TV: The reality show “Rich Listers”, on the luxury real estate market, is fake

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Stars of Rich Listers, left to right, former Miss New Zealand Holly Cassidy, former Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett and Annabel Marshall. Photo / Provided

Fast cars, mega-mansions and corny one-liners.

New reality TV show Rich Listers claims to give a behind-the-scenes look into the glamorous world of luxury property sales in New Zealand – but if you look a little closer the show is more ‘fictional’ TV than reality.

It follows Kiwi property professionals – including former Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett and former Miss New Zealand Holly Cassidy – as they try to buy and sell homes worth up to ‘at $42 million, but the transactions aren’t real.

Some agents featured on the show have little or no experience selling high-end luxury homes, while some homes are overpriced by millions of dollars, including a $9 million home that was worth $20 million.

Agents also receive luxury sports cars and a license to bolster their lines.

Alex Breingan, managing director of the show’s producer Stripe Studios, said Rich Listers reflects the “reality TV genre”, but uses fictional storylines.

It aims to entertain audiences with compelling storytelling, charismatic estate agents and a range of luxury homes, he said.

“At the end of each episode, viewers are reminded that ‘Prices and negotiations depicted in this program were created for storyline purposes and are entirely fictitious,'” he said.

Viewers have to wait until the final seconds of each episode – after all the credits have rolled – to see this message appear.

Ray White Howick's agent Dave McCartney shows off his comedic talent in Rich Listers.  Photo / Provided
Ray White Howick’s agent Dave McCartney shows off his comedic talent in Rich Listers. Photo / Provided

Rebecca Trelease – a lecturer at Auckland University of Technology in communication studies and former Bachelorette NZ reality contestant – was surprised to learn that the plots were entirely fictional.

She said that while most viewers expected heightened drama from reality shows, they also generally expected a certain level of authenticity.

An Auckland property insider also said the show upset many other agents by glorifying the industry and making it look “stupid”.

Cassidy, Ray White’s salesman, said Rich Listers’ agents were selected because they had experience in front of a camera, like doing Miss Universe in her case.

However, they were not actors, and the show’s scenes were unscripted.

Instead, officers are presented with scenarios, she said.

“They say, ‘That’s what we want it to be, but you can be yourself and say it however you want to say it,'” Cassidy said.

“But of course as soon as you put a camera in front of people, they change.”

Examples of fictional storylines include in episode two where Ray White Howick’s agent Dave McCartney meets the owner of a Waiheke Island mansion with spectacular views over the city of Auckland.

Viewers are told that the house owner has written music scores for big budget Hollywood movies.

McCartney tells the camera that he wants to get the contract to sell the house because it’s a big “Hollywood” ad.

He and Annabel Marshall, agent for Bayleys Ponsonby, then fly to the house by helicopter to discuss a possible sale.

Marshall tells McCartney she has an interested buyer and what the price is.

“Wow, no foreplay, I like that,” McCartney jokes.

He tells her that the seller wants $20 million for the house. But Marshall isn’t impressed and advises his buyer that it’s not worth more than $18.5 million.

The episode ends without specifying whether or not a deal is made.

The Waiheke Island home on Church Bay Rd which recently sold for $9 million but is quoted on the show as being worth $20 million.  Photo / Provided
The Waiheke Island home on Church Bay Rd which recently sold for $9 million but is quoted on the show as being worth $20 million. Photo / Provided

Agents Dave McCartney and Annabel Marshall fly to Waiheke Island to discuss the sale of a mansion with beautiful views of Auckland city.  Photo / Provided
Agents Dave McCartney and Annabel Marshall fly to Waiheke Island to discuss the sale of a mansion with beautiful views of Auckland city. Photo / Provided

In real life, however, the Church Bay Rd home sold for $9.2 million in June, nearly $11 million less than the price listed on the show.

Bayleys Waiheke and Great Barrier agent Mana Tahapehi – who does not appear on Rich Listers and is not associated with the show – was the listing agent who successfully sold it.

McCartney and Marshall had no role in the sale.

A second example involves the sale of a penthouse apartment in the new 57-storey Pacifica building in central Auckland – the tallest residential building in the city.

The first episode shows the agents competing to sell the $42 million apartment with its sweeping views.

“It’s supposed to be the biggest and most expensive apartment in New Zealand, so I want my name on it,” said Diego Traglia, agent for Harcourts Northwest Realty.

However, in real life, Barfoot & Thompson agent Annie Xu is the agent named after her.

After the show was filmed, the “super penthouse” was divided into smaller penthouse apartments. Xu – who is not associated with Rich Listers – sold one of them for $8 million.

Two more are still on sale for around $10.2 million and $4.2 million.

In a third example, agent Ray White and former Miss New Zealand Cassidy is seen visiting a Remuera house on Arney Crescent which is quoted as being worth around $15 million.

Cassidy tells Ray White, listing agent Ross Hawkins, that she knows a wealthy buyer interested in the house.

Cassidy’s actual job profile lists her as a personal assistant to another agent as well as a licensed agent.

The house is not yet sold.

Cassidy told the Herald she was a “hybrid” agent, selling houses and working in administrative positions.

She said she’s sold luxury homes in the past by partnering with fellow agent Cheryl Whiting and has also won awards as a high-level administrator, including for managing teams of 50 people.

However, a real estate insider said the show bothered him because it created a stereotypical view of the industry.

Artist's impression of a penthouse apartment in the 57-storey Pacifica building in central Auckland.  Photo / Provided
Artist’s impression of a penthouse apartment in the 57-storey Pacifica building in central Auckland. Photo / Provided

Agent Diego Traglia of Harcourts Northwest Realty stars as a featured agent in Rich Listers.  Photo / Provided
Agent Diego Traglia of Harcourts Northwest Realty stars as a featured agent in Rich Listers. Photo / Provided

This included agents “snagging” clients behind the backs of their rivals and glorifying the job when in reality only a handful of agents worked in the high-end luxury market.

He said Ray White’s McCartney and Harcourt’s Traglia – who portray rivals on the show – are both well regarded in the industry in real life and very successful.

However, they were successful in selling a high volume of homes worth $1 million to $2 million and generally had nothing to do with high-end properties, he said.

He said that while the agents themselves were fired in real life, almost everything else in the series appeared to be fictional, including many of the cars they “drove” in.

“One of my friend’s father’s cars was used [in the show],” he said.

“These are lists that aren’t theirs, these are cars that aren’t theirs, these are words they wouldn’t use.”

AUT’s Trelease, who has written academic papers on reality shows, said the show had strengths, such as McCartney’s talent for comedic timing.

A Remuera house featured on Rich Listers.  Photo / Provided
A Remuera house featured on Rich Listers. Photo / Provided

However, by being fictional, it lacked vulnerability and human touch, like the “confessional” – a typical reality TV scene where participants confess their struggles on camera.

And – as someone who tried but couldn’t buy their first home in Auckland for three years – Trelease also felt the show lacked nuance or social commentary to give it more charm.

“If the real purpose of tracking these people isn’t to share some of their real lives or to inform New Zealand about the process of buying and selling high-end properties, then what is the point” , she said.

For Cassidy, however, the show’s agents view it as entertainment and won’t lose too much sleep if people take it too seriously.

“I think it’s done more as a comedy and a bit more as entertainment than to represent the New Zealand property industry,” she said.

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