Culture Scan

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

'Selling Sunset' Star Jason Oppenheim on Celebrity and Realism

One of the brokers from Netflix’s hit reality show discusses the difference between real estate on TV and in real life—and why agents should know the difference.

To say that Jason Oppenheim has an enviable real estate career is an understatement. In 2021, his West Hollywood–based brokerage The Oppenheim Group—which he founded with his twin brother, Brett—did $417 million in sales volume. The company currently have over $300 million in active listings. Past clients include basketball star Kris Humphries and actors Chloë Grace Moretz, Orlando Bloom, Taye Diggs, Jessica Alba and Dakota Johnson. The Oppenheim brothers and their agents also have star power as the subjects of Netflix’s top-rated reality show “Selling Sunset,” which chronicles the day-to-day workings of The Oppenheim Group in the ultracompetitive Southern California luxury market. But it’s not all champagne and celebrities. Behind the glamor is a lot of hard work, dedication and experience—and, above all, a deep love and appreciation for real estate.

You come from a real estate family, but you began your professional career as an attorney. What led you to founding The Oppenheim Group?

My dad was a real estate agent. It was always something I was around as a child; I saw a lot of open houses. But my dad sold these $150,000 homes in Fremont, Calif. It wasn’t the same kind of market. And even as a child, I always knew I wanted to be an attorney. After I left school, I traveled the world for three years, and real estate was what I was drawn to in my travels. I was very interested in architecture and finishings on buildings. Then I returned and had a successful career as an attorney for several years. Eventually, I realized I was more passionate about real estate. The first couple of years were really tough. And then one thing led to another, and things began to grow.

Your show “Selling Sunset” has been a massive hit for Netflix. How was the show developed?

Producers had been approaching me and my brother [Brett Oppenheim, who also appears on “Selling Sunset”] about doing a show for about a year. But we were adamant that we didn’t want to do a show. We’d built a lot, and we didn’t want to put it at risk. We said no to everyone, including our current producer. But eventually that producer convinced us to take a meeting. Then they convinced us to do a “sizzle reel”—a five-minute interview package. And then Netflix got us to do a 20-minute pilot. We wrapped our heads around the idea that we could do this. It crept up on us. Then we were filming season one, and we realized that we were, in fact, doing a show. It’s funny the way it went from us being adamantly against it to being completely for it.

Many new agents say “Selling Sunset” inspired them to enter the real estate industry. Can you tell us about the difference between your “real life” work and how deals might appear on the show?

People come up to me and say the same thing. I have some concerns about that, because it’s not often that you start at the top. There are a lot of mundane aspects of real estate that you don’t see on the show. What you get to see is the sexy side of real estate, and it’s very encouraging. It shows you the dream. I appreciate that we are inspiring people, but they need to have a dose of realism as well.

The Hollywood Reporter recently presented you with the Media Maverick award at its Power Broker Awards event. How do you think television and social media are changing the real estate industry?

Well, on a macro level, the real estate agent has become “celebritized” in the last decade, and that’s given the individual agent a lot of leverage. At the same time, it’s taken leverage away from the brokerages. We’ve gone from seeing 60-40 splits to 80-20—or even 90-10. That’s great for agents, but it could also be the death knell for real estate brokerages. We’re at a critical juncture now. We’re seeing a lot of bankruptcies, and brokerages are treading water in a great market. There’s good and bad in the brokerage system, but top agents know that they need support and infrastructure. If we don’t go back to 60-40, we won’t see agents’ needs being met; they won’t get the support and training they need to provide good service. Buyers and sellers will suffer. So, this future is something we need to figure out.

You are known as a world traveler. Have you seen anything in real estate overseas that you wish would happen in the U.S.?

You know what I like internationally, especially in Europe? I love the timelessness of the finishings and the architecture of the buildings. I wish that we could retain that. We don’t always need to build the most modern condo. I’d love to see something new that looks like a French château or a building from London from 300 years ago. I wouldn’t mind replacing some of the modernism that we see.

Could you offer any advice for agents who aspire to work in the luxury market?

It’s hard to start at the top. I didn’t. You shouldn’t have expectations that you’ll be doing the big deals right away. In this market, you’ll start out with $600,000 and $700,000 condos. And then one of those clients will remember you and buy a $2 million house with you. You’ll do a lot of hustling. Eventually, your business will be clients coming back to you to buy again. Be realistic, and have a five-year plan. It took me three-and-a-half years before I had any success, and I might have been out without that five-year timeline. Realistically, it’s a five-year trajectory.


Submit Your Ideas

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 the REALTOR® Magazine team.

Learn more about Culture Scan's focus here.

Comment Policy

The opinions expressed in reader comments sections on this website are those of the reader and not NAR or REALTOR® Magazine.