Holly Honarvar at Handlebar Coffee Roasters on De la Vina Street
Paul Wellman

“Connecting with people has always been essential for me,” says Holly Honarvar. She means this quite literally: every two weeks she lives, someone has to give blood to keep her alive.

“I hope my story inspires people to donate blood, for life is actually a gift to me,” she explains. “I owe it to people to give it back. When someone gives you a gift, you don’t want to throw it away.”

At just one year old, Holly was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called thalassemia. That means her body does not produce healthy red blood cells, so she requires regular treatment and blood transfusions every six weeks, in which she gets three units of blood from three different donors.

In person, Holly is a dynamo: energetic, passionate, and present. She is the director of property management for The Epstein Partners/Keller Williams. Last October, she started what she calls a “Mission To Connect” where she pledged to have coffee with a new person every weekday.

“How can I cultivate relationships on a deeper level?” she asked herself. “That’s how the idea of the Mission to Connect came about.”

Initially, she planned to have coffee with someone new for only a month, but found that there were many more people willing to meet with her. Almost six months in, she’s still going strong, connecting with someone every day. She even got “sponsored” by Handlebar Coffee.

Holly was born in Iran, where she spent the first 16 years of her life. “I was in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war,” she recalls of a childhood spent amidst that long, brutal 1980s conflict. “I’d hear sirens and we had to go to a shelter to wait in the dark, sometimes hearing planes so close to us.”

For years, her mother tried to get a visa to escape.“I remember the day she got the visa,” says Holly, whose mom took her and her siblings to Canada in 1997, leaving her dad behind. “The whole process was as if we were leaving on a summer holiday. We left with nothing sentimental.”

They stayed with her uncle in Vancouver for a month and a half. “The next three years were rough,” she admits. “For a little while we lived in a shelter.”

Holly went to high school in Canada. Because of her immigration status, she couldn’t qualify for a student loan to attend university. So she worked two jobs at a coffee shop and pizza place to afford general accounting courses at night. But at that pace, it was going to take her seven years to get accreditation.

When she was 19, Holly got a job at Toronto Dominion Bank as a teller. The bank was very supportive and she was able to take courses to earn her professional financial planning designation.

“I was with the bank 10 years and promoted eight times,” she explains. “By the time I was 26, I became bank manager. I grew up in the bank. It was the kick start of my career and my life.” Holly learned to be frugal and invested her money into Canadian real estate.

In 2009, she was laid off from the bank as the market wasn’t doing well. “It was one of the best things that could have happened,” says Holly. “It forced me in a different direction.”

A friend in Arizona told her about great opportunities there. In 2010, they established a real estate company west of Phoenix, purchasing homes that were being auctioned or foreclosed. “I started managing them for foreign investors,” she says. “I also purchased some of my own rental properties.”

Based on that success, she was able to call 2011 and 2012 “the most adventurous years of my life.” Holly traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, Europe, and even lived in Costa Rica for a time, all while managing her Arizona properties remotely.

In 2012, she was forced to return to Canada due to a kidney infection. Her doctor recommended she stay in Toronto for a while. “By 2014, I understood that if I can work remotely, I wanted to life near the ocean,” she says.

She picked Oahu, but then learned of Santa Barbara through her neighbors, who were UCSB grads. In June 2015, she went back to Canada, packed her car, and drove cross-continent to our city.

“When I first moved to Santa Barbara, I continued managing the properties in Arizona,” she says. “It didn’t take much of my time, but I wanted to do more. I was missing interacting with people.” In April 2018, she met Steve Epstein and became the director of property management for his company.

“Once I started coming out of the house, I started getting involved more and more in the community,” she enthusiastically exclaims. “I’ll be doing this as long as people want to have coffee!”

Holly Honarvar answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your current state of mind?

I feel incredibly grateful, for so many reasons! From not having to shovel snow anymore, to enjoying every moment in this paradise because of the invaluable gift of life I receive from so many random strangers! It has been an incredible journey and I’m thankful for every day that I get to live and continue exploring.

What is your greatest extravagance?

My travels. I am a frugal person when it comes to most luxuries in life, but I can easily justify money spent on acquiring an authentic and exotic experience, learning about a new culture, and understanding how the reality of life is perceived in different parts of the world.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I am the happiest when I’m surrounded by friends. I am a firm believer that our relationships are the most valuable assets we accumulate through life. It brings me great joy to make new friendships or cultivate existing ones.

What do you like most about your job?

I love the unpredictability of my days; no two days are the same. I love that my job is essentially building relationships and helping people with their most valued asset.

What is your greatest fear?

To be bitten by a shark! I don’t think my parents should have let me watch the movie Jaws when I was four years old!

Who do you most admire?

My brother. I admire his ability to stay focused and committed to his goals. His consistency and discipline in taking the actions necessary to achieve his desired outcome is remarkable to me. Most of us only function at a small fraction of our full potential, so to me it is admirable to see anyone step out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves.

What is the quality you most like in people?

I like anyone who lives life with zest and passion and is not scared to take chances. I love people with positive outlook.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

I don’t like unreliable people. I think it’s a pet peeve of mine!

What do you most value in friends?

Honest feedback. I think it’s so valuable to have someone in life who will tell you what you need to hear even when it’s not what you want to hear!

What is your most marked characteristic?

Can my smile count as a characteristic? My friends and family would probably say it’s my fearless sense of adventure and my drive to get done whatever it is that I set my mind to.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Lately, the phrase I seem to be saying quite often is “Let’s connect”!

Which talent would you most like to have?

I wish I could kite surf. I took a lesson last summer and almost got taken away by the wind. I love watching the guys get lifted off the water. It’s exhilarating!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’m a fiery Sagittarius and sometimes I wish I could tune down the fire inside of me. A few inches taller wouldn’t hurt either!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I would say achieving financial independence at a very young age and creating passive income through real estate investments, which has enabled me to travel to almost 40 countries and live in some amazing places.

Where would you most like to live?

Some years ago, I made a checklist of all the things I wanted in the place I call home. It turns out Santa Barbara checks off every single item on that list! If I won the lottery, though, I would buy a second home in Malaga, Spain.

What is your most treasured possession?

My friends, my travel memories, and my life experiences. Having moved around so much, I have learned not to get attached to material possessions too much.

Who makes you laugh the most?

Any comedy with Vince Vaughn.

What is your motto?

I have a few favorite lines: “The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live.” “It’s 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” “To achieve what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done.”

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Amadeus Mozart! Don’t ask me why.

On what occasion do you lie?

When someone asks how tall I am.


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