Joey Ben-Zvi knows how to attract attention. The media-savvy agent with The Agency in Beverly Hills, Calif., is fast making a name for himself with multimillion-dollar deals and the cinema-quality videos he produces for his high-end listings. At 26, he’s one of the youngest agents at the prestigious billion-dollar brokerage, which has represented Michael Jackson, Prince and the Walt Disney estate, and he’s already co-founded his own team—the BZP Group—within the company.
He’s also making a splash in the entertainment world as a cast member on “Buying Beverly Hills,” which chronicles the day-to-day business of The Agency—and hit the Netflix top-ten list for TV in the U.S. and in many countries worldwide with its debut. Though he’s surrounded by TV and entertainment veterans like The Agency CEO Mauricio Umansky and his two daughters, all longtime stars of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” and agent Sonika Vaid, a finalist on “American Idol,” Ben-Zvi has emerged as a fan favorite thanks to his bold business style and rivalry with fellow agent Ben Belack.
Ben-Zvi spoke to Culture Scan recently about his skyrocketing career, his innovative marketing, and his belief that the key to success—even in the ultracompetitive luxury market—is focusing on the most important person in any real estate transaction: the client.
Q: What sparked your interest in real estate? And what was the path that led you to The Agency?
A: In high school and in college, I was interning for a successful commercial real estate company that specialized in high-end retail. During that time, I noted my affinity for residential. I’ve known Mauricio and Alexia [Umansky’s daughter, also an agent at The Agency] for a long time. But when I first approached The Agency, I didn’t say anything to either of them. I wanted to go in fresh with someone who didn’t know me. I actually went to Mauricio’s partner and begged him to give me 15 minutes of his time. That 15 minutes turned into two hours. After that, I was on my way. Now, we offer a fresh perspective with the BZP Group. But we still work together. BZP is currently working with Mauricio on a $20 million deal.
You’ve been very successful at a young age. Do you have any advice for other agents just starting out or for more established agents who would like to take their career to the next level?
This advice has always worked for me: Just go. You’re never going to find out unless you take the shot. I have always had an element of fearlessness—not worrying about walking into a room where I’m the youngest person there. Mauricio has always been the same way—he’s been in many situations where he was the underdog in the room. And one of my heroes is Kobe Bryant, who was once just a 17-year-old in the NBA before he became a star. You have to ask yourself: Are you willing to take the steps to go to the next level? It’s all about taking the shot.
You’ve produced some beautiful videos to showcase your listings, like this one that highlights a property dubbed “The Roxbury.” Could you take us into your creative process?
It’s all about painstaking details. It’s me showing up to the property with a leaf blower. It’s leaving just the right amount of leaves if they create the right mood—or if they’re the right color orange. It’s down to a $3 million vintage Ferrari sourced from one of our clients. It’s using videographer Tony Pillow, who has worked with Jaden Smith and Justin Bieber, and who was also a client on BZP’s first-ever deal. It’s staging lights on the property and on the landscape. It’s days of filming—a full day to plan. And you have to make the video particular to the market. A really high-caliber video is all about long-term ROI. If we do right by our clients, it will come back to us. You can’t just work on the short-term. It’s taken us three years to build our video expertise, and now it’s part of our brand.
What has the experience of filming a hit series been like for you as a young agent? And how do you balance your work on the show with all the work that goes into your real estate career?
I don’t know if balance is for me. But I do have a lot of support. I’m lucky to have the right infrastructure, the right people around me. Every day I get to work with real estate and TV veterans who have produced hundreds of millions in sales.
But it’s busy. I remember one month in particular when I was filming 40 hours a week and doing $25 million in sales. Fortunately, I have a great team around me, and Mauricio is integral, providing a lot of insight. And a lot of the time on the show, you’ll see me working on real estate, working my craft. So I get to do both [TV and real estate] at the same time.
TV shows naturally need to create dramatic tension. How much of your competition with fellow agent Ben Belack on “Buying Beverly Hills” is genuine, and how much is for the cameras?
I have a secret love affair with Ben Belack. But seriously, though some of the competition is played up a bit, it’s really there. At the same time, we also work together and make each other better. I just had a three-hour conversation with Ben about building out my team. But you can see in our sales this year that I’m starting to rise up in the ranks—and that is something Ben notices, too. [A competitive environment] makes for accelerated growth. We all have love for each other. We help each other grow. But this is a real competition, and it gets fierce.
One valuable takeaway from the show is the importance of relationships and how making genuine connections with people can lead to success. Can you offer some insight into how you forge lasting relationships with clients?
Developing long-term relationships has definitely been the biggest winning principle in my career. It’s how BZP lives every day, and what we believe. For BZP, longevity of relationships is more important than the quick sale. It doesn’t matter what commission is on the line. We always think in terms of taking care of the client. We’ve lost out on some deals because we were acting in the clients’ best interests. And when people see that we’re willing to lose out because we put clients first, they want to work with us. So we’ve lost some but also gained. We now have clients who will only work with us—because they know we’ll look out for them. If you put the client first—genuinely and deep in your heart—you will get long-term wins.