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This kind of architecture can make you do very silly things — like buy a house on a major thoroughfare — because you leave all your senses at home,” says Josiah Hamilton, who specializes in Palm Springs midcentury real estate. “It’s a weird thing that happens to people: They walk into one of these homes, and they forget how to buy a house. When we found our first house in 2003, I swear I didn’t even need an inspection. I saw the rooflines and the walls of glass and that was all I needed.”
Hamilton, who was in the rare wine sales business for years before entering real estate and has lived in London, Boston, New Orleans, and Los Angeles, says he has been a fan of the furniture and architecture of the era since he can remember. He and his wife were the first people to be married in the Frank Sinatra House designed by E. Stewart Williams and they live in a 1958 Swiss Miss chalet with a rare double A-frame. “I like to practice what I preach: We’ve bought a house every year since we’ve been here,” Hamilton says. “I bought one of my own listings last year.”
You won’t see a listing on Hamilton’s site for a Tuscan-style golf course home. He’s purely a mod, mod kind of guy who has been known to turn down a dozen listings in a month in order to preserve his expertise. His clients range from flippers (yes, they still exist) and plugged-in investors to creative types looking for a weekend retreat. “I’ve shown people a house in one afternoon and they put in an offer. Others have taken a year and a half,” he says. “I don’t prefer either of those tactics.”
He urges buyers to take their time, and learn the streets and the neighborhoods. “There’s a lot of redundancy in this market. What’s funny is how you graduate through the process. When you first get here, you’re blown away by anything. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of people over the last seven years who have bought an Alexander, painted the door orange, hung a sputnik lamp over the dining room table, and marked the price up $100,000 because everyone was floored by modern architecture,” he says. “Now we have a more sophisticated buyer who isn’t just floored by a butterfly roofline; they want something more substantial. What’s missing is quality renovations. I can’t control what people do with a house after they buy it. Sometimes I wish I could.”
When he meets his clients, he often does so with pen and paper in hand. “I tell them to write down their top ten must-haves: view, orientation, roofline, fixer versus remodel, and look at what’s at the top.” Hamilton says. “If you can get six or seven of those ten, buy the house. You won’t get ten if you build it yourself.” He believes the best buys meet one of these three criteria: a great remodel, a home in original condition, or a great deal. “Personally, I feel Palm Springs is still the wild, wild West — an undervalued, undiscovered area. This town is behind in so many ways. When it finally catches up, people are going to be kicking themselves saying, ‘Why didn’t we buy more?’”
Hamilton says the drawback to owning an older home is that, quite simply, it’s an old house; it’s vintage. “It’s like an old car; it needs some fine-tuning. It won’t always run smoothly, but that’s why you have it,” he says. He compares it to owning vinyl versus a CD. “Vinyl’s rad. Nothing sounds like vinyl. There’s a reason it’s still around. Even those homes that have been remodeled extensively are still old homes. They weren’t rebuilt from the ground up.
“I’m not in this business because I want to sell houses; I want to sell architecture. Even if that means I make less money. I get a buzz when I get one I like. I can’t wait to write the copy, photograph it, turn other people onto it. I love being a liaison for modernism.”
Josiah Hamilton’s dog, King, sits in front of the family’s 1958 double A-frame Swiss Miss home in Las Palmas. Photo by David Blank. Above
The living room of this 1959 butterfly-roof Alexander in Vista Las Palmas, one of Hamilton’s listings, offers the classic top-of-the-palms view through clerestory windows that flank the fireplace. It is offered at $1,095,000. Photo by David Blank. Middle
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