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Judy Foreman: Real Estate, Family Ties Blossom for Deanna and Randy Solakian

No generation gap as father-daughter duo take their partnership into the home stretch

On a recent late afternoon, I met with father-daughter real estate team Randy and Deanna Solakian at their Coldwell Banker Previews International office in Montecito's Upper Village. With the sun streaming through the big picture window that faces East Valley Road, we sat down to discuss their unique relationship and the journey that led to their successful business partnership and enhanced friendship.

Randy, a leader in the Santa Barbara-Montecito real estate community for the past 36 years, never expected to work with his daughter. Knowing the ups and downs, the necessity for a thick skin and the almost 24/7 schedule, he didn't expect his children to go into the property business.

Over the decades, he's seen many rises and falls, hot and cold markets, and how residential and commercial real estate values drive the local economy. And, yes, the Great Recession definitely had an impact on business. Working with a wide range of clients, including some well-known entertainment celebrities and high-profile business executives, discretion, knowledge, trust and experience are part of the Solakian brand that has contributed to his longevity.

After attending the University of Colorado and a stint in the food and real estate industries in New York City, Deanna moved back to Santa Barbara and enrolled in graphic design classes at  Santa Barbara City College. For a few years she worked as a graphic designer at the Santa Barbara Independent, but when her dad mentioned that he needed help in his office, she decided to take the plunge into the family business. Now she's a licensed sales associate.

Three years later, they consider themselves partners, and their mentorship relationship has proved to compliment both their personalities. It was fun to observe their comfort with each other and the light-hearted banter as they described their harmonious team approach. Clearly, it's been a rewarding experience for both.

Judy Foreman: How do you like working with your daughter?

Randy Solakian: Beyond words. Our partnership has been rewarding on several levels, both personal and professional.

JF: And, Deanna, how did you get interested in working with your dad in business? Did you study real estate in college?

Deanna Solakian: No real estate focus in college. I became interested in real estate after working for a  firm in N.Y.C.. and then realized how much fun this business could be when working with compatible partners.

Sharing a family moment after a day on the water. (Solakian family photo)
Sharing a family moment after a day on the water. (Solakian family photo)

JF: Were you worried you would not get along with your dad, knowing that working with family can often be a recipe for disaster?

DS: Not worried at all — but everyone else was. There are definitely dynamics that happen when working with family that would not happen with nonfamily members. Some can be negative, but for us it’s mostly been positive.

JF: What is your division of duties?

RS: We work as a partnership. There is no real absolute distinction between us. There is always a discussion between us sometimes over lunch or a hike where we brainstorm our strategies for optimizing a productive approach for each task and challenge. Residential real estate is very emotional, and Deanna, in addition to her knowledge, also brings enthusiasm, softness and sensitivity to our business, as well as a razor-sharp focus on important priorities.

JF: How has the Internet changed your business?

RS: It is a fantastic tool for keeping in touch with Deanna and my clients. The speed at which business can be done is very positive. From documents to offers, everything can be done quickly. I can Skype with clients, and keep in touch with Deanna on every step of a deal — even if I am out of town. We are electronically connected.

Technology has in so many ways transformed the business. At first, I thought the fax machine was a game changer, and it was. Now fax is almost obsolete. We now have scanners, email, Skype and handheld devices that combine into the real game changer. But in many ways these technologies have really transformed the mechanics of business, not the basic essence of personal service, attention to detail, and our efforts to over-deliver on the promise of a quality experience to our clients in the context of the transaction.

Still, at the end of the day, the personal connection and contact with the clients are not compromised by technology but enhanced by it.

JF: Deanna, you got married and are starting a family. It is your friends who will now be looking for a first home. How does it feel to be the second generation in your family to be in the real estate business?

DS: It feels great. I love what I do and look forward to bringing the best of the Santa Barbara lifestyle to new buyers and repeat clients.

JF: Who is the boss?

DS, quickly: My dad. Working together, I have enhanced respect for him and the challenges he encountered on a daily basis. and understand why he was so focused on business when I was growing up. It’s literally a full-time job.

JF, to Randy: Who is The Boss?

RS: My wife. All the time and effort in raising a family and building a career I credit to Roxanna, my wife of  37 years. We raised Deanna, now 31, and our son, Nicholas, who is 28 and in graduate school at UCLA in Architecture & Urban Design. Both our kids attended local private and public schools and we participated in all aspects of our community — supporting school events, nonprofits, sports, social, recreation, investing in the community and UCSB, to name some of our interests outside of selling property.

Roxie is the glue that enabled me to work a brutal schedule and enabled me to have a family life and enjoy my children. She is the ultimate CEO for our family, assuring that we never missed a family meal, community gathering or personal commitment, all with her full support and nurturing encouragement. She rocks our world!

                                                                  •        •        •

At the interview's end, we discussed Deanna's plans to take some time off for the upcoming birth of her first child with husband, Brett Williams, head of international programs at Direct Relief, before returning to work with her dad. With the Solakians' expanding family, and Randy becoming a first-time grandfather, a new chapter will begin for their family and their business relationship.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

The Solakian family after wedding bells rang at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. From left, Randy Solakian, newlywed daughter Deanna and son-in-law Brett Williams, wife Roxanna and son Nicholas. (Solakian family photo)
The Solakian family after wedding bells rang at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. From left, Randy Solakian, newlywed daughter Deanna and son-in-law Brett Williams, wife Roxanna and son Nicholas. (Solakian family photo)

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