The Upstate Curious real estate team.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News; Photo courtesy of Upstate Curious

How one agent on Instagram created a $100M sales team 

With an Instagram following of 50,000 and nearly 60 sales so far this year, the Upstate Curious team is taking over the Hudson Valley.

April 21, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Megan Brenn-White launched her Upstate Curious team in 2019, which covers 11 counties in upstate New York.
  • She turned a passion for whimsical homes and scenic locations into a successful Instagram following.
  • The team closed $100 million in deals last year and has had 57 accepted offers so far this year.

It was nearly two decades ago when Upstate Curious founder and associate broker Megan Brenn-White fell in love with the Hudson Valley. Brenn-White and her husband, who were living in Brooklyn at the time, attended a wedding in upstate New York — and the drive there and back changed her life. 

"I remember the exact moment driving down this particular road right outside of High Falls, New York, and I saw the Catskills driving down this hill and all of a sudden the mountains just opened up and my breath caught," she said of the experience. 

Brenn-White permanently relocated to the Hudson Valley in 2016 and launched Upstate Curious in 2019. 

Attracting 'curious' New Yorkers with a distinctive Instagram presence

Today, Upstate Curious boasts an Instagram following of more than 50,000, and the team brought in $100 million in sales last year, Brenn-White told Real Estate News. They cover a wide territory, working in 11 counties throughout the Hudson Valley and Catskills.

There was no "grand strategic plan," when she founded the team, Brenn-White said, but savvy social media marketing and great timing with the pandemic's big demographic shuffle and housing boom were two key components to her success. After all, she previously had an established career in marketing back in New York City. 

Initially, Brenn-White started an Instagram account just to highlight interesting homes and places in the greater Hudson Valley and Catskills, she said, also noting that the account — which is filled with photos of whimsical A-frames and scenic landscapes — pre-dates the real estate team. 

"I started that Instagram in a way because of my marketing business, because Instagram was this thing that everyone was talking about," she said. "I wanted to document my experience being up here."

Brenn-White said it took a year to get up to 1,000 followers, but it was a 2018 New York Times trend piece on people relocating from Brooklyn to upstate New York that kicked things into overdrive. It was a time when there was increasing interest in the Hudson Valley and Catskills from Brooklynites who had been curious about the region and considering a move.

From social media marketing to a robust business plan

Brenn-White was getting noticed, but she quickly realized she needed a more solid plan for her real estate business.

"I started to get more clarity about how I could do real estate as a business up here," she said. "I'm not a good solo worker — I just don't like being on my own — so I always knew that if I wanted to do this full-time, it would have to be in some kind of team setting."

Brenn-White credits the book "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent," co-authored by Keller Williams founder Gary Keller, with giving her a roadmap for forming a team and a business model to build on.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, Brenn-White ended up working with KW to build her team and establish the Upstate Curious brand in the region. 

Beyond the complexities of getting started and building a business, the sheer size of the 11-county territory that Upstate Curious covered was a challenge. But with team members living in different areas of the far-flung territory, they are able to divide and conquer the region.

And then there were concerns about safety, Brenn-White said, particularly in the winter when colleagues could get stranded, and spotty phone service. Team members travel with heat blankets and safety kits, Brenn-White said, because getting stuck in a snow drift during the winter "does happen here."

Buyers are queueing up

Even though many potential clients are returning to in-person office jobs, demand in the greater Hudson Valley region remains quite strong, Brenn-White said. Already this year, the team has had 57 accepted offers, and they have more buyers than inventory to show them. Spring is a hot time for buyers, and so is fall, when buyers — and tourists — head up north for the autumn leaves. 

After a couple of years of strong sales and growth, the Upstate Curious team announced their move to Compass last week. Brenn-White said that the brokerage's tech offerings, network and referrals were major draws. But perhaps even more important is Compass' presence in New York City.

"What we do with getting our seller listings in front of so many people on Instagram, we now get to add a whole other layer to that … with Compass, which is now the biggest brokerage in Manhattan and Brooklyn."

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