This article by Stefanos Chen was originally published by The Wall Street Journal. Thomas Sanford, a 44-year-old former cop, made a career change in 2008 and relocated a couple of years later. Now he lives on a 5-acre estate in Beverly Hills with a 10,000-square-foot French Colonial mansion and private staff. Mr. Sanford isn’t a CEO or celebrity—he’s an estate manager, which means he oversees the property for the homeowners. “I kind of stumbled into it,” he said from the operations-command center/gatehouse on the property. The homeowners—he declined to name them because of a confidentiality agreement—are a film director and fashion designer who first hired Mr. Sanford as their head of security. By 2010, Mr. Sanford gave up his two-bedroom apartment in Los Feliz, Calif., and moved onto the property to manage the couple’s home full time. Top estate managers range from ex-military to former fashion models, all catering to homeowners with a lot of home to handle. Despite the perks and glamour, the odd hours and sometimes odder tasks mean the peevish need not apply. There are about 2,000 estate managers in the U.S., according to Bryan Peele, president of the Estate Managers Coalition in Los Angeles, a trade group with about 500 members. Estate managers, whose duties can include everything from patrolling the tennis court to stretching the owner’s Manolo Blahnik heels, can make upward of $200,000 a year, not including other benefits, Mr. Peele said. “You’re running a company, and the company just happens to be a family of five,” said Mr. Peele, who manages several Los Angeles properties for his client. Every arrangement is different. Mr. Sanford, who lives in the staff quarters on his clients’ Beverly Hills estate, draws the line at certain tasks. “I don’t fold people’s laundry or underwear, but I am an accommodator,” he said. A 12-hour shift involves regular security sweeps, meetings with the housekeepers and landscaper, and a maintenance inspection of all nine refrigerators, eight air conditioners and 12 bathrooms. Mr. Sanford will enter the owners’ main house about 10 to 20 times a day, he said—occasionally to watch over the couple’s 14-year-old son. “I’m just like the big brother,” he said. Not all estate managers live on the premises. In the Las Vegas area, Terri and Dominic Rioux, both 44, manage four estates, including the onetime home of high-end fashion retailer Fred Segal currently owned by a family limited-liability company (LLC).
‘You’re running a company, and the company just happens to be a family of five.’
Currently he runs the estate for members of a Saudi royal family with a staff of 75 in Los Angeles. Not every job goes smoothly. “Some people burn out,” said Mr. Peele of the Estate Managers Coalition. One EMC member told him he had to break in the owner’s Manolo Blahnik heels by wearing them around the house; another had to find a voodoo priest to bless the owner’s new house; others have been asked to carry “non-FDA approved drugs” for clients, he said. This is why trust is so important, says Bey Dilemani, a former hotel general manager and restaurateur who has worked with his current employer, real-estate developer Fraydun Manocherian, on and off since the 1980s. Mr. Dilemani lives in Mr. Manocherian’s roughly 16,000-square-foot modernist home in Ridgefield, Conn., which, along with an 11-acre horse property, is on the market for $22 million. Built in 1994 and designed by Rafael Viñoly, the architect behind the New York skyscraper 432 Park Avenue, the home includes a 60-foot-long indoor pool that leads to a second outdoor pool, a built-in security and sound system, and custom-built finishes from around the globe. To accommodate Mr. Dilemani, who has lived there for a year and a half, part of the lower level of the home was converted into an estate manager’s suite. Mr. Manocherian, doesn’t live at the residence, so Mr. Dilemani is involved in every aspect of maintaining and marketing the home as if it were his own. In one case, he scoured the country for a manufacturer of a specialty tile imported from Italy. After an arduous search, he found a supplier. “I kissed her hand and I said thank you,” he recalls. “I was so happy and excited I was jumping up and down.” Ultimately, when the property sells, Mr. Dilemani will be out of a home, but not out of a job. “I’m not worried about that,” he said about an impending sale. “I trust him tremendously.”