One of the most unique property agents of our time, Sam Palmer has one-of-a-kind experience in super-prime real estate, having lived in three $100 million-plus homes. A passionate entrepreneur, Sam also founded Staffing Properties, an estate staff agency for UHNWI and families, in 2019. Here, he talks to us about his approach to developing and selling high-end properties, the differences between the LA and London property markets and his favourite homes.
I have an eye for connecting people and properties, although I want to advise rather than just drive sales. My ability to advise comes from the fact that I live in the same types of houses I'm selling, developing or designing. It gives me a unique perspective and first-hand experience of these properties, what people want from them and what it's like to live there. I'm pretty unique in the market from that angle! I don't push for sales, and I don't have to: I'm very privileged to have the network I have, and I know what someone will like and what property will be a great match for them. The rest comes naturally.
My other business, Staffing Properties, was born a little bit out of necessity, as when I became involved in staffing our homes, I realised how hard it was to find a quality team. COVID made things challenging for individuals who needed to hire house or estate staff during or after the pandemic, as many staff stopped working for a period. When they were ready to be rehired, they started demanding very high salaries – sometimes asking for quadruple what they'd been on before. It's so important to get the right staff when you own super prime property, but equally, you need those individuals at the right price, and they have to bring real added value. Staffing Properties delivers on all these fronts, and it complements my property ventures.
The agency model is very different in the UK and the States. Personally, I prefer the Los Angeles agency model because the LA market is open, which I think is less secretive and more accessible. It's also more transparent because everyone knows where they stand.
In the UK, the best properties are usually sold off-market, and only a few people know about them, so your agent can make or break a sale and what you have access to. But there are great agents on both sides of the world.
In terms of property, there's more space in LA, which means there are bigger houses and gardens, and you've got more room to have fun things at home. In super-prime property in London, the quality and finishes are usually far superior to what you’ll find in LA, although LA is catching up. We're also seeing super prime London properties adopt some LA-style features, though, especially in basements: high ceilings like you'd find in the States, pools, gyms, and other high-end amenities, so each market takes inspiration from the other.
People tend to look at the house first and then think about day-to-day life afterwards, but I always advise people to do it the other way around, especially when you have young kids. There's always traffic in LA, and when the kids go to school, you don't want them sitting in the car for hours. So, I'd say, get school sorted first and then look at houses close by. The same goes for work, socialising, and your lifestyle – a great home that has you far away from where you want to be or where you'll spend your time isn't the perfect fit.
A property's floorplan is another big one – it's got to make sense. It's easy to fall in love with a house but not think about how it'll work to live there. Staff space is sometimes overlooked, for example, but it's so important for your family's comfort. You've got to think about things like where the security team will go or where your staff will take a break – sometimes there's no space set aside for that, and your team is limited to using their bedroom all the time, or they end up in the main house. When we bought our LA house, it had a ten-car garage we didn't need. We turned it into a staff area with space for security, breakout rooms, laundry – everything our team needs. Our staff have their own area, we added value and usable space to the house, and our staff aren't on top of us in the living areas, which we like as a family.
Lastly, there are a lot of gems in LA where you can do minimum work and maximise your returns. Sometimes you need to look beyond what's there already and consider the house's potential by thinking outside the box. It might be something like what we did with creating staff space. Or it can look different: developing a property to upgrade it or make it more practical, for example. When you buy the right property, there can be great ways to add a lot of value without making huge investments, and that can be easier in LA than in London.
In London, we're still seeing a desire for homes with larger gardens, which comes off the back of lockdowns. There's also more appetite for second homes, and we're seeing a lot of demand from people who want homes in Surrey and the Cotswolds. People are also looking abroad for second homes – Switzerland or the Alps where there's lots of green space and great air are popular.
In LA, more outside space is also in demand, even though super prime properties usually have more outdoor space than they would in London. LA has also embraced working from home more, so the daily commute doesn't matter as much as it did a few years ago. People can think about buying a primary residence in places they couldn't have done if they needed to be at the office every day.
We've just gone through two crazy years in the real estate market, and I think there will be a slowdown, especially at the lower end of the market, and as interest rates rise. When it comes to super prime property, I think there will be some slowdown as well, although there's still a lack of stock and huge demand, so it might look slightly different than in other parts of the market. There may be fewer international buyers in London, although I'm seeing a lot of Americans looking to buy outside the US.
I love all our properties, so it's hard to give a favourite, although Sloane House in London is really special to us as it's so unique. It's off-market, and we love living there, but if we get the right offer, we will sell it.
We're in the UK a lot more at the moment, but we look at property everywhere we go. We love Cabo and the rest of Mexico, where we've looked at properties, but we also look closer to home, so in Surrey and the Cotswolds. We're homebodies, though. We like to be in our own space, and we really live in and make use of the houses we have.
There are so many amazing properties out there, and the biggest isn't always the best fit for you. I have a friend in Malibu with a gorgeous home – it's not a huge place, but in terms of design, it's just stunning. Super prime property comes in all shapes and sizes, and there's something for everyone.
Personally, I'd love to do a joint project with my wife, Petra. She spearheaded the design of our house in LA with our friend Gina Assouad, and it's just spectacular. Working with Petra would be a lot of fun, and we both have different ideas, which I think would take a property redesign or development to the next level.
I have a fantastic team in LA who handle a lot of work in the States, where we're looking at a Beverly Park development and a project in Mammoth Mountain, both of which are great opportunities. I'm busy here in Europe handling projects in Tignes, Courchevel, the French Riviera and Gstaad and our listings in London. Our focus is residential properties, although we can consider commercial for the right projects. We've had a lot of interest from investors who want to be involved in what we're doing, so I'm also looking at what we can offer investors and real estate funds, which is a natural next step for the business.
It's set to be a really exciting year, and all these projects have come together in the past few months. What's great is that it's happened organically and taken off much faster than I thought it would.
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