Staffing Your Estate: Part I (of a III Part Series)

For any luxury homeowner, keeping up an expansive estate can be an overwhelming task. San Diego PREMIER’s three-part series will help you build a staff of Private Service Professionals that will keep your estate running effortlessly, whether you are at home or away.

Hiring a personal staff for consistent white glove service

Estate Manager, Butler, Chef, Maid

For any luxury homeowner, keeping up an expansive estate can be an overwhelming task. San Diego PREMIER’s three-part series will help you build a staff of Private Service Professionals that will keep your estate running effortlessly, whether you are at home or away.

For large estates, having an in-house staff is a must to keep maintenance issues at bay, to maintain impeccable grounds and to organize an estate’s many daily tasks. In order to manage this staff, many homeowners are now relying on an Estate Manager. Often a live-in employee, an Estate Manager organizes the backend details of the entire household, as well as efficiently keeps the front of the house running smoothly.


Traditionally, the head of the household is the butler. Although the position and title are old-fashioned, butlers are currently seeing resurgence in less formal estates throughout the U.S. Also called a Majordomo, the butler traditionally is the keeper of the bottles, in charge of everything to do with the dining room and the service of fine foods and wines.

Although customarily male, presently 20% of the 50,000 butlers worldwide are female, estimates the International Butler Academy. A butler is a Jack (or Jill) of all trades, willing and able to act as an estate’s all-purpose household manager. This includes everything from greeting guests upon arrival to organizing and executing lavish dinner parties for hundreds. According to the International Guild of Professional Butlers, “The butler represents, and often instills to the rest of the staff, the values of good communication, service heart, energy, enthusiasm and dedication that are vital in giving great service to one’s employer.”

A butler’s salary is usually based on his/her experience which may include formal training for the duties required. This salary can reach up to $150,000 annually, plus benefits and housing. In modern households, and especially for homeowners needing management for multiple estates, a butler may be elevated to an Estate Manager and compensated accordingly.

Estate Manager

The traditional butler, pictured in full tuxedo and white gloves, is mostly a thing of the past. Estate Managers are now handling the front and back-end of large estates which requires a high level of social etiquette and even human resource abilities. Often, the estate manager directs not only the daily workings of a household, but also acts as peacekeeper amongst the other staff. The true CEO of a property, the Estate Manager needs excellent organizational skills, experience dealing with local vendors, and multi-purpose managerial talents with a solid management background, a four-year college degree or the equivalent and a minimum of five years of Household Management experience are necessary to qualify. Superior administrative, computer, Household Management and luxury market expertise skills are essential. Employment packages are generally between $80K and $250K per year.


“Look for a married couple to act as your estate managers,” advises Founder and President of Estate Staffing by Heartland, Karen Ryan. “They are sharp, have a lifetime of experience to make use of on the daily workings of your home, and you will get more for your money.” Says Ryan, an experienced couple can usually be hired for around $100,000/year whereas the same level of qualified single Estate Manager will garner well over a $50,000 annual salary.

Most married teams will be in their late 40s or 50s. In more traditional homes, the husband of an estate manager team is expected to do the maintenance and groundskeeping for an estate, as well as act as a chauffeur if his employer so requires. The wife is in charge of the inner workings of the home, including the cooking, cleaning, and organizational aspects of estate management. For modern homes, Ryan notes that, “Understanding the operation of a state-of-the-art high-tech home is essential in most placements. Anticipating you and your family’s needs and the on-going care requirements of a beautiful property is, of course, the goal.”

Finding qualified staff is made easy when using an agency such as Heartland, Starkey International, or Chadwick Village Staffing. Because of Equal Employment Opportunity laws, private estate staffing agencies can act as the middleman, asking the questions of potential staff that employers cannot. They also provide extensive screenings, including reference and background checks, and even include photos of your potential employees. When consulting both applicants and their potential employers, Ryan notes that she is always looking for the permanent placement. “Dealing with the bail out of a bad placement is bad for everyone,” she cautions. “You want to do it right so your home is not a revolving door of help.”

Most agencies will charge the homeowner up to 20% of the gross annual salary of a hired applicant. For Heartland, this fee is 100% refundable if a job falls through before the scheduled start date. Once an applicant is hired, however, she offers a “settling in period” of two months, whereby a hired staffer is fully guaranteed.

Private estates are often expansive, requiring the full range of positions that will allow the home to function smoothly at all times. Beverly Hills based Private Chefs Inc. provides private home placement for personal chefs who can cook everything from soup to nuts. Personal chefs routinely create custom weekly menus for a household, which can include up to three full meals per day. Shopping for groceries, preparation, cooking and sometimes even serving and cleaning are all well within a personal chef’s line of duty.

For the health conscious or those with dietary concerns, experience in cooking for the specific needs of a household is a must. These days, chefs are well versed in menus that allow for low-fat or low-sodium diets, how to maintain a Kosher household, or cooking for those with food allergies or a penchant for a particular type of cuisine.

Family- Style Cooks/Household Cook’s/

Chef’sThe Family-Style Cook

This level person typically learned to cook at home. They may be male or female and have backgrounds as homemakers or in administrative or other service positions. They can be very good cooks within their knowledge base, can read simple recipes, prepare child-pleasing meals and snacks and have a comfort level with grilled, roasted, or baked foods but generally do not have large repertoires. They can come to your home daily to prepare meals or come once or twice a week and prepare meals for the whole week. Salaries may vary on the amount to meals they prepare per week.

The Household Cook

This level of individual has had experience cooking in households and/or has taken short-term cooking courses. Often they have had some apprentice-level training at a restaurant, catering company or even in a private home. They have good basic knowledge of kitchen management, can follow most any recipe and can create appropriate menus for family meals. They generally have some knowledge of presentation and table service. Employers should work with this level of individual to plan meals, organize events, work with caterers and establish basic procedures in terms of shopping. After this initial planning, day-to-day supervision of the kitchen could be minimal., They are also able to provide entertainment at the level of formal dinner parties, cocktail parties, or brunches. Salaries for this level of expertise are typically $30 to $45K per year.

The Professional Household Chef

This type of individual has mid-level training and/or experience in a private household. A typical background might include Head Chef experience at a restaurant, completion of a course at a certified culinary school or a combination of those factors. These individuals can design a more elaborate menu or throw together something scrumptious at the last minute. They provide a very high-quality level of cooking, artistic presentation, have knowledge of wines and specialty foods, and their knowledge of service may range from restaurant-style to formal household service. We recommend this level of cook for households that put a priority on delicious food, that do food-based entertaining frequently, and that tend to be more on the structured and formal side. Salaries for this level of expertise typically start at $45K per year.

The Gourmet or Specialty Chef

This level of chef is the expert in culinary arts! They have a thorough knowledge of classical cooking and baking skills, and they also have expertise with a specific style of cooking as well as personal style. They typically have a degree from a Culinary School. They are skilled in selecting the finest quality and most nutritious ingredients available. They have been trained to manage a kitchen. They have mastered a wide variety of culinary techniques, so even an unfamiliar or difficult recipe would not be a challenge. Their cuisine is beautifully prepared and artistically presented. Chefs at this level of expertise probably have a preferred style of cooking, which may be a regional cuisine or may encompass a specific type of diet. If you are interested in employing a chef at this level, we recommend that you first determine your preference of cooking. These chefs require a minimum of supervision once preferences have been established. They can take direction but need a lot of independence to exercise their full talents. Salaries typically start at $50+K plus.

A personal chef with 5-10 years of professional experience will earn up to $65,000 annually. Those with 10-20 years experience typically garner over $100,000, and when using an agency, will require an extra 10-20% gross annual salary fee for placement. Private staffing agencies will also be able to help place a personal chef for yacht or private aviation usage in addition to in-home culinary experts.


According to Ryan, it takes one person 8 hours to clean 5,000 square feet. For some, using a cleaning service with a 4-5 person crew is an effective way to keep a house in working order. For others, especially those estate owners with an active hosting calendar, having a full-time live-in housekeeper is a must.

When housing a private service employee, Ryan notes that reserving a small bedroom behind the kitchen is out-dated. “You really limit yourself on applicants,” she notes, as high-caliber candidates will not tolerate such undervalued living conditions. The norm, she says now, is to place a live-in employee in their own small house or apartment, either on or offsite. This allows the employee their own personal space yet still gives the client maximum access to their staff. However, she warns, “expanded job syndrome” is the number one complaint of applicants of Heartland’s live-in placements.

If you are considering hiring an cleaning service company to come to your home weekly or bi-weekly to clean, here are some tips when talking to an potential person or company:

Bonding: Make sure the company is bonded for its clientele. Should a theft occur, you need to be protected. Some companies, if they are bonded at all, protect only themselves, not the consumer.

Insurance: Make sure the company is insured. If a maid slips and falls while cleaning the shower, your home owner’s policy might not cover the incident.

References: Make sure the company is reliable. Ask for references and a work history.

Screening and hiring: Ask if employees’ references are checked and if their residence status is confirmed. Some established company policies include screening for honesty and dependability.

Cleaning products and equipment: Some independent housekeepers as well as some services expect you to supply all cleaning products and equipment. Check out what’s included with your house cleaning. And make sure they know the correct products to use of your granite counters or marble floors, and if you have little children around or pets that they are using products that are safe for them.

Guarantee and Security: Make sure the service is backed by a written satisfaction guarantee. If you found someone through the local paper and they don’t have an office location or store front and you are worried about leaving them in your home alone, you should ask for a drivers license,write down their information and before you leave write down their license plate number too. This will help you feel more secure and will help if something should happen or become missing.

Taxes: Make sure you don’t break any tax laws. If you pay a housekeeper or maid a certain amount per year, the federal law requires you to pay social security and other taxes on that person. However, some states may require you to withhold state taxes on payments smaller than $1,000. Most maid service companies withhold taxes for their employees, but check to make sure. For more information about household employee taxes, call the Internal Revenue Service.

The best private service applicants are flexible, and will allow for the occasional 80-hour weeks and a weekend work detail. However, Ryan says, compensation during the slower times, either in bonuses or time off, will maintain a respectful relationship between the employer and their employee. After all, for a high net worth home, it pays to keep high net worth staff.


Look for Part II in our Sept issue about staffing: Nanny’s, Driver’s, Landscaper’s Personal Pilots/Yacht Captains and Pool services.

Part III in our Oct issue will feature: Party/Event Planners, Dog Walkers/Groomers, Personal Trainer.

By Kelly Cochran

San Diego Premier Vol 14 August 2007

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