Meet McKenzie Ryan, one of New York city’s rising real estate stars who’s sold over $45 million worth of inventory in one of the most competitive markets in the world. Born and raised in New York, she’s a treasure trove of information both about real estate and all things Big Apple (follow her here). A former competitive athlete she also brings incomparable enthusiasm and determination to her work.
Have you ever thought about buying a home or just wanted to know more about real estate in general? We asked Ryan for insights, plus found out about her next career move.
You’re about to switch real estate brokerages, tell me about your move to Douglas Elliman.
McKenzie Ryan: One of my greatest principles in life is to elevate and ascend. Douglas Elliman is an incredible firm whose very roots are stitched into the fabric of New York City real estate, history, and culture. With an incredible brand, resources, and wealth of knowledge, I knew that the firm would provide an excellent platform for me to continue to grow and elevate my business.
As I continue to ascend professionally, my goal is to always provide my clients with the absolute best resources, an incredible real estate experience and to help my clients achieve greater fulfillment and financial freedom through buying and selling real estate—Douglas Elliman has already been instrumental in not only supporting my business but also in the executing of my vision.
What are you looking to accomplish when you’re there?
In one word: everything! I have spent the last few years truly honing my craft, strengthening my skillset, and creating processes for every facet of my business. I feel very confident that with their luxury platform and my work ethic, I will continue to increase my price-point, expand my clientele and sell homes that are rich in architecture and New York history.
You were a competitive gymnast, how did this shape you as the person you are today?
I trained as a rhythmic gymnast and classical ballerina simultaneously for more than a decade—a very rigorous and exciting time in my life. Candidly, the only major difference between now and then is that I don’t wear a leotard to work. I never stopped being an athlete, a competitor, or a performer. I bring the same level of enthusiasm and determination to everything that I do. I am extremely grateful for the path athletics put me in, the mindset it helped cultivate and the immense structure it provided to me.
NYC has had two absolutely crazy years when it comes to real estate. How were things from your perspective and is it still a good time to buy?
The last two years in the market are similar to my first two years in real estate during the financial crisis in that we are working through a rapidly shifting market and landscape, and that there is a lot of noise.
The key is to remain focused on the facts, and more importantly, on your client’s goals. I find that the concept of “a good time to buy” is a misconception because most purchasers are not seasoned/professional investors. Our society has this concept that every real estate transaction has to be a financial slam dunk in order to classify it as a “good-purchase,” I always want my clients to be focused on making a solid financial investment, but there are other factors that constitute a good time to buy: will you be building equity, will a new home improve your life, does buying a home support your long-term success. Entrenched in all of this is the old saying, “it’s when you sell that counts.” New York real estate always always always goes up. Like any market, it has ebbs and flows – but with low interest rates and still moderate pricing, it actually really is a great time to buy. What’s driving prices up is the sheer number of buyers currently in the marketplace.
What perspective do you bring to real estate as a born and raised New Yorker and as a Black woman?
I come very an incredibly diverse family from ethnicity to religion to culture. I am so lucky to have been raised by a Scottish, Cherokee and African American father from Detroit and a Jewish-American mother from New York. With two awesome older siblings that have dirty-blonde hair and light eyes, my childhood and upbringing is unlike anyone that I have ever met. As a kid in the 90s, I was exposed to every walk of life on a daily basis—traveling to train at Dance Theater of Harlem or the Armory in Washington Heights to Park Avenue on the Upper East Side to visit classmates or Brooklyn to look at distressed properties with my dad. Everywhere I went was different, and that was exciting to me. I was just a little sponge soaking up the sounds and sights of my childhood. So, what I truly bring to real estate is an open heart and open mind. My success comes my kindness and my openness—my ability to be pragmatic, and my desire to keep learning from all of the different people I meet and all of the different places I go. Being open has been the most fulfilling and rewarding aspect of my life.
What should first-time home buyers know before they buy?
This is not a plug… but they should truly work with an agent who has a purchase process. Meaning, a well-advised and proven step by step list with resources on how to buy a home. I know it sounds old school, but that’s because I am! I’m a big believer in lists and love to work methodically, like a good surgeon. The way I see it, before you have an operation done, the doctor walks you through almost every step of the preparation, procedure and then recovery process—my real estate business operates the same. The key details that I focus on with my buyers are their timeline horizon for home ownership, financial obligation both monthly and yearly, and that their money is likely better spent on a mortgage than it is on rent.
Real estate can be a great wealth-building tool but for many reasons is less accessible to people of color. What are some ways for people to learn more about real estate and homeownership to see if it’s right for you?
This is such an important topic and one that is very personal to my start in real estate. When I switched from public to private school, I was exposed to a level of wealth and opportunity that I did not know existed. I was fortunate to come from a family that invested in real estate and flipped properties, and used that exposure as an opportunity to help my family ascend as well. It was a cold Saturday afternoon in 2006 when I first asked my mom to go to some open houses with me on the Upper West Side… I promised I would treat her to brunch afterwards! After seeing a world of opportunities and the upgrade in lifestyle that was available to our family, my parents let me spearhead the entire real estate transaction start to finish. I was 15, and very cognizant of the upward mobility in my family — it’s like we all had access to a little more opportunity. And pushed ourselves more. Then 2008 rolled around, and New York’s market crashed. So, I started another search for a great investment and found a gem. In a few short years, we sold in 2012, and that one sale had a tremendous impact on my family— a moment I’m still deeply grateful for. I share this story not to focus on achievement, but to highlight the critical importance of exposure.
I think honestly the best way to learn about real estate and ownership, is to spend time looking at homes and learning the language of the industry, having informative conversations with real estate agents, mortgage brokers, real estate attorneys, and accountants. Now, I know that sounds obtuse and likely daunting, but to go through it, is kind of the best way to learn. I also recommend corralling a group of friends who are also interested in real estate and gathering/sharing your resources. Some people have book clubs, and some have real estate clubs. If you must resort to social media, try to find industry leaders who are not also trying to sell you products.
What do you think about shows like ‘Selling Sunset’ and ‘Million Dollar Listing’?
This may sound odd, but I’ve never watched either of them!
You’re incredibly stylish, what are some of your favorite outfits to wear when showing apartments?
I always aim to emulate the style of the property that I am showing, and the neighborhood that it’s located in. Pro tip: if the apartment doesn’t get a ton of natural light, or it’s a gloomy day out, wear something bright, exciting, and fun. It will not only uplift the spirit of the person you are showing to, but you will also make each room that you’re in feel brighter as well. Recently, I’ve been rocking a lot of turtlenecks!
What are your favorite places to hang out in NYC when you’re not working?
Oh, I really like to try and get lost in New York. I’m an explorer for sure – I love to find old vintage places, recently opened restaurants, random experiences, hidden little corridors, secret bars, and exhibits. We live in a city where each block is full of enriching experiences and people— but if I had to choose one place, it’s the Upper West Side.