Interview | 19 min read
Published | Jun. 2, 2022
Selling Sunset became a runaway hit in 2020. During the early pandemic, homebound viewers were able to transport themselves to the Hollywood Hills for jaw-dropping mega mansions and revel in the drama of the designer-dressed realtors of L.A.’s Oppenheim Group.
The Netflix reality show makes real estate brokerage look glamorous, if not cutthroat. But among the show’s fiery personalities, Maya Vander stands above the rest—and it’s not just her heels. On a show where drama reigns supreme, Maya is a refreshing voice of reason who manages to stay out of some of the heated skirmishes that erupt on the floor of the Oppenheim office.
Her dry sense of humor and ability to leave the drama at the door isn’t the only reason she stands out. Maya is a realtor first and reality star second, and it shows. She’s been in the industry for over a decade and carries a professionalism and poise that shines through the theatrics of her colleagues. Unlike some of her Selling Sunset costars, she doesn’t need a hot pink Balenciaga outfit to command a room.
Now, Maya is taking the next step in her career, and has hinted that Season 5 may be her last. She’s always split her time between L.A. and Miami, and now, with two kids and the burgeoning Maya Vander Group in Miami, her priorities are shifting. In February 2022, Maya shared on Instagram that she suffered a stillbirth at 38 weeks of pregnancy and lost her son, Mason. This devastating loss is one of the reasons she’ll be spending more time with her family. “Now, I’m even more focused on what’s important, she told Today. “Family is what’s important.”
Maya took time out of her busy schedule to sit down with Willow and discuss the show, her real estate career, and what’s next.
On Selling Sunset—and, I imagine, in real life as well—you have a knack for diffusing situations in a humorous, light way. But you also don’t shy away from the issues at hand, which I find really impressive.
It’s hard, because [Selling Sunset] is about drama. I try to be as careful and authentic and honest as I can without hurting people. Because I could say things that hurt people, but … it’s really not who I am.
People say, “Oh, Maya’s a gossip, Maya’s an instigator,” but the problem is we’re doing a reality show, and if I’m not going to say anything, then I’m boring. Then if I do say something, I’m an instigator. So you really can’t win.
I wish it was just a real estate show. Real estate has so much drama. [Laughs.] I wish we had more of the negotiations, or clients losing it on you. I love the stuff in Season 1—that guy hitting on me and I’m like, “Whoa, whoa I’m married.” The scene with Chrishelle and Brett negotiating “Do we give them credit? Do we not?” The scene where Christine and Heather didn’t bring the keys and the client showed up. I personally love that real estate stuff. I wish there was a little more of that versus us going to a beautiful house and then talking about, I don’t know, Emma’s empanadas.
One hallmark of Selling Sunset is the fashion and the glamour of these stunning, professional women. Is that really what it’s like every day at the office? Is everyone dressed to the nines?
Let’s be honest, nobody dresses like that! Especially in L.A., when you’re running around with clients and showing houses. Granted, we are on reality TV; on our show, real estate is the backdrop and the drama and the characters are more out front. We sell something else, apparently, besides homes.
It’s tough for me because I have to find the fine line between standing out on the show and not losing respect or credibility because I’m wearing something too scandalous. Frankly, it can hurt my career—I can lose clients. So I have to be careful.
I don’t think there’s a woman in business who hasn’t had the challenge of toeing that line and finding your own identity as a woman in the industry. For me, it’s refreshing to see that you maintain that professionalism.
Yes. I’m super focused on real estate. I worked really hard, and real estate takes time. I have a team of three girls in Miami now and it’s very important for me to just stay focused and stay professional. Because I’m not trying to be a Hollywood star. Some of the girls want to be more of a fashion icon, and that’s OK—everybody can have different priorities. My priority is to build my team in Miami and get more clients in Miami who will take me seriously and think, “OK, I can trust this girl with my real estate properties.”
Is there anything you wish Selling Sunset viewers could see more of? Like your friendships with each other or the ways you actually champion each other professionally?
Yeah, that’s the thing, you know? We all support each other. I do wish producers would show more women empowerment instead of “this group against this group” or whatever. It’s OK to have a little bit of drama. But I feel like we are all successful, smart women. So why not show more of the positive side instead of us bullying or attacking? Because generally speaking, we support each other.
I was so sorry to hear about the loss of your child in February. I can’t imagine what the last six months have been like for your family. Naturally, your priorities have shifted and impacted what you’re doing next.
Yeah, you know, the show has always been focused on … I wouldn’t say the shallow things, but really … the shallow things. And it’s fun, and we’re all very lucky, and I’m very thankful for it. But when you have such a tragedy in your family, it really puts everything in perspective. So that’s why I’m like, “Do I really want to fly every week to film a show and be away from my kids?” It’s important to take a step back and think about what’s important in life and not be so caught up on the little things, or what this person said, and so on.
Is there anything you wish more people knew about how to better support mothers who have suffered a loss like this?
I shared the story of my stillbirth on social media, and I was amazed how many women have experienced the same thing. It’s so inspiring to help other women, to let them know they are not alone. And for women who are pregnant to pay attention to the movement of your baby. If something feels off, go to the doctor. Don’t be nonchalant about it.
One woman messaged me last week and said, “You saved my son’s life. I felt my baby moving less, and the doctor wanted to send me home. And I literally read your story and I insisted and she delivered the baby in bed.” She had two knots around the umbilical cord. Thankfully, the baby’s OK. And it’s because of my exposure from Selling Sunset. If I was just a regular mom, I don’t know how many people would have known those things.
Well, it’s a way of manifesting your love for your son, I think. You’ve touched and inspired so many more moms than you know.
Thank you. I really appreciate that. I didn’t expect to come in and hear that. But stillbirth is more common than you think. It’s 1 out of 160 births. I’m glad I can help, that I can take my trauma and use it in a positive way, if you want to call it that.
Speaking of empowering others, you recently launched your own real estate course.
So many people have messaged me saying, “I want to get my license. What do I do? Can you give me tips?” I wish I could send an email and tell people what they need to do. But it’s not just one word or two words, it’s going to take me forever. So I thought, “Let me just launch a real estate course.”
When I started, nobody told me what to do. I just got my license and that’s it. So I tried to give a bit more direction and inspire people. I shot the videos, I worked on the script, and I gave tips and advice on what to do from the beginning. I’m very proud of it. I think it’s affordable at $385.
I think that’s a reasonable ask to invest in your future as an agent.
I know for some people it is a lot of money, but you’ve got to invest in yourself. You do. That’s just part of being in real estate. You spend money, unfortunately, to make money. And if you don’t have the money, then you try to save and invest.
Exactly. My entire career has been focused on investing and empowering people to do the same. Investing in yourself is just another way of doing that. Even if you’re not buying a property or a stock right now, you have to see yourself as something worth investing in. If there was an ideal outcome for agents who take this course, what would it be?
First of all, consistency. You really have to be consistent and patient. It takes time, and success doesn’t come overnight. And you really have to work hard. I mean, I always network. Even with the show, I have clients who flake on me and I lose deals. I had someone just cancel on me yesterday! And it sucks, but you have to move on and focus on the next deal. You always have to prospect. Always. It never ends. Even with my exposure I have to keep networking.
I appreciate you saying that. It’s easy to look from the outside and only see just the upside of all the hard work you’ve done. People new to the industry don’t realize how many “no’s” you have to get first.
Oh my gosh, yes. On Selling Sunset, we make a phone call, the deal is done, and we ring the bell. I wish! [Laughs.] People think you get your license, wear a hot outfit, and that’s it. It takes way more than that.
Real estate is not an easy business. And you can get discouraged easily if you don’t close deals. You have to really want to do real estate. You have to have that passion. You have to have the real estate bug. And you really have to hold yourself accountable if you want to succeed.
That really resonates with us at Willow, because we’re also trying to empower more people to get access to real estate. What do you think is so powerful about investing in real estate?
There are so many opportunities to be successful and make money when you invest in real estate. When you have an asset, you can buy it, you can grow from it, you can sell it and buy something bigger. I work with investors, too, and see how they succeed. They buy something small and then grow to bigger and bigger properties. It’s a great way to create wealth. You just have to invest right.
Your focus on the show has been residential, but I know you also have that desire for development, which we got to see a little these last couple of seasons.
I just love seeing dirt and empty land and then seeing what’s been built over the course of time, as well as the love and the work that the people put into it. I’ve been working with some developers in L.A. You sell them something and then you get the listing on the back end after it’s done. It’s another great way to make money.
But it’s a lot of work, right? You have to find them the right property. It’s not simple and it takes forever—two years, sometimes three years. It depends on what they build. So you have to make sure you’re smart and you know what to sell them and what makes sense.
I think that’s where your experience shines through on the show. You don’t seem afraid to jump into the more challenging, complex areas of the real estate world. What advice would you have for someone looking at the two sectors of residential and commercial?
I think you always have to run the numbers, even with residential. With residential you’re probably going to overpay for your property because of the market—you’re in a seller’s market. But the question is how much you’re going to overpay. Are you going to lose big time if you sell it? Or are you going to be OK if you hold onto it for a few years? You have to look at the numbers, look at the history—what’s sold in the last couple of years—just to get an idea of the inventory.
With commercial, obviously it’s just numbers—what makes sense, how much land you get, what expenses you have, and then what’s your net and return on investment. So it’s a little bit different. Sometimes I wish I did more commercial because I like the business part of it. I’m just not as good in Excel. [Laughs.] If I was better in Excel I would maybe focus more on commercial real estate.
Is there any chance we’ll see you on screen again?
I mean, it’s hard. My family is in Miami. I flew every week to film the show, and I would shoot three real estate scenes, and they only keep one, and the other two don’t even make it. And it’s not just me—all of us, we film, we film, and some stuff stays in the editing room. But logistically it’s difficult, and it takes a toll on me as a mother.
I also have my work here [in Miami]. So I don’t know what will happen next season. Maybe I will do cameos. But that’s the thing: Even if I do cameos, I know what producers want—they want something crazy and sexy, and they want drama. And I don’t want to give them the drama! I don’t want to fight with any of the girls! And I’m not going to dress like a fashionista either. So what’s left? Am I just going to be a background extra at the office? Is it really worth traveling for it? I don’t know.
Look, it’s hard to let go of Selling Sunset. It is, I’m not going to lie. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. But we’ll see. I’ll take it as it comes. Maybe since I criticize all the drama and the outfits I should just do an HGTV show or a flip show. [Laughs.] That’s the sweet spot.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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