New York – Talking with Luis D. Ortiz is like drinking good Champagne: effervescent, fun, and aspirational.
The sole Latino real estate broker on Bravo’s top-rated “Million Dollar Listing New York,” which follows agents as they sell properties, stands out for other reasons. At only 27 – he’s the youngest of a cast of three – Ortiz has worked his elegant way up through five real estate firms, landing last year at the prestigious Douglas Elliman, arguably the nation’s strongest and most prominent. In the process, he’s become a top producer, selling hundreds of millions of dollars of crazy-gorgeous, crazy-costly New York City residences primarily to rich Russians, Chinese, and Americans – and enriched himself by millions in commissions, too.
But he says it’s not about the money. Never was.
“My philosophy is to never aim for money,” Ortiz said. “Money distracts and makes goals shift. When you don’t aim for money, you don’t fall apart over deals that fall through. If you’re passionate, positive, and do your job great, the money will come.”
Ortiz was not born wealthy. A solidly middle class native of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, his father, Daniel Ortiz, is a notary, and mother Mariam Berrios Sanchez is an attorney. Luis has a twin brother, Daniel, now a New York City businessman. Ortiz graduated from high school early, at 16, and quietly made his move toward his Puerto Rican-American Dream. He wrote his parents a letter saying adios, and left home.
“They almost had a heart attack,” Ortiz said, laughing. “They wanted to kill me, I’m sure. But if I’d asked to leave, they would’ve said no. I needed to do it. If the states didn’t work out and I had to go back home, I was prepared to take the beating I’d receive.”
The risk was worth it. A recent MDLNY episode features Ortiz back in Puerto Rico, celebrating a reunion with his huge family. He was not wearing a designer suit and tie (his Manhattan uniform), and Ortiz finally relaxed, the tropical wind in his hair and the sun on his skin.
A fiercely proud and patriotic Puerto Rican, Ortiz nevertheless felt the island limited his options.
“I get anxious when I’m in an environment that’s not bringing anything new,” he explained. “Life is very short. I need to be stimulated. I love Puerto Rico, it’s my heart and my family. But I had aspirations and wanted to find out.”
Touching down first in Miami, the city didn’t click for him. So Ortiz set out for Manhattan, supporting himself with odd jobs. He studied directing at the New York Film Academy. There he met fellow student Marco Antonio Martinez, who was making a nutty sci-fi movie about aliens with four heads. Ortiz saw Martinez’s crew go above and beyond to help him. Ortiz wondered what people were so drawn to.
“This guy loved something so much, he just wanted to do it,” Ortiz says. “And everybody was infected by that. When I saw that, I thought, ‘What do I have that I can love as much as this guy?’ It wasn’t film. I wanted to start to get to know myself. I tried everything until I found out what I was and what ‘it’ was.”
To wit, “bringing out the best in people to orchestrate something great and make anything happen.”
Ortiz fell into real estate – and a star was born.
“Luis is more than just great in real estate,” says Dorothy Herman, President and CEO of Douglas Elliman. “He really cares about the people he works with.”
Though initially ambivalent about hiring Ortiz because he was so young, Herman saw something there and took a chance.
“I saw a committed, grounded, smart person not afraid of asking for a shot, who’s also delightful, cute, and happy. We’ve developed a special bond and I will mentor him whether he’s working for me or not.”
As for Bravo’s Million Dollar reality show – the franchise includes Los Angeles and the upcoming Miami – Herman said she took a chance on the people, not on the show. By the people, she means Ortiz and his Douglas Elliman colleague and fellow Million Dollar Listing New York cast mate Fredrik Eklund. Along with Nest Seekers’ Ryan Serhant, cameras record the trio of brokers navigating the rough and tumble world that is Manhattan real estate, closing enormous deals and losing others, competing and quarreling, making up, and loving every minute of it. (Season Three wraps up Wednesday night. The show’s just been renewed for a fourth season.)
Neither Eklund nor Serhant would comment for this story; Ortiz says they’re great people whom he respects. He likens their relationship to boxing.
Working with each is “like being a boxer in a ring with a very good fighter who pushes and tests you. You give it everything you’ve got. Win or lose, you say, ‘Thank you for a good fight. You make me better.’ Our differences stimulate our views of life and business.”
But the reality business can get in the way of what’s real. Ortiz, who lives in a Battery Park City rental – he likes moving every year – has no girlfriend, pet, or close personal friends. He sleeps less than five hours a night, and fears waking up at 40, alone.
But it would be in a dreamy apartment.
Here’s his ideal grown-up home, which he someday hopes to share with a wife, some kids, and a dog:
“A 3,500-square-foot duplex corner loft, completely open, with 13- to 14-feet ceilings and four exposures. New, but with pre-war style. Three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms. Wood-burning fireplaces. A dining room big enough for a round 16-chair table. A very wide outdoor space, with room enough for a 12-chair table. And tiny lights strung throughout manicured trees and shrubs. A sky garage that goes straight to the apartment for my XJL black Jaguar. A doorman. A pool and gym in the building.”
Does such a fabulous fantasy even exist?
“When it’s time for me,” he says, “I’ll make sure to find it.”
Gigi Anders is the author of "Jubana!" (HarperCollins, 2005) and "Little Pink Raincoat" (HarperCollins, 2007). She's working on her third book.