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“Their understanding of “normal” is double digit growth, opulence and excess with no preparation or survival skills should the fundamentals of the world economy shift – which began overtly in September 2007.”

Helen Pastorino has been a real estate and business visionary in Silicon Valley for over 35 years. She was a co-founder and past-President of Alain Pinel Realtors (currently one of the highest volume real estate firms in the United States) and currently the founder and president of Pertria, a real estate investment firm representing residential, commercial and investment real estate sales, acquisition and portfolio management.

After departing from Alain Pinel Realtors Helen has come back as a prominent business leader and created a dynamic wealth management and real estate services firm based in Los Gatos, CA, with three offices (Los Gatos, Los Altos and Santa Cruz) more than doubling in size this past year.

Helen has been featured in major business media including Forbes ASAP and the New York Times, as well as several books including “Jumping the Curve: Innovation and Strategic Choice in an Age of Transition” and “Objects In Action: Commercial Applications Of Object-Oriented Technologies”.

Helen Pastorino, founder and President of Pertria

MO: Reports and indices constantly remind us that real estate is a contracting market. How is it that Pertria is able to expand in this economy?

Helen: This is the second firm I have founded.  When we started Alain Pinel Realtors we expanded during the 1990-1995 recession, which also appeared to be a contracting marketplace.  In good times, the marketplace will screen or hide the imperfections of poor strategies and guidance.  In a challenged economy there is high demand for strong, well-grounded and highly skilled people due to the fact that people have little or no tolerance for a lack of strategy and poor execution.

MO: You’ve been quoted in the New York Times, Forbes and several books for your innovation and cutting-edge practices in the real estate industry. What are some of the recent innovations you are implementing now?

Helen: The innovations for which I have been attributed in founding Alain Pinel Realtors were technical, graphic design and marketing in nature.  What was bleeding edge at the time has become common standard of practice in our industry.  Both of these innovations were “mechanical” or “physical” innovations. At the time, the choices seemed obvious; looking back, the choices appear to be grossly un-grounded and even display a lack of sanity.  Today I am working on organizational and structural innovations with an emphasis on education and knowledge.  Collaborative innovations based in communitarinism utilizing organigraphs rather than traditional organizational models.  The process is a commitment over a long horizon of time, biological in nature, and unable to be emulated or mimicked by simply stroking a check like the technology and marketing remedies of the 90’s.  It is much more challenging to go deep into the effective knowledge of the elemental principals of life however, for our clients, the return on this investment is much more valuable and sustaining.

MO: Pertria is much more than just a transaction real estate firm. You once mentioned that you help people plan their entire investment strategy, understanding that their real estate holdings (even the home they live in) is a large part of their total financial picture.  Can you tell us more about that?

Helen: For most of us we do not begin to maturely observe our financial world until we are in our 30’s.  For the past 25+ years our economy has outperformed the traditional matrix – unreasonably so.  Therefore, people who are 50 and over have lived most of their adult lives in a thriving and expanding economy (with a number of jolts, earthquakes, dot.com, and sadly September 11, 2001).  Their understanding of “normal” is double digit growth, opulence and excess with no preparation or survival skills should the fundamentals of the world economy shift – which began overtly in September 2007.  Prior unprecedented growth screened hundreds of millions of poor decisions on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.  One of those ideas was to consider a home independently from an investment – a lifestyle choice and not an investment choice.  For most people a home is often their largest investment and yet the ways in which the choices are made are often based on something as inconsequential as whether a dining room table will fit in the dining room.  At Pertria the concern that must be addressed, the primary choice, is investment, secondarily lifestyle.

MO: You’ve spoken in the past about how fundamental changes in the global economy have shifted the focus from what Pertria must do to improve the client experience to what you must become. Would you elaborate on that as well as what make a good agents and advisors?

Helen: Every client who walks through Pertria’s door brings with them a meaningful history that has shaped their lives. Our stand is to accurately assess each client’s current situation relative to both their real estate holdings and overall investment portfolio. Once we understand the financial landscape we can begin to discuss their current, interim and ultimate ambitions, evaluate available options and make well-grounded decisions.

Today a real estate professional must be highly skilled, exceptionally knowledgeable, understand real property as an asset class, advise from a multidisciplinary viewpoint and, most importantly, provide leadership. The fundamental structure and organization at the root of our industry’s offer must change to provide the necessary experience our clients now demand.

MO: Can you describe some examples of the situations you’re currently seeing in the real estate market place and how Pertria has helped clients?

Helen: Spending 34 years as a private practitioner, manager of large regional offices and founder of what is now one of the highest volume real estate brokerages in the country, I understand the standard practices of my colleagues. With humility – I invented, designed or participated in the design of many of these practices.  Due to the sheer volume of transactions and number of agents working in each office, the rules of executing transactions must be narrow and tightly held to ensure the firm is not exposed to unnecessary liability.  Accordingly, the of core skill becomes execution of rote practices – CMA, Lockbox, Yard Sign, Broker Tour, Open House, offer, acceptance and close of escrow.  However, the world has become increasingly complex and small details ignored or unexplored can often lead to unrecognized losses.

Here’s a specific example. In September of this year, the California legislature passed a bill that states that Homeowners Associations have until January 12, 2012, to incorporate into their Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions the limitations they will place on the number of rental units allowable in their complexes.  If they do not incorporate these rules by the 12th of January they will lose the right to do so in the future.  As we speak there are hundreds of thousands of Homeowners Association throughout California meeting to determine how they will address this legislation.  The legislation allows people who own properties currently rented/leased to be “grandfathered in” and remain as such.  Many of our clients are purchasing condominiums, townhomes or planned urban developments as a strategy for retirement.  They anticipate renting/leasing these homes at present to defray the payments until they retire in a few years.  They are now at risk with this strategy.  It will take months for the public to hear of this legislation and by then their ability to navigate a successful strategy will be minimized if not eliminated, and their town home, condo or planned community home may likely sit vacant.  The tax, legislative, legal and social rules and regulations are changing on a daily basis.  Effectiv navigation requires serious dedication and focus. It is no longer sufficient to practice the common standards of selling and buying homes – the landscape has become far too complex.

MO: Any comment on where you see things headed?

Helen: I perceive the large mega offices will begin to subside.  They are not sustainable.  I assess that people will return to the small to medium, intimate, well educated and accomplished advisory model.  A model that provides all of the financial services a client requires when making large investment decisions; strategy current, interim and ultimate which is tempered by appropriate financial, tax, and lending advice, trust and family law practitioners, insurance coverage (that is an entirely challenging subject that people must address) and effective management practices.  Each decision requires interdisciplinary review to assure the certainty that the strategy provided addresses of all of the concerns an individual or family may have, many of which they do not know about.  Anything short of this can put people at risk – if not in the immediate transaction then in the interim and ultimate without question.

MO: We’ve heard that when it comes to clients, Pertria is not all work — apparently you have a knack for having fun with your clients too.

Helen: Yes, we definitely like to have fun as well.  Just recently Pertria hosted nearly 100 clients at the AT&T ProAm Pebble Beach tournament. That was a great time. Every year in December we invite clients and their families to watch the Santa Cruz Lighted Boat Parade from our offices above the Santa Cruz Harbor. We also host yachting and golfing events throughout the year. Outside activities year round is one of the benefits of living in Silicon Valley.

MO: We’ve also heard you live on a ranch.

Helen:  Yes. I have a 7-acre ranch that was once Northern California’s largest producers of Andalusian horses. I think we have grown or raised almost anything you can think of, including bison, ostrich, fainting goats, chickens and even bees. I think my annual harvest of giant pumpkins may now be better known than myself! Every October we open our ranch to clients and families to pick their own pumpkins for Halloween. The children love it. There’s a picture below. We really do grow some giant pumpkins.

Helen Pastorino, Pertria, Founder & President

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