Realty Exec To Start New Firm

June 27 2006
June 27 2006

SERENO GROUP'S FOCUS TO BE UPSCALE AREAS

SUE MCALLISTER, Mercury News

The former head of Silicon Valley's largest real estate brokerage announced Thursday that he will open a new realty firm next week that will focus on some of the valley's priciest neighborhoods, including Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Almaden Valley.

Chris Trapani, who resigned in April as regional president of Coldwell Banker, said the new firm is called Sereno Group. It will open for business by next Friday with more than 30 real estate agents, all of whom used to work for Coldwell Banker, he said.

''Our general goal was to create a company that from a cultural perspective was reminiscent of the past -- locally owned and operated,'' said Trapani, 39, who co-owns the new company with his father, Marko Trapani. He said the company will employ about 50 or 60 agents per office, instead of the 100 or more that are typical of larger brokerages.

''It's hard to provide consistent, quality service that people can depend on with a broad brush,'' he said, referring to his intention to keep offices small, and staffed only with experienced agents.

Trapani said he has hired some of his former employer's best-known and most productive agents in Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Almaden Valley, including Lucy Wedemeyer, Ducky Grabill, Carol Jeans and Steve and Christine Perry.

''It's kind of an all-star team,'' he said.

Those agents sold a total of nearly $200 million worth of property in 2005, he said, with 160 total transactions.

The 2006 market is slower than in recent years, but Trapani said he thinks his company's experienced agents will be able to capture a significant number of listings in their markets.

''In a cooler market, clients are looking for quality and differentiation, and an advantage,'' he said.

Robert Moles, chairman of rival firm Intero Real Estate Services, said he thinks Silicon Valley's demographics -- including its role as a magnet for technology professionals worldwide -- provide long-term stability for the local real estate market. But with home values appreciating more slowly and fewer homes selling than in recent years, Moles said now was a ''little tougher time'' to start a new brokerage than when sales are booming, despite those demographics.

On the other hand, he said, ''Sometimes when it's a little tougher time, it's when agents look around a little. When you're so busy and things are so good, you almost don't have time,'' he said.

And moving among companies is fairly common in the intertwined Silicon Valley real estate industry, where most brokerages' executives have worked together at one point or another.

Trapani, for example, started his career in the Los Gatos office of Contempo Realty in 1990, when Moles was that company's president. Contempo eventually merged into Century 21 and then Coldwell Banker. In 2002, a group of former Contempo agents left Coldwell Banker to form Intero, which now has 44 offices from the Bay Area to Arizona.

''In my opinion, there is always room for good competition, and I think Chris will be very good competition,'' Moles said.

Sereno Group's office is in Los Gatos on Los Gatos-Saratoga Road. Trapani said he plans to open as many as four additional branches in the next five years, perhaps in Saratoga, Los Altos, Menlo Park and San Francisco.