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In his 20th year dealing in Palm Springs midcentury real estate, Allen Miller is an expert on historical homes that offer the classic vacation lifestyle. He has ridden the housing market through highs and lows, seen the city’s demographics change and change again, and found midcentury homes for wide-eyed admirers from coast to coast. Miller says that more than 50 percent of the homes he represents are vacation home sales. And he is one to be believed when, speaking of his clientele, he says, “I know what they want.” A prime example was a couple from Orange County who came out and looked around at homes a few times. “I drove them up to a house in Las Palmas and they said, ‘You’re right. That’s it. But we don’t want to spend that much.” Miller says. Instead, the couple bought a more affordable house in central Palm Springs for $500,000. A year later, they called him back. “They said, ‘We should have bought the more expensive house. Can you take us back to that neighborhood?’” he says. “We break all the rules of real estate that say, ‘Listen to the client and let them tell you what they want.’ We know the inventory of what’s out there. We show them what we like, and they tend to agree.”
Miller likes to call his homes “sculpture you can live in.” He spent five years brokering architectural properties in Puerto Vallarta before moving to Palm Springs, a place he says he has seen become younger and more affluent by the year. It’s common for his clients to look around in their price range before deciding they’d like to bump that range up to the next level. “We are drawing a higher end demographic to Palm Springs,” Miller says. “They’re younger, and they have more money and taste.” He says another commonality is that more of them are seeking full-time residences. He believes that, in addition to people retiring younger, technology has helped to grow Palm Springs because fewer people are tied to their offices. When they discover they can work from anywhere, Palm Springs comes to mind for many who have visited.
Of course, not everyone in the market to buy here is doing so with bottomless pockets. And that’s another appeal of midcentury architecture. “People can come to us with almost any budget,” Miller says. “Over the last few years, we’ve sold homes in Palm Springs from under $300,000 to over $3 million. You’ll get a lot for $3 million; you’ll get something pretty special.” Frank Sinatra’s original Twin Palms estate — it was E. Stewart Williams’ first commission to design a single-family home — falls into that “pretty special” category. On the other end of the spectrum are the Alexanders that sit north of Vista Chino. There, “special” might come in the form of good prices on a fixer. Rough around the edges for years, the “north end is an up and coming neighborhood where one house after another is being restored,” Miller says. Built by the father-and-son team of George and Robert Alexander, these tract homes designed by Dan Palmer and William Krisel are in good concentration there, among other areas. More than 2,500 were built before the Alexanders died in a plane crash in 1965.
Miller’s company also takes on its own developing role from time to time. He pulled Donald Wexler out of retirement to design four small post-and-beam homes in Old Las Palmas in 2001 under the name of Tropicana. “We also have a professional team of master restorers. Often we are working with investors to unlock the hidden value in these properties,” Miller says. “In fact, many of the homes we sell, we sell twice: once in the before condition, and once in the after.”
But while some see them purely as an investment that will appreciate, many homeowners buy them out of pure appreciation. “For years, these architects were overlooked. Some of their work was torn down — and that’s not happening anymore,” Miller says. “The level of awareness of these architects has been raised. They are stars in their own right in their profession, and they have risen to the highest level. Here, people can take the opportunity to own one of these houses.” And thankfully, many do.
Pictured top - Miller sold this fully restored 1952 post-and-beam home for $825,000 in May 2006. Photo by Lance Gerber.
Miller represented the buyer who purchased Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms estate designed by E. Stewart Williams, which sold for $2.8 million in November 2005. (It is now available for rental through www.timeandplace.com.) Photo by Lance Gerber.
Pictured bottom - The three owners of this Canyon Country Club home maintained it in as-new condition for half a century. Looking through from the front, visitors can see the golf course out back (below right). It went on the market in January 2007 for $1,085,000. Photo by Lance Gerber.
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