Selling Sunset season 5: What UK estate agents make of the Netflix show

Lockdown may be a faraway and hazy memory to some, with the vast bulk of 2020 seeing us sprawled out on a sofa staring at Netflix, but a few of our habits from this strange and exhausting time managed to stick.

While banana bread and Tiger King were very much lockdown indulgences, Selling Sunset has become entrenched as a post-Covid obsession. 

So successful that it regularly shoots to the top of Netflix’s most watched charts, it’s unsurprising Selling Sunset has now returned for season five.  

Once again, we shall be obsessively following the Oppenheim Group’s glossy and finely kempt realtors as they peddle property porn to smooth-faced billionaires who are willing to part with eight million dollars for a home that needs six and a half bathrooms for some reason. 

Watching the uniquely-named Chrishell et al navigate the thorny world of real estate, its huge commissions and the toxic office politics (instigated mostly by Christine, who is part pantomime villain, part anti-Christ in a bandage dress), Selling Sunset and its world of glamour, excess and sickeningly large sums feels a million miles away from the UK real estate scene.  

Back in Blighty, most estate agents don’t live a rockstar life (there’s no botox and burger parties here, thank you very much) so what exactly do the best of our agents make of the series? What do they get right, and what is so very wrong? 

Far from the dizzying heights of the Hollywood hills lies the market town of Crediton, Devon, where George Clover also makes his living as an estate agent. Having worked in the industry for 16 years, George, 45, is now partner of Helmores – an estate agency which sells around 300 properties a year to the good people of Devon. 

‘We’re not as glamorous as the Oppenheim Group,’ he laughs. ‘As you can expect, being an estate agent is quite different from Selling Sunset

‘When you first start, it’s very office based. You’re working long hours, often six days a week, keeping in touch with clients over the phone. 

‘It’s not for everyone, but it can be very rewarding when you stick at it. Being able to go out and help people find their dream home is such a wonderful thing.’ 

A well-established agency, having begun operations way back in 1699, Helmores’ main clients are locals who have lived in the community for quite some time. However, the agency does attract high-power buyers, offering a few plush houses tickling the £2 million mark. 

‘There’s a real mix,’ George explains. ‘Around 20% of our clients are people looking to move down here from outside the area, looking to step away from fast-paced city life. 

‘But our bread and butter are Crediton locals. It’s a small town, everyone knows everyone, and that recognition does help. It sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet, but my family has lived here for a while now, so they’re quite well known, and I used to play for the local rugby team. 

‘Being a familiar face does help establish a relationship with clients – but it’s more important to be a good people person. Contacts warm to you when you’re genuine and helpful; it makes the process easier and you get better results.’ 

George reveals that despite being the partner of the firm, he’s not against having to get his hands dirty in a bid to stand out from bigger, more corporate estate agents, and often goes above and beyond to make sure he shifts houses.  

‘That means helping out wherever I can to get the sales,’ he explains. ‘For one client, I had basically had to become a removal man for her after she was let down. For others, I’ve put boards outside the office to entice buyers. I’ve even flirted with standing outside holding a sandwich board, but it’s not come to that, thankfully.’ 

However, George is keen to make it clear that he’s worked hard to get where he is.  ‘For the most part, estate agents aren’t regulated,’ he says. ‘In theory, people could set up estate agency tomorrow with no previous experience. 

‘I insisted I took exams in the field so I knew what I was talking about and could offer a proper service.’ 

Having plenty of clients is vital to estate agents, with contacts scrimping and saving to buy their first home holding just as much power as the billionaires on Selling Sunset to some. 

It was Carina Henriques’ strong black book of contacts she’d amassed after working for 12 years as an estate agent, that gave her the confidence to join up with Jak Bjornstrom and Chris J Birch when they launched Cardiff-based estate agents Haus in 2019.  

Her role in the business means she is solely in charge with evaluating and pitching all sales and rental opps, with Carina keen to establish herself amongst a saturated market. 

‘As part of a new company starting out, all I have is my reputation,’ she explains. ‘Because it’s just me and my two directors, I have the chance and the opportunity to build a relationship with people.’ 

With the company still so young, on some occasions, Carina, 33, is prioritising relationship building over acquiring sales. 

‘I went to value a woman’s house, and as I was speaking to her, I learned she didn’t want to sell at all,’ she explains. ‘Her mortgage advisor said she couldn’t expand her house. I put her in touch with a couple of other mortgage advisors for a second opinion, and it turned out she could borrow the money and extend her property. 

‘Even though I did myself out of a sale, I know this person will now recommend me to every person she knows. I’ve built a life-long client with her.’ 

To distinguish Haus from other brands, Carina looks to offer something totally different for prospective buyers. As a working mother, Carina doesn’t have the flexibility to do viewings that other agents may have, so she makes like Selling Sunset and arranges open houses – though they’re not quite as dramatic or as sexy as the Oppenheim Group. 

‘I think the most lavish thing I’ve had at an open house is a balloon arch,’ she laughs. 

‘But we do make an effort: we put out some chocolates, some flowers, jazz the place up. We want people to have a real sense of excitement as selling a house is a big deal, you want to make a big fuss. We care about our clients and we want viewers to care about their properties, too.’ 

If savvily cultivated, client/agent relationships can reap dividends years down the line for the best estate agents, according to luxury realtor Daniel Daggers. 

Boasting a career in real estate for over 20 years, one of his USPs is his endless availability, being willing and able to drop everything and bend to people’s whims, no matter the demands. 

‘When clients are wealthy, there’s certainly more people who want their business,’ Daniel explains. ‘I have to add value with what I do. 

‘For international clients, I’ve agreed to viewings at 1am for them to look around. One time, when I was in New York on holiday, a client asked to see a home in London. I cut short my holiday and they were going to pick me up on their private jet so we can go to the viewing. 

‘They actually cancelled that viewing four hours before we had to leave. But I do make myself extra available, let’s put it that way.’ 

Now one of the world’s leading estate agents specialising in super prime property (exclusive houses worth upwards of £10 million), Daniel, 42, also credits some of his most valuable clients he gained at very outset of his career as the reason for his success. 

‘I call it trust equity,’ he explains. ‘It’s when you can show your client you are dedicated, and you are motivated, and you are knowledgeable and you have access. 

‘One of my first clients sold a property through me for £100,000. Around 16 years later, he bought a property from me for £14 million. He then appointed me to design the internal layout, because he knows I have the expertise, and then it went back to the market for £70 million. 

‘That contact came from years of trust equity: you have to build great relationships with people, and have more than just a business relationship.’   

Because of his success at matching the super-rich with elite property, many of Daniel’s clients come to him directly, with up to 60% of all his listings ‘off-market’: only available for a select few to view. 

‘Selling houses is far more than just a business transaction,’ he adds. ‘It’s a personality business, it’s much more about understanding people and empathising with their wants and needs.’ 

However, more recent years have seen real estate develop beyond buttering up buyers: there’s been a seismic shift in the business, with appearances being more crucial than ever before. 

It’s something we see in Selling Sunset: not only are the houses impeccably presented, the realtors are also all equally Instagram-worthy; tall, lithe and long-limbed, many of the women previously worked as models, and make themselves look just as appealing to buyers as the property they proffer. It’s little wonder that the very first episode of Selling Sunset is called ‘If Looks Could Sell’. 

Daniel attributes the need for everything (and everyone) to be preened and polished to social media, with apps such as Instagram and Facebook causing what he calls ‘a revolution’ in real estate. 

‘Often, people’s first viewings of houses are digitally,’ he explains. ‘We have to curate amazing content for digital channels so we have to make sure everything looks as good as possible.’ 

And while he’s no longer plunging his fingers down plugholes or fixing dodgy extractor vans, Daniel still likes to get his hands dirty when preparing a house. 

‘I’m happy to step in,’ he says. ‘I’m meticulous when it comes to sorting the house. I’ll make the bed, tidy post away, plump pillows. The size of the homes have changed, but these little things estate agents do stay the same.’ 

For Carina, social media is a vital component in getting her houses seen – even more crucial than property listing sites. 

‘Facebook is actually the biggest seller of my properties,’ she explains. ‘It allows me to reach more people. I think a lot of people find Zoopla and RightMove exhausting, you have to almost treat it like a part-time job. 

‘There’s so many properties and estate agents on there, you just find yourself scrolling and being a bit overwhelmed.’ 

It’s true that the market is currently saturated; figures by Statista estimate there are over 54,000 people working as estate agents in the UK, an 11,000 increase on the 43,000 people in the role in 2010. 

The need to stand out and offer tailored services to buyers means the once-cliched depiction of the slimy estate agent, with a flash car and an ill-fitted suit, is mostly in the past, with people fighting to change that perception. 

However, a female-led estate agency like the Oppenheim Group is still a rarity in the UK. 

‘There’s not enough women in the industry at senior levels,’ Daniel says. ‘It’s a shame to see how slow the UK industry changes. You go to the South of France, there’s loads of women selling luxury real estate. You go to the London property market, there’s very few.’ 

This may just be simply down to UK estate agents not making nearly as much in commission compared to their international counterparts: while we see the realtors of Selling Sunset living like rockstars, when you’re only earning 1% on commissions, things in the UK are significantly less flashy. 

‘I have been tempted by Dubai,’ Carina says. ‘But it’s not viable at the moment with my kids. Maybe in the future, but not now.’ 

Regardless of the millions out there that can be made through real estate, and the more glamorous aspects that high-end houses can offer, it’s easy to forget that being an estate agent can be extremely stressful. 

‘It takes immense sacrifice,’ Daniel admits. ‘The most influential agents I know have sadly led very short lives. 

‘Moving house is everyone’s most stressful time in their life, and if you’re helping people do it 10 times, or 30 times a year, you carry a lot of that stress. It’s a lot of emotional labour – the job should come with a warning.’ 

But all three estate agents agree there is nothing better than matching the right person with the right house. 

‘Being an estate agent is effectively like working in a dating agency,’ George says. ‘You are there to match people with properties. Not everyone is going to get on, but when you find that right pairing, it can be the most rewarding job in the world.’ 

Selling Sunset is available to stream on Netflix

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