Photograph by Zach Beecher
Realtor Chris Trapani (left) has opened a brand-new office in Los Gatos after forming the Sereno Group. His longtime friend and colleague, Ryan Iwanaga, has joined him in the new venture.
Boyhood friends begin real estate adventure
Trapani brings Iwanaga into The Sereno Group
By Shannon Burkey
Ying and yang is how Chris Trapani and Ryan Iwanaga describe themselves--two complementary opposites.
And it is their differences they hope will make them successful as they start on a new venture in life.
"Over the years, there is a familiarity with our history. No doubt, when you know where someone comes from, you know their parents and what they are about, there is an understanding there," Trapani said. "I may be looking at something one way and bounce it off him, and he will either confirm what I was thinking or he might shed a different light on it that I might not have thought about."
The two men were in the sixth grade when they became friends. Now, nearly two decades since their families moved in next door to each other on Saratoga's Sobey Road, the two remain a constant in each other's lives.
Through the years, they have been teammates, classmates, fraternity brothers and co-workers. They have seen each other through marriage, the birth of their children and the loss of a family member. Now they are opening their own company in the area that they have called home for so long.
The pair opened a new real estate company, The Sereno Group, at the beginning of July in Los Gatos and said they hope their knowledge and love of the area will help make them successful in giving back to the area.
"Growing up here, we felt like we kind of understand this area," Trapani said. "Hopefully it will be beneficial in other ways, to the people who have put their faith in us."
It has been a long journey to get to where they are today. But people who know them are not surprised that they are doing this together, Trapani said.
The two became fast friends in 1978, getting into mischief. They spent their days at each other's houses and got to know one another's families.
"Ryan had an indoor racquetball court at his house, so we would spend a lot of time there," Trapani said. "And at night his dad would cook late-night munchies for us on their hibachi grill."
As they grew older, they became teammates on the Saratoga High School football team, and fraternity brothers at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
In 1990, while attending summer school at Cal Poly, Iwanaga received a late-night phone call about his father's sudden death. Driving home with only the clothes on his back, he had to call his childhood friend and ask him to pack some clothes and bring them to him.
"He was very supportive of me during that time," Iwanaga said of Trapani, who spent nights in a sleeping bag on the floor of Iwanaga's room.
Up to this point, the two men's lives had followed a similar path. But after college, their paths diverged. Trapani came home to begin his career in real estate, while Iwanaga decided on a career in academia and left the state to pursue his master's degree at the University of Oregon.
Trapani's grandfather owned Trapani Realty in Willow Glen in the '70s, so real estate had always been in his blood. Upon graduating from college, Trapani started at Contempo Realty in Willow Glen.
While Trapani was making a name for himself in the Silicon Valley real estate market, Iwanaga was busy elsewhere. After completing his master's degree, Iwanaga began to pursue his doctorate at the University of Houston. But after the birth of his daughter, he felt the need to do something else.
Iwanaga called his longtime friend, who was with Century 21 Seville Contempo at the time, and Trapani offered him a job.
"There has always been a parallel in our lives," Iwanaga said of his return to the area.
Both of their careers took off in the real estate field. Trapani became president of Coldwell Banker Silicon Valley, and Iwanaga became the manager of Coldwell Banker Silicon Valley's office in Los Gatos.
Although they had been thinking about a venture of their own for a while, it was not until April 7, when they both resigned from Coldwell Banker, that it started to become a reality for them.
The Sereno Group wants to try to get back to the intimacy of the real estate business.
"Buying a house is probably the single biggest investment a person will make in their lifetime," Iwanaga said. "People tend to lose focus on that. There is a need for us to have that sensitivity and focus."
In looking at the marketplace, Trapani said he realized that there were not a lot of locally owned companies anymore. He said his group wants to take a page out of history and get back to the simplicity of the business.
The two hope that their life experiences and their history will help them to better serve their clients and the community. Their success will come from valuing the relationships they make, Iwanaga added.
"I think what is important is that we are all on the same thought process in our value systems. Everyone on our team recognizes that selling real estate is more than just selling houses," Iwanaga said. "There is an obligation and an understanding of the community. We want people to look at us not only as Realtors but as friends."
After working with the two at Coldwell Banker, childhood friend Ed Graziani recently made the decision to join the men in their new endeavor. Graziani said he liked that The Sereno Group is about being local and knowing the community and the market they represent.
"It's very exciting. There is an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm among the agents here," Graziani said. "The people that are working here see this as a business, not just as a pastime."
Despite the fact that some people have said that the pair are "too young and inexperienced," Trapani said that he looks at it as an advantage.
"We recognize that in any business there is opportunity for anybody that has the heart," Trapani said. "In some ways we have probably surprised ourselves, but deep down we knew we were capable of doing what we are doing. If a challenge comes up, you can either be scared away and always wonder, or you can step up and take it."
With close to 40 employees and new state-of-the-art offices, The Sereno Group is projecting $600 million in sales in the next 12 months.
"There are a lot of people putting their faith in us, and we appreciate that and are very grateful for that faith," Trapani said. "It resonates some deep cords."
But most importantly, the two said they are proud to be starting this venture together and in the place where they grew up and their families still live.
"No matter how old you are, it is still kind of cool to make your parents proud," Trapani said.