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Sereno Group: Exceeding Industry Standards Every Step of the Way

(L to R) Tim Proschold, Vice President of Group Strategy and Success; Ryan Iwanaga, Executive Vice President; Barbara Cole, Chief Operating Officer; Chris Trapani, Chief Executive Officer

Sereno_Group_Cover_300x420Chris Trapani and Ryan Iwanaga grew up together in the quiet, rolling suburbs of Northern California that would grow into the Silicon Valley—and the Sereno Group story starts in the summer of 1976, when the Iwanaga family moved next door to the Trapanis on Sobey Road in Saratoga. What began as two kids playing together has grown into the lifelong friendship that, to this day, has the two feeling more like brothers than friends.

They shared the experience of having tight-knit family households with an immigrant history that values and feels an obligation toward community. At the same time, bright and inquisitive, they found a deep and meaningful kinship in their rebellious natures both inside and outside the home.

After what both describe as academically underwhelming high school experiences, they found themselves studying at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo though with different career expectations—Trapani as a pre-law student destined to follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his father, Marko Trapani, and Iwanaga to study English and Fine Arts and begin coaching high school football.

But despite their differing academic journeys and early career paths, the two eventually found themselves working side by side, much as in their days back on Sobey Road—only this time as real estate professionals, first as sales associates, then as leaders; locally for Iwanaga and on a much larger, national scale for Trapani.

So, it should come as no surprise that when Trapani, with the backing of his father, was ready to launch an upscale, boutique real estate agency, he would call on the friends and creative thinkers who shared his unique vision.

Sereno Group opened its doors in 2006 with 27 top-producing agents, 115 listings in Los Gatos and surrounding areas, and a goal that ran against tradition: to break from the large-scale agency model in favor of offering every client the expert and personalized service that would make a positive difference in their real estate experience.

Trapani sharing the progress of the company at Sereno Group's Mid-Year Meeting

Trapani sharing the progress of the company at Sereno Group’s Mid-Year Meeting

Today, under the leadership of Trapani as chief executive officer and Iwanaga as executive vice president, with Barbara Cole as chief operating officer and Tim Proschold as vice president of group strategy and success, the firm has 365 agents in eight locations doing $3.5 billion in annual sales.

“That’s an average of more than $10 million in sales per agent,” Trapani points out—a rare accomplishment even in a region where, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic, the median home price for a single-family home hit a record of $935,000 last May.

Part of the reason for that, Trapani is quick to note, is that the company has taken an intentional and careful approach to growth. “We did not focus on hiring brand-new licensees during our first nine years in business,” he says. “We set a very high bar for character, quality and professionalism. We seek to align with the most experienced and thoughtful sales staff representing the best interest of our group and clients.”

While Sereno Group takes pride in the quality and experience of its sales staff, efforts to ensure they stay ahead of the curve include access to the best trainers and coaches in the industry, including Brian Buffini, Tom Ferry and Lorna Hines. The firm also schedules bimonthly meetings wholly devoted to awareness, inspiration, thoughtfulness and business applications.

They also provide a host of the latest cutting-edge tools and resources to their agents at little or no cost.

“We are invested in relationships, not profitability,” says Proschold, who, in his role as group strategist, is charged with scoping out the best in new business tools and technology.


Trapani and Iwanaga are committed to breaking from the tradition of the large-scale agency.














Iwanaga supports that view. “We have no interest in charging fees for the things our agents need to be at their best,” he says. “We came from a pervasive multiple profit-center culture, and we want no part of it now. Our aim is simply to provide our people with the best possible resources.”

For this leadership, the best includes a self-contained, in-house marketing studio with four designers and two project coordinators on staff to assist the company’s agents in producing upscale collateral ranging from postcards, property brochures and other custom-printed marketing materials, to the most sophisticated video home tours. Neither the marketing studio, the company’s transaction coordination service nor their busy relocation division are intended to be profit centers, Proschold says.

Keeping a sharp eye on staffing, operations and facilities, Cole joined the company as a first hire in 2006, before the firm’s first office was launched. Currently overseeing the opening of Sereno Group’s new Los Altos office, Cole sees herself as a company ambassador.

Proschold sees her as, “Master of the Big Picture;” an invaluable resource for the company. But Cole is quick to credit her “high-caliber support team” of roughly 30 hard-working administrators, receptionists, transaction coordinators and IT support people—even an Ambassador of First Impressions—with going above and beyond to keep the firm’s offices running smoothly.

“The company is close to my heart,” Cole says. “I believe so strongly in what we stand for, and in our commitment to being the best. Chris and Ryan genuinely listen—to everyone—and they make the most thoughtful decisions.”

That’s because everyone at Sereno Group is a voice that counts, Iwanaga explains. “There’s no ego here. We are proud of our family-like culture, our multigenerational roots in this community, and our commitment to nurture, mentor and support one another.”

But if Sereno Group’s reputation for quality service, and its standing as one of the top four most productive residential real estate sales firms in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties (in terms of annual sales volume) can be attributed to an outstanding sales team, then the buck stops at the non-traditional growth philosophy of its leadership.

“We don’t need more agents in order to be successful,” Trapani says. “The goal of our intentional growth and recruiting plan is to organically attract or develop like-minded agents of the future for the long term.”

As a result, most referrals come from existing sales staff, and most agents who want to join Sereno Group go through a recruiting process. “Industry-wide, more than 80 percent of new agents fail in the first five years,” says Trapani. “That’s why we hire only the best and the brightest, and we work collaboratively. We are their biggest boosters, and we love hearing ideas from our people that we can experiment with.”

Trapani’s passion for excellence, and his long-standing commitment to community, have deep and meaningful roots.

“Just a few months after we launched Sereno Group, I had a life-changing experience,” he says. “I was scanning the bookstore business section and spotted a book—”Let My People Go Surfing,”—by renowned mountain climber, businessman and environmentalist Yvon Chouinard. The book, and the company Chouinard founded, Patagonia, Inc., are all about how business can and should do good—that you can make a profit without losing your soul.”

It was a lightning rod moment for him, Trapani says, helping to shape and reinforce his own thinking, and it set in motion his commitment to creating a socially responsible business. The experience resulted in the birth and development of Sereno Group’s “1 Percent for Good” program, committing 1 percent of the firm’s gross revenues to environmental causes and to charitable or community-minded groups committed to making a difference in the areas the company serves.

Last year, Sereno Group gave $516,000 to 28 separate causes, making it one of the top 35 corporate givers, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal. “We are determined to eclipse $1 million a year in charitable giving,” Trapani says.

Sereno Group is also committed to shrinking its footprint on Earth through efforts toward greener living, pledging to conserve natural resources, prevent pollution and waste, and be environmentally responsible. Every office recycles paper, plastic, batteries and toner cartridges, turns off lights when not in use, works toward a more paperless environment and patronizes other Green-certified businesses whenever possible.

In their offices and at home, Sereno Group associates are encouraged to use environmentally-friendly cleaning products, to keep vehicles well-maintained and to carpool when possible. They remove themselves, and assist clients to be removed from, as many junk mail lists as possible by going to stopjunkmail.org.

What does social responsibility mean for the company’s clients?

“It means patient, meticulous service that goes above and beyond the norm,” says Iwanaga. “Our goal is to exceed the standards for professionalism, market knowledge and approach. In addition to being trusted advisors, we like to be the kind of people others like to hang out with. In many cases, the people we meet as clients become our friends.”

Proschold agrees. “We want our agents to know three things: We care about you. We will be open and transparent. We will do everything in our power to help you increase your business. We like to think that’s the best way to ensure their happiness and confidence and, as a consequence, a better home-buying or home-selling experience for our clients.”

According to reports in The Silicon Valley Business Journal, the technology hub has the strongest momentum of any other major metro in the country in terms of economy and real estate—a position it has retained for three years straight and is expected to continue in as the industry expands from traditional hardware and software into sectors like artificial intelligence and automotive technology.

That would indicate rosy business prospects for the future of Sereno Group, which deals almost exclusively in the high-end housing market. But the firm’s leadership team fully intends to maintain its boutique approach.

“We remain committed to pushing the edges in finding ways a for-profit business can leave a positive and eternal impact on society, and hopefully in influencing future business leaders to consider following suit,” Trapani says. “We never set out to be the biggest brand. We simply desire to be a brand that agents, clients and the community consider purposeful, creative and of the most exceptional quality.”

For more information, please visit www.serenogroup.com.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Cheri Fama: Professionalism and Service Win the Day

Cheri_FamaVitals: John Daugherty, REALTORS®
Years in Business: 51
Size: 3 offices, 150 agents
Region Served: The Greater Houston area
2017 Sales Volume: $1.108 billion
2017 Transactions: 1,455
No. 235 in sales volume in RISMedia’s 2018 Power Broker Report

With the dual role of president and chief operating officer of Houston, Texas-based John Daugherty, REALTORS®, Cheri Fama brings more than 30 years of experience to the firm. Her favorite thing about working in the industry is producing results for the client, whether it be a next-gen homeowner or a baby boomer looking for their next move. And with Houston’s diverse mix of housing supply, she says there’s a perfect match for everyone.

How would you characterize the Houston real estate market in 2018?
Cheri Fama: It’s a positive marketplace. We pinch ourselves daily and feel very privileged to live in Houston right now. It’s a focal point for a lot of positive things in the media—for employers and for families. We don’t have a problem getting people acclimated to how nice it is here, and the pricing for a large metropolitan area is still considered to be very favorable. The middle price range ($570,000) has broadened and been very active. The media has been talking about the upper end slowing down, but our company has defied that. We’ve been very active in the million-dollar-plus market and higher.

What makes your firm unique in the marketplace?
CF: We’re a locally-owned luxury firm, which is unique because the personal service provided by this company is considered to be second to none in our marketplace. Our founder, when he started his career 51 years ago, realized there was an incredible lack of professionalism and training—and he’s stressed the importance of these two components over the years. We have a very good reputation for having agents who are knowledgeable and easy to work with.

What do you look for when bringing new agents into the mix, and what do they enjoy about the culture?
CF: No. 1, I always tell them that they’re probably in the wrong business if they’re not willing to make a commitment to both themselves and the company. Our people are our assets, and we strive to give all that we can to provide those who work for us what they need. It’s a very cohesive family, and we don’t have a competitive atmosphere in this company. Everyone works together and it’s a joy to work here with them. I compare it to the winning attitude of the World Champion Houston Astros in that it’s a fellowship that supports each other each step of the way. We’re about quality, and would rather have fewer agents who are productive than just taking on whoever comes knocking at our door.

Talk about some of your recent growth and plans for the future.
CF: We’ve opened a new Woodlands office in the north part of town, an amazing city connected to Houston. We’ve also expanded into the West Houston Memorial area, which is allowing us to grow into the Energy Corridor and the suburbs that way. We’re always looking at opportunities that can expand our reach in a smart way.

What sort of training and education do you offer to your agents?
CF: We don’t use the word training, but rather, professional development. We try to bring in outside speakers and motivational/inspirational people, as well as provide professional development opportunities within the office from our staff. We do our best to make these agents understand what they’re selling so that they’re so natural at presenting it that people want to work with them when listing or buying a home.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Remodeling Spending to Spike

Across 50 of the largest major markets, home remodeling spending will spike this year, according to findings released by the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Expenditures for home remodels will rise by 5 percent in 41 of the 50 markets, and by 10 percent more in 11—the latter including Charlotte, N.C., Dallas and San Antonio, Texas, and Kansas City, Mo.

“Spending growth is projected to be particularly strong in many of the nation’s more affordable markets,” says Chris Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. “At the same time, there are a few high-cost markets where low housing supply is spurring the renovation of existing homes.”

“Our projections show that growth in the remodeling market is not concentrated in just one area of the country, but is widespread,” says Elizabeth La Jeunesse, senior research analyst in the Remodeling Futures Program. “Average growth through 2018 in major metros of the South, West and Midwest is projected to be close to the 50-metro average of 7.4 percent, while growth in metros of the Northeast will be slightly lower (5.6 percent).”

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

The post Remodeling Spending to Spike appeared first on RISMedia.

No Gain, No Loss: Existing-Home Sales Stabilize

August existing-home sales stabilized, ending a regressive streak, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) reports. At 5.34 million, activity neither decreased nor increased from July, but was down 1.5 percent from the prior year. Inventory month-over-month also steadied, at 1.92 million—a jump from 1.87 million the prior year.

Activity was carried by the Midwest and Northeast, rising 2.4 percent to 1.28 million and 7.6 percent to 710,000 in the regions, respectively. The median in the Midwest was $208,500, while the median in the Northeast was $292,800. Activity lost momentum in South and West, down 0.4 percent to 2.23 million and 5.9 percent to 1.12 million, respectively. The median in the South was $227,900, while the median in the West was $392,900.

“Strong gains in the Northeast and a moderate uptick in the Midwest helped to balance out any losses in the South and West, halting months of downward momentum,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR. “With inventory stabilizing and modestly rising, buyers appear ready to step back into the market.”

Currently, inventory is at a 4.3-month supply. In August, existing-home sales averaged 29 days on market, one day less than the prior year. All told, 52 percent of homes sold were on the market for less than one month.

“While inventory continues to show modest year-over-year gains, it is still far from a healthy level and new-home construction is not keeping up to satisfy demand,” Yun says. “Homes continue to fly off the shelves with a majority of properties selling within a month, indicating that more inventory—especially moderately-priced, entry-level homes—would propel sales.”

“REALTORS® across the country report that their clients waver about the decision to list their home—they are excited by the prospect of receiving many offers; they are concerned that they will not be able to find a new home to purchase,” says NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall. “Unfortunately this fluctuating view is contributing to the short supply of homes. Buyers hoping to find an entry-level home in this market should work with a REALTOR® and be prepared to move quickly, as listings sell quickly.”

Across all house types (single-family, condo, co-op and townhome), the median price was $264,800, a 4.6 percent from the prior year.The median price in the single-family space was $267,300; the condo median was $244,500.

Month-over-month, sales in the single-family space were unchanged, at 4.75 million—down 1 percent from 4.8 million the prior year. Condo and co-op sales were also unchanged, at 590,000, and down 4.8 percent from the prior year.

Twenty percent of sales were all-cash, with 13 percent by individual investors. Three percent were distressed.

Additionally, first-time homebuyers comprised 31 percent of sales.

“Rising interests rates along with high home prices and lack of inventory continues to push entry-level and first-time homebuyers out of the market,” says Yun. “REALTORS® continue to report that the demand is there—that current renters want to become homeowners—but there simply are not enough properties available in their price range.”

August’s hottest markets, based on realtor.com®’s Market Hotness Index, were Midland, Texas; Fort Wayne, Ind.; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; and Boise City, Idaho. 

For more information, please visit www.nar.realtor. 

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

The post No Gain, No Loss: Existing-Home Sales Stabilize appeared first on RISMedia.

Making Moves for REALTORS: One-on-One With Bob Goldberg

Credit: AJ Canaria of PlanOmatic

Bob Goldberg has had an action-packed year. In just a little more than 12 months since taking the helm as CEO of the National Association of REALTORS®, Goldberg has implemented an array of internal changes and spearheaded several key initiatives designed to better serve members. During a special one-on-one interview during RISMedia’s CEO Exchange at the Harvard Club of New York on Sept. 5 and 6, Goldberg sat down with RISMedia President and CEO John Featherston for a behind-the-scenes look at some of the progress that’s been made at NAR in the past year, and some of the obstacles he confronted along the way.

John Featherston: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since you’ve taken on the CEO role at NAR?
Bob Goldberg: We too went through a rebranding (Goldberg’s interview followed the CEO Exchange panel discussion, “The Rebranding Challenge: Fit for the Future While Preserving Your Roots”). NAR is a $5 billion brand—one of the top 20 most-recognized brands in the U.S.  We hired one of the leading firms in the country, and went through consumer research and member panels for a year and a half. For other brands, a rebranding is about how do you get member engagement. For us, it was more about the identity of who our members are. Our logo hadn’t been updated in more than 40 years. So, one of our biggest challenges is change. Our challenge at NAR is how do we invoke the change?

Professionalism is also another challenge in our industry. I can’t tell you how many people ask me, ‘What are you going to do to stop the high number of members in the association?’ But NAR has never recruited or brought in one member. That happens at the broker level.

Financial security is another challenge for our members. Thirty percent of members don’t own a home. Advocacy is another challenge. We are one of the two most powerful PACs in Washington. Technology is yet another challenge—NAR is playing a key role in driving and bringing technology into the industry.

JF: Speaking of advocacy, you played a major role in preserving the mortgage interest deduction during last year’s tax reform…
I had literally been the new CEO for two and a half weeks when we got slammed with tax reform. The administration had just lost the battle on health care and was determined to force through tax reform. There was a cap for the deduction on capital gains, and the elimination of SALT would’ve meant folks in higher taxed states would’ve seen a substantial increase in taxes. We fought and fought, and the end result was positive.

JF: What role will NAR play in Washington moving forward?
Washington is a different animal today. We’re naming a new chief lobbyist very shortly. We are going to name someone who can make inroads in both the House and the Senate, and also at the White House. We haven’t had great results in the White House in over 10 years. We participated in the DOJ and FTC panel discussions, but we don’t really lobby them. With our new lobbying efforts, we will be able to move the needle in all of those areas.

JF: What’s one of the goals on your agenda for the year ahead?
We are working on an Association healthcare program. We’ve been pushing for that even before President Obama. We’ve been lobbying that associations and independent contractors should be able to be in a national pool for a healthcare platform. Now, the administration and Department of Labor is in favor of this. However, it’s not the great panacea everyone thinks it is. The way the Department of Labor has outlined it, if you’re a national organization, you can only pool with someone in the exact profession that you’re in, so that means we can’t even pool with the Homebuilder’s association. However, local and regional associations are allowed to bond together in regional coalitions, so regional programs will likely be a better option.

JF: We just returned from your iOi (Innovation, Opportunity and Investment Summit) in San Francisco. Tell us about what else you’re doing in terms of technology.
There’s always discussion of disruptors and innovators. There are disruptors outside our vertical trying to take it over and there are innovators within. Our position is, whatever you want to call them, they are coming rapidly with billions of dollars of capital investment. We expanded Second Century Ventures to bring those technologies into our industry, so they’re advocates for us. We created a Strategic Innovation area to help them work with organized real estate. Many companies work within our REACH incubator so we can help them be successful and work within our industry. Whether we’re in it or not, we want to grow the tent and bring them in. The sky is not falling, but it will if we don’t invite them in. 

For continuing coverage of this year’s CEO Exchange sessions, stay tuned to RISMedia.com:

Patterson_Maria_60x60Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at maria@rismedia.com. For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

The post Making Moves for REALTORS: One-on-One With Bob Goldberg appeared first on RISMedia.

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