With a passion for property and interior design and property, it is no wonder that Sammy Armstrong was responsible for bringing the world renowned real estate agency Savills to Gibraltar.
Life has a funny way of working out and after living for twenty years in Australia; little did Sammy think that she would be back in the home of her birth running a successful business. Born to the well-known Cruz family in Gibraltar, Sammy is one of four siblings. “I have three brothers, one of them has been in politics in Gibraltar on and off for many years and my other two brothers have always run businesses in Gibraltar and Spain,” she states. As with many Gibraltarian families who send their children to school in the UK, Sammy went off to board in the UK from the age of 12, after which she went to Madrid to perfect her Spanish. “I worked for the Gibraltarian architect John Langdon for six or seven months, and I loved it,” Sammy says enthusiastically. “I used to sit in the interior design department and think that this was the sort of work that I would like to do, and John very kindly said that he would pay for me to do an interior design degree,” Sammy states, “but I was 19, I had a boyfriend, and I followed my heart.”
Sammy moved back to London for a few months before embarking on a backpacking trip to Australia, without the boyfriend, ending up in Sydney. “From the minute I landed I thought ‘this is for me’,” she exclaims. “I didn’t want to leave and I only had a six month visa, but by then I had found an Aussie man whom I went on to marry and have two sons with.”
Realising that she needed to find something to do, Sammy started working for a dynamic husband and wife couple who manufactured exclusive forged iron furniture. “I am quite creative and I was involved in the design of some of the most exquisite bespoke wrought iron furniture that was sold wholesale or on to interior designers.”
After another brief 2 year stint back in London with her husband and two boys, Sammy returned to Sydney and set up a small business in 1997. Called Cruz- Armstrong Design, she worked with some top real estate agents preparing houses for sale. “The set up and structure of the real estate market in Sydney is very different to here,” Sammy states. “I started offering my services to go into houses and ‘pimp’ them ready for sale, decluttering, painting and styling them.”
Sammy combined her house styling business and interior design commissions with property development, buying and doing-up various residential properties. Her main success being a timber cottage which she converted into a very desirable state of the art home. She sold it serendipitously to someone who knocked on the door and said that they wanted to buy it; they persisted in their quest and eventually paid well over the market price. In 2006 Sammy and her family upped sticks and came to Spain. “I missed my family, needed a break and I had a little flat up the coast in Benahavis,” she says. After a couple of years, and many doubts about whether she had done the right thing by moving back, Sammy knew that she needed a project to focus on.
Luckily her brother Nick was setting up a law firm in Tangier and he commissioned Sammy to purchase and develop a property in Tangiers. “It took me two years to complete the project, consisting of two floors of offices and an apartment on the top floor,” she says, “travelling back and forth once or twice a week and I can honestly say it nearly killed me!” At the opening party in 2008, fate stepped in once again and Sammy met Kristina Szekely who admired the work that she had undertaken on the stunning riad.
“Kristina asked me to manage her newly opened branch of Sotheby’s International in Gibraltar,” Sammy explains. “I had always worked for myself and didn’t really know whether I wanted a proper job,” she laughs as she says this. However, despite not knowing anything about the Gibraltar property scene because she had not lived there for so long, Sammy took on the role.
After two years of successfully running Sotheby’s Gibraltar, Sammy had honed her real estate skills enough to embark on another career change. It was meeting someone at a wedding who said that she should set up an international franchise for Savills that set Sammy off on a quest to obtain a franchise in Gibraltar.
“I had already decided that I wanted to be part of a large, reputable property firm,” she says. “I knew that I didn’t just want to be another independent agent.”
Approaching Savills in the UK, Sammy had a task on her hand to persuade them to consider her seriously because their structure was to only give associations or franchises to established agents. “I put a business plan together and presented it to the Board of Savills,” she states. “It took a year for them to agree to go with me.”
Five and a half years ago Sammy opened the office in Irish Town from where she runs her successful business with a team of five (plus a back office), offering all aspects of real estate including residential and commercial letting and sales, as well as developmental consultancy work.
“We are an empathetic agency, and pride ourselves in property matchmaking; and it is very much about offering a personal service and looking after the client.”
With 700 offices around the world, Sammy has the reputation of an international brand behind her that is classified as one of the best agencies in the world. “The infrastructure and the resources that brings means that I can quite confidently advise a wide range of clients,” she states, “not just locally but on a global level.” The other thing that Sammy wants to make clear is that they cater for all aspects of the market. “I am just as committed when I sell a £150,000 studio as I am with a top-end £10 million house.”
Perfectly placed to comment on the future of the local property market, Sammy says that because Gibraltar is so small it only needs a couple of things to happen for it to change quite dramatically. “For instance, a gaming company has come into Gibraltar in the last seven months, settling in about forty families, some of whom have bought but most of whom are renting, thus inflating the market.”
“I think the profile of purchaser has changed since the Brexit Referendum, and the heat has come off the top-end of the market for properties £3 million and upwards,” Sammy states. “I don’t think the real estate market in Gibraltar will be affected by Brexit because 90% of our clientele are English,” she says with conviction. “The biggest impact that we are going to have that will definitely affect us down the track is the free movement of people in and out of the frontier. Notwithstanding, there is a significant potential upside when Gibraltar is compared with other low-tax jurisdictions. Gibraltar in many aspects could be as attractive and is often compared to Monaco. Whereas Gibraltar properties prices range between £5,000 to £7,000 sq m2, Monaco Prices are between £25,000 to £30,000 sq m2.”
Overall, Sammy sees the future as being a rosy one. “I think the pent-up demand for property has softened a bit,” she says, “and although I am excited about the two or three big developments in the pipeline which will be released soon, I think they have got to be sensibly priced, offer good amenities, with an international standard of architecture and quality, in order to attract the calibre of international clients we desire in Gibraltar.”
Sammy’s lively and energetic personality, together with a passion for hard work and professionalism is well placed to take Savills Gibraltar to further success in the future.