all of the agents are women, and more accurately reflects the gender makeup of many brokerages compared to other, more male-dominated real estate shows.

Other REALTORS®, like Krista Matthews, an agent with Lamacchia Realty in Woburn, Mass., took a bit longer to get into the show. She watched a few episodes when it originally premiered, but it didn’t stick for her until the second season. Matthews thinks shows like “Selling Sunset” and “Million Dollar Beach House” are popular because of the starring role of the beautiful houses, but the agent drama in “Selling Sunset” certainly helps.

The REALTORS® I talked to all felt the show neither portrays anything resembling their own day-to-day or office life, nor reflects how they interact with fellow real estate professionals and clients. They also noted the majority of agents do not work in the luxury market, so everything from the whopping commissions to the designer clothes simply does not ring true to their experience.

Like any pop culture phenomenon, the show is certainly not for everyone. However, if you, like me, are eagerly awaiting a fourth season, it’s looking promising that the cast will return. But stay turned for word from Netflix. Anything that helps to make pandemic life pass more quickly will surely have a captive audience! Plus, I can’t wait to see Christina, Mary, and company in their designer masks.

For a more realistic take on the business and the value REALTORS® bring to transactions, check out NAR’s own newly launched web series First-Time Buyer.

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The Culture Scan blog explores the intersection of real estate, media, and popular culture. If you have an example of how culture plays a role in your real estate business, feel free to send story ideas to REALTOR® Magazine’s Ally Stegman. You can learn more about Culture Scan's focus here.

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