COMMUNITY PROPERTY: Meet San Diego’s longest-running real-estate partnership

Irene Chandler is bubbly, optimistic and socially unrestrained. She is active in the La Jolla Villagers, La Jolla Republican Women’s Club and Club Altura and volunteers at Scripps Polster Breast Care Center every Friday morning.

Jim Shultz is quiet, reserved and a little on the nerdy side. When he isn’t working, which is rare, he can usually be found taking nature hikes or home watching “The Big Bang Theory.”

“Jim and I are really different,” Chandler says of her real-estate partner and office-mate in the primo rear corner of the Coldwell Banker brokerage at 930 Prospect St. “He’s more reserved, whereas I’m sort of a —”Shultz jumps in to finish her sentence with “Pollyanna?” He laughs because he has just scored an insult that Chandler doesn’t recognize as one.

“Oh, it means optimistic?” she says. “Well, I definitely am optimistic!”

The banter is part of what puts clients at ease around them. They’re basically the La Jolla real-estate version of George Burns and Gracie Allen.

New clients assume, all the time, that Shultz and Chandler are married. In fact, Chandler says, “that’s why I’m not married.”

Shultz laughs and replies: “That’s not my fault.”

“It is your fault!” she snaps back playfully.

Chandler was married for 24 happy years before her husband died nine years ago. Shultz never tied the knot and says he’s “married to my work.” There’s never been a scintilla of romance between them, both insist — not even a Christmas party where a little too much wine was partaken of and a little something regrettable was said.

“We are pure,” Chandler says. (“I don’t drink,” Shultz adds.)

In 1978, Shultz and Chandler were new agents at Beach & Bay Realtors, located where La Donna Boutique now is at 937 Silverado St. He was a fourth-generation Fallbrook resident, brand new to La Jolla, who had a law degree and experience volunteering in Africa with the Peace Corps.

She was from Pittsburgh via Florida and L.A., where she worked in show production for John Raitt (Bonnie’s thespian father).

Someone randomly sat them next to each other.

“The company had no training program and we start talking to each other, going to lunch, bouncing ideas off each other about how to market ourselves and properties,” Shultz says.

“And how to become rich,” Chandler chimes in, smiling.

Shultz rolls his eyes and smiles, too, saying: “How to become successful, put it that way.”

The biggest difference between now and then, Shultz says, is that “you could work part time in real estate and do well, whereas today, you have to be a dedicated, fulltime professional or the competition is going to starve you to death.”

Today, up to 20 percent of all Realtors are in a partnership. But when Chandler and Shultz decided to tie the business knot, it was a rarity. Back then, they were the only duo in La Jolla.

“It just made sense,” Chandler says, “and it still does. One of us is always available. We don’t go on vacations together, so one of us is always here for the client. I feel a lot stronger having a partner. We bounce things off each other, which is great.”

According to the San Diego Association of Realtors, Chandler and Shultz have the longest-running real-estate partnership in the County. That’s probably true of the State as well. (Shultz says he was told by the California Bureau of Real Estate: “We don’t keep records, but we don’t know of a partnership lasting 40 years.”)

So what’s their secret? How does one stay with only one other person through thick and thin and seven presidential administrations?

Well, they split their earnings 50/50, for one thing, no matter whose baby a sale was. That way, when one of them has some personal business to take care of, the other can pick up the slack.

“Irene had to be out for six months last year,” Shultz says. “If she wasn’t in a partnership, her business would have died.”

It seems like there’s an equally important secret, however: limiting the amount of time spent with each other. Shultz and Chandler have non-overlapping social circles and only get together for dinner about twice year — although they do still lunch together during business hours, about three times a week.

Chandler explains: “A lot of married couples work together, go home together —”

Shultz finishes her sentence, laughing again: “— and they get divorced together, because they can’t stand being around each other that much.”

Chandler laughs, too, saying that she’s “looking forward to the next 40 years” with Shultz.

As this reporter packs up, Shultz offers their business card.

“Did you give him the new card or the old one?” Chandler asks him. “Oh, God, you gave him the old one, didn’t you?”

As Shultz rummages through his desk to look for the new one, the accuracy of the aforementioned show-biz analogy becomes apparent on a new level. Underlying their business partnership, Jim Shultz and Irene Chandler, like George Burns and Gracie Allen, really do love each other.