Three years ago, TLC, the station behind "Trading Spaces" and "Flip That House" reached out to real estate agent Nick Waldner, originally from Eldersburg, to participate in an episode of "My First Home," a realty reality show. The show aired following a short shoot, and Waldner soon returned to his real estate business in Columbia. Within a couple of months, he received another call from one of the show's producers.
"He told me how great it was, and how great I did, and to be honest, I thought he was just blowing smoke," Waldner said. "But then he asked me if I ever thought about being a part of a program where they build a show around me. I thought that was interesting, and he said he would call me back as he came up with ideas."
Over the next year and a half, Waldner said producer Joe Correll would call him back with different show ideas built around his personality.
First, he pitched a show based around house flipping. Waldner said flipping wasn't a focus of his career, and not really something he was interested in.
Six months later they pitched a reality-show style look at Waldner's family life and the "crazy" clients he gets. Waldner said he wasn't interested in manufacturing TV drama, and his clients were mostly great.
Finally, they settled on an idea that appealed to him, an idea that would eventually become "Waterfront House Hunting," premiering at 10 p.m. Memorial Day on the FYI Network, an affiliate of A&E.
Since college, Waldner said he's always been an outdoor adventurer, having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and traveled down more than 100 miles of white water rafting. The show combines his love of outdoor sporting with his realty career, by having him show waterfront houses to people interested in the outdoor lifestyle.
"They told me, we're going to have you show houses, but then also immerse the homebuyers into the community," Waldner said. "So if they're into sailing, we take them sailing. If it's a surfing town, we go surfing. He said we're going to do everything from fishing to wakeboarding, and I was like, 'this sounds awesome.'"
To pitch the show idea to the network, Waldner had to film a sizzle reel, a 5 to 10 minute video of himself on camera, proving his comfort in front of an audience. To film the reel, he went out wakeboarding in the middle of March in the near-freezing water. After submitting it , he was informed that he was one of the top 10 submissions.
"I was like, 'What do you mean top 10? I thought this was being designed for me,'" Waldner said. "He started laughing. 'I had over 400 agents submit tapes to this show, and you made the top 10.'"
Waldner's submission was chosen as the basis for the pilot, a full-length test episode that channels produce before deciding to give a full-season order.
The group filmed the pilot in St. Michaels on Maryland's Eastern Shore, as Waldner showed three homes to a family looking to move. Together with the folks looking for a home, Waldner went fishing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
"It was a lot of fun, but it was a ton of work," Waldner said. "We sent the tapes back to the production company and they loved it and decided to move forward. I was definitely blown away. I felt honored, but a little nervous."
Initially, the plan was to have Waldner as a cast member of rotating hosts, each anchoring four to five episodes a season. Following the reaction to the pilot, the studio decided Waldner should host all 14 episodes of the season. He said this promotion added another level of pressure to the role.
"I have a local real estate business. I have work to do here. I can't be travelling over the country and neglecting my business," Waldner said. "I thought about it and realized this is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. I've been building a team here that can take care of things. I can take a bit of time to do some travelling."
Though the job appears fun on the show, Waldner said it requires a crushing amount of work. On the set, his days begin at 7 a.m. and often last until about 8 p.m. for six days a week. In between episodes, he flew home to work at his real estate firm in Columbia before flying out for the next piece. During the filming of the season, Waldner traveled to California, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and more. The show is described by FYI as fantasy lifestyle fulfillment, for viewers to check out new homes and activities.
Prior to his experience on "My First Home" he had never been in front of a camera or on stage, Waldner said, but he quickly became accustomed to the adjustment.
"I feel very confident when I'm in front of a camera," Waldner said. "I'm just going to be myself. Whenever you watch TV, you can tell when there's a producer who is trying to push a person to go in a certain direction or add emotion. I didn't want to be a fake TV personality."
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Because it's television, Waldner said, the show doesn't completely capture the nuance of his role as a real estate agent.
"When I'm home and doing my job, I really get to bond with my clients. I get to know them over the course of 30, 60, 90 days," Waldner said. "When it comes to the show, I only get to spend three, four, five days with someone, then I fly back home. You connect with them, and it's a neat experience, but you don't form that bond."
Though he's enjoyed his foray into television. Waldner said his first love will always be real estate.
"I think it's really about helping somebody find that perfect home, or to help them move to that next stage of life," Waldner said. "To help someone achieve their real estate dreams and walk away with that bond is something that is really cool to see."