The Untold Truth Of Celebrity Real Estate Agent Graham Stephan

It seems like there's no stopping Graham Stephan. The 31-year-old real estate agent, investor, and social media superstar has, despite his young age, built an enviable empire. Foregoing college to get his real estate license at the age of 18, Stephan has since become the talk of the town. And considering he works alongside the stars of the Netflix smash hit series "Selling Sunset" at the Oppenheim Group in Los Angeles, it may only be a matter of time before we see him all over our TV screens.

Stephan's rise to fame, however, didn't happen on TV but on YouTube. With over 3 million subscribers on his primary eponymous channel and over 700,000 on his second, The Graham Stephan Show, it's fair to say that he's not doing too shabby on the platform. But who is the man behind the videos — and how did he get to where he is today? From his humble beginnings to the intriguing way he handles his sizeable wealth, we've got the skinny on Stephan. Keep reading.

Graham Stephan got his start in a unique way

You'd be forgiven for assuming that Graham Stephan got his start coming up through a family business, but it's much more interesting than that. Stephan was a self-starter from the age of 12, working as — of all things — a marine aquarium photographer, according to an interview with The Financial Diet.

As a child, he was obsessed with saltwater fish, leading his dad to buy him a tank, he says. Through his passion, he met the owner of a business focused on marine aquariums and began taking pictures of his stock for him after school, gradually building up to working spring breaks there. Stephan would be paid $1 per photo, and a few years later, as his skills increased, "there were some nights that I could make $120 in a night. And doing that at 16 years old was so much fun. But I saved all of it. And I saved a few thousand of that. And that's the money that I used to get my real estate license and to pay for all that stuff."

At 16, he thought of becoming a drummer

Before Graham Stephan became a real estate superstar, he had another career path in mind: drumming. After he left his first job as a marine photographer at 16 years old, he embarked on a brief stint as a drummer in a rock band (per Forbes). This came to an end, however, by his high school senior year, when he focused his attentions on real estate — and never looked back.

It's clear that Stephan still has a passion for drumming, however. In a video posted to his YouTube channel, he's shown unboxing a drum kit with a unique history, he explains. "As a kid, when I was learning to play the drums, I looked up to this drummer, his name is Tony Royster Jr. Like, I would watch videos of him playing, then I would try to imitate what he was doing ... I happened to come across his personal drum set, so when I saw that this was his set, I'm like, 'What? I have to go and get this!'" Another video, posted by his girlfriend and fellow YouTuber, Savannah Smiles, shows Stephan teaching her how to play the drums.

Despite his success, Graham Stephan wasn't a star student

With his entrepreneurial success, you'd think that Graham Stephan was probably a high achiever from day one. But his school years were a bit rocky. "I grew up here in Los Angeles, California, and I had really bad grades in high school," he told the Bigger Pockets podcast. "I hated school, could not get into it whatsoever." Because Stephan was working part-time while in school, he says, "I had really bad grades in high school, did not get into college. And that left me kind of thinking like I really got to get myself together. I don't want to be this bum living in a van on Sunset Boulevard not knowing what he's doing and not making any money."

His trajectory changed when he decided to dabble in real estate. "I ended up just randomly getting my real estate license, and I figured I would convince my parents to let me get one year of work experience here," he said. "And then after one year of working as a real estate agent, I can then reapply to college ... But I ended up starting in real estate and loving it."

He started in real estate when he was 18

Deciding not to attend college, Graham Stephan embarked on a real estate career at the tender age of 18, starting with none other than the brokerage featured on "Selling Sunset," the Oppenheim Group. According to Jason Oppenheim (pictured above left), founder and president of the company (per Screenrant), "Graham was the first agent we brought onto the Oppenheim Group. He was 18 at the time, so it's fun to watch his success."

Stephan definitely paid his dues, cutting his teeth on some less-than-desirable deals. "I took all the deals that no other agents wanted," he told the Apple Crider podcast. "And that was a lot of leases. Agents did not see the point in doing a lease, because it's like the commission would be a few hundred dollars or like, you know, 500 to 600 bucks. And you'd have to be running around a client for like weeks at a time. And so many agents didn't see the point ... So I took those leases because no other people wanted them. And I figured that was a great way to get some experience." Clearly, he was onto something.

Graham Stephan's first big sale was a $3.5 million home

While Graham Stephan's first few months in real estate were an exercise in learning the ropes, it was his first big contract that sealed the deal for him staying in the game. "One Sunday, eight months in, a buyer came in and ended up having me represent him on a home in Beverly Hills for like $3.5 million," he told Bigger Pockets. "And after that, I'm convinced there's no way I'm going back to college soon. This is so much fun. I see a career in this, and I want to pursue it."

However, despite his relatively early success, Stephan kept a level head, knowing that big deals are few and far between. "I would save every bit of the commission that I made because I saw how unstable it was," he recalled. "I've seen other agents that would be like six, seven months without seeing a single deal. And they would have to make that last commission tide them over into the next deal."

He soon decided to try real estate investing

After working as a realtor for a few years — during which time he "saved everything" and "lived on $5 footlong Subway sandwiches," he says — Graham Stephan decided to branch off into real estate investing in 2011, he told Bigger Pockets. "I noticed that 2011 housing prices were so cheap, and really where I ended up learning most of my techniques and styles was watching what my clients were doing."

According to Stephan, people were buying homes far cheaper than they could afford: "These are people that are worth $5 to $10-plus million dollars, and they're going and buying these little like $100,000 houses, $200,000 houses." When he saw the great money investors were making by buying homes, doing small renovations, and reselling them, he decided to follow suit. "I have all this money saved up right now — I could be doing the same thing," he recalls thinking.

Despite Graham Stephan's success, he's not a big spender

You'd think that thanks to his success, Graham Stephan might be a big spender. But he's actually quite thrifty, even discussing his money-saving practices on his channel. "I really don't spend money," he told Apple Crider. "If I don't have to spend money, I don't." He explains that he also brings in extra income by "house hacking" his duplex, renting out a portion of his home to offset his mortgage payments and other expenses, according to Forbes.

Stephan says that his thriftiness comes from the fact that he doesn't like spending his cash. "I hate spending money ... it stings," he said. "Every single time I spend money, it stings a little bit, but sometimes the sting is not so bad. And it's outweighed by the benefit I get getting something." He's certainly getting a fair amount: In the 2019 podcast, it's revealed that he takes home a six-figure salary monthly.

His YouTube career was slow to take off

While Graham Stephan boasts some big subscriber numbers on YouTube nowadays, he didn't have the easiest start. When he started on the platform in December 2016, he was spending 40 to 50 hours a week making videos and taking precious time away from his thriving real estate career, according to Forbes. And for all that hard work, he made just $26,000 from YouTube in 2017.

But Stephan persevered with content creation because he enjoyed it — something he now points out is crucial for longevity. "The worst thing you can do if you want to make money on YouTube is to enter it with the idea that you want to make money," he told Forbes. "The money is a byproduct of doing something I really enjoy doing." He also has tips for new YouTubers looking to follow in his footsteps: Continually generating new content is key, as roughly 80% of Stephan's income comes from new videos. While old videos can generate some passive income, it's not as much as you might think.

By 2019, Graham Stephan was making serious money online

Graham Stephan's start on YouTube might have been slow to begin with, but he soon began generating big traffic. A big break came when he posted a video review of the JP Morgan Reserve credit card on Nov. 7, 2018, according to Forbes. The video rapidly went viral, and Stephan was a little surprised by the reaction. "It's sometimes so random which videos YouTube decides to push, because — wow — I did not expect that video to get so many views," he said.

Once the momentum started, Stephan's earnings started to gain traction, too. In 2019, he was earning an average of $81,428 a month on YouTube, with his best month bringing in $136,330 (per CNBC). However, while he estimated in 2019 that 85% of his earnings came from the website, he wouldn't be devastated if YouTube were to vanish tomorrow. "I would be disappointed, [but] it's never been something that I've relied on," he says.

He was a millionaire by 26, and his net worth is still rising

Between his YouTube success and his real estate ventures, Graham Stephan had reached a net worth of $1 million by age 26, according to CNBC — a few years ahead of his personal target of becoming a millionaire by 30. He didn't stop there, though. As he revealed in a July 2020 YouTube video, by the age of 30, he had achieved a net worth of $6.5 million, with the video laying out, step-by-step, how he got there.

Speaking to CNBC, Stephan had some sage advice for budding millionaires. "You don't need to be as extreme as I am," he said. "You don't need to skimp on every purchase. You don't need to work 12 hours a day. But you do need to think outside the box. What works for me won't necessarily work for everyone. I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all approach, but you do need to think creatively and do something differently than what most people are doing."

While Graham Stephan could afford gourmet food, he prefers the classics

Making it big in Los Angeles means that you have some of the world's best restaurants on your doorstep. And with the cash that Graham Stephan has, you'd think he might treat himself once in a while. However, he has much more humble tastes in food and keeps things pretty inexpensive. Stephan says of his shopping habits (per CNBC News): "I'll make the rounds and stock up on whichever item is the cheapest at which store ... You'll see in the fridge, it's eggs, oatmeal, ham, cheese, bananas, and then some frozen foods." 

His diet is pretty regular, too, saying he eats "the same thing for breakfast that I have for 10 years: two eggs with ham and cheese and half a bagel with the generic brand cream cheese." He does have one vice, however: visiting the Golden Arches. "I will purposely use that as an incentive to get all my work done," he said. "So, yes, I guess you could say I will work for McDonald's."

He has some A-listers as real estate clients

With his move into content creation, it'd be easy for Graham Stephan to give up real estate altogether. And it does appear that his priorities have changed slightly. In late 2019, he said (via CNBC) that "it feels like I'm doing YouTube full-time just because of how much time I spend on it. It's become such a profitable endeavor that it's not worth it to me anymore to show properties unless it's a really good client or a repeat business that I want to help sustain."

According to the Oppenheim Group website, though, Stephan is still an active member of the team, and those "good clients" he mentions are as glamorous as you'd expect from the Hollywood set. His bio states that his clients include Orlando Bloom, Chloe Grace Moretz, Suki Waterhouse, and more. Since he began his career in 2008, he has sold over $125 million in residential real estate.

A Selling Sunset star designed Graham Stephan's home

Although he's not a big spender, Graham Stephan does have a pretty nice pad. In a February 2021 YouTube video, he shows off his new home in Las Vegas, having elected to finally move out of Los Angeles. The home, designed by none other than Oppenheim colleague and "Selling Sunset" star Amanza Smith, has a dramatic feel with a black and white color scheme.

The kitchen features an enormous center island, a large gray range, and two-tone gray tiles lining the walls of the cooking and preparation spaces. The bathroom is almost cavernous, boasting wooden paneled walls and a shower that, despite looking stunning, is pretty impractical, according to Stephan. "By the time the water hits you, the water's not even hot anymore," he says in the video. "So, as cool as it looks, would not have done this again." Perhaps most striking, though, is the wall that Stephan dubs his favorite, featuring a blue neon sign that says the popular YouTube phrase: "Smash the like button!"

He appears briefly in Selling Sunset and might have more airtime soon

Although Graham Stephan works with the real estate group that's featured in "Selling Sunset," his appearances so far on the show have been minimal. He can be spotted in the background throughout the series but is far from a featured presence. Instead, he's only brought into the action when it involves the main protagonists of the show. Stephan and girlfriend Savannah Smiles even have a video on Smiles' YouTube where they react to his fleeting appearances on the series, with Savannah observing that "the second the camera pans over you, it cuts!"

But it appears that Jason Oppenheim (pictured above center) would love to have Stephan as more of a presence on "Selling Sunset," which he mentions in an interview with Metro UK. "Graham has now become a YouTube sensation, so he's doing less real estate and more YouTube," he said. "But I'd love to have Graham more involved, especially because on YouTube, we're always getting, 'Why isn't Graham Stephan on there?' So I hope to get him on more." 

Translation? We'll be seeing a lot more of Graham Stephan soon.