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Broker Spotlight: Ryan Iwanaga, Christie’s International Real Estate Sereno

Name: Ryan Iwanaga

Title: Co-founder and Chief Experience Officer at Christie’s International Real Estate Sereno

Experience: Broker owner since 2006, agent since 1997

Location: 17 offices in the Silicon Valley, SF Peninsula, Santa Cruz, the East Bay, Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Foothills

Brokerage full name: Christie’s International Real Estate Sereno

Team size: 17 offices, 580 Agents

Transaction sides: 2021 Data: 4,203

Sales volume: 2021 Data: $6,805,519,750.00

2022 Awards: #1 Top Workplace Award among Large Firms for all Business Sectors by the San Francisco Chronicle, #79 Real Trends Independent Brokerages

Why Ryan Iwanaga is in the spotlight

A fourth-generation Santa Clara County resident, Ryan Iwanaga and his team at Christie’s International Real Estate Sereno blend an appreciation for the region’s history and the area’s cutting-edge tech culture. Besides his professional accomplishments, Iwanaga participates in triathlons and hopes to complete each of the seven Ironman North America events.

How did you choose your brokerage?

The reason I chose my first brokerage back in 1997 was really simple. I chose the brokerage because that is where Sereno co-founder and CEO, Chris Trapani, worked. We had been best friends since we were 11 years old and, to my great fortune, he welcomed me with open arms and a willingness to mentor and teach me the business.

Everything I have experienced and accomplished in my real estate career has its roots in those first few months and Chris’s influence.

The benefit of my choice and a valuable lesson I learned that still informs me today is that Chris was part of that particular brokerage because of the people, his colleagues and friends. I felt lucky as a new agent because I was surrounded by good people who cared for one another and who placed great importance on relationships.

So much of our business can be solely focused on production and sales, which is understandable, but I have learned that it is the quality of the people around you that make the hard work and grind of real estate more meaningful.

What do you wish more people knew about working in real estate?

That real estate is a noble endeavor and requires tremendous dedication and commitment to be successful. The general public does not quite understand what it takes to build and maintain a successful real estate business. Real estate requires everything one has to build a successful career.

Tell us about a high point in your brokerage career.

The highest point in my brokerage career has to be surpassing $5,000,000 in charitable giving through our Sereno 1% for Good Charitable Foundation. As business owners, Chris and I place a very high regard on our responsibility to be connected to the communities we serve.

We both come from families who have been part of the Bay Area’s history for multiple generations. The importance of community-mindedness and our obligation to the community’s greater good has always been impressed upon us. Being able to have a business that interacts with community-focused individuals and organizations has, in my mind, been our greatest accomplishment.

Our Sereno 1% for Good Charitable Foundation is unique in that each of our offices plays an important role in choosing which organizations receive grants. This dynamic allows us to create hyperlocal support and connection and have a direct one-to-one impact on the local community.

Tell us about an epic fail you’ve experienced since you’ve been a broker.

We have been fortunate to not have tremendously epic fails through the years, but we have learned from mistakes we have made during the past 16 years. The one lesson that has always been consistent is that our company culture erodes and suffers when we stray from our core values.

We have always intended to be a company of meaning. We are in the business to be a successful, profitable company, but we have also wanted to do so without losing our soul as an organization. The times when our culture has faltered have always been due to us drifting from that ideal.

We have created issues when we mistakenly place too much of a priority on success and profit only. Real estate is a difficult business. Realtors make great sacrifices to be successful. It is a 24/7 grind that can become a lonely, individualized experience. Providing an environment where agents feel supported, appreciated and loved makes the difficulties of the business more manageable and meaningful.

Where people work is important and how that place makes them feel is paramount to long-term, sustained success. Too much of our industry has been distorted over the last few years by agent signing bonuses, high splits and marketing allowances. If your environment is built solely upon that, the path to building a meaningful culture diminishes and becomes impossible.

I believe a company’s environment has to be built on trust, community and meaningfulness. At some point, those things matter. Yes, we are in the business of sales and so much of our success is dependent upon those sales, but it doesn’t mean these humanistic values have to be forsaken.

What’s your top tip for freshly licensed brokers?

Burn the boats so the only path available to you is forward. Too many times over my career, I have seen new licensees come into the business half-heartedly or naive to the task at hand. Those people don’t last.

The great thing about our business is that it is really one of the last bastions of entrepreneurial opportunity that exists. There is no prerequisite of experience or education required to become a Realtor. On day one of a new licensee’s career, they have the same opportunity as everyone else who is starting, regardless of their education, experience or any other factor.

When people ask me what is the one trait that equates to success in real estate, I always say it is perseverance. Those who last in our business have grit and a mental toughness to endure the self-doubt, the inexperience, the what-I-don’t-know, and the lack of business.

So much of success is determined by effort, focus, and dedication, and that never changes. Experienced agents deal with the same challenges of uncertainty and, at times, self-doubt. The difference is that they have figured out ways to work through those things and focus on the solution rather than live in the problem.

This is a wonderful business and career opportunity, but it requires commitment. New licensees need to honor that aspect of the business and make sure they are determined to do the things necessary to create sustainable success.

Name 3 people you admire? Why?

  1. My father because he was the example to me. He passed away in 1990 at a young age, but his influence on me and my character still impacts me today.

  2. Chris Trapani because of his visionary leadership qualities and his love and respect for our friendship through thick and thin.

  3. Everyone who is part of Christie’s International Real Estate Sereno.  Everyone. Our support team. Our leadership. Our Realtors. They are the inspiration behind what we do.

What makes a good leader?

Humility. I have been fortunate to be leading a wonderful group of people through the past 16 years. I have always felt a tremendous responsibility to the people who have joined us.  They have placed trust in Chris and me and that obligation must be part of our decision process.

I have become a confident leader and have come to understand what drives me as a leader, but I must never forget my responsibility to those people around me who I serve.  I have always said that what makes us great as an organization is our people. It’s our greatest strength.

I believe the power of Christie’s International Real Estate Sereno has elevated our company, our clients and the communities we serve.

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