Hamptons Confidential: Martha Gundersen

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Martha Gundersen has had a stellar career as an agent on the East End; she recently moved to Douglas Elliman. A Massachusetts native, Gundersen fell in love with the Hamptons on her first visit. Now she lives in Amagansett with her husband and three rescue dogs.

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, in a house built in 1710. My mother still lives there. There’s 12 acres and a pond and it was kind of an idyllic upbringing. I went to art school, then came out here and fell in love. And that was it.

I decided I would do whatever it would take to live here. And I knew that would be the service industry. Because if you wanted to live out here, unless you’re a Master of the Universe, which I was not, you had to get into the service industry. We had a landscaping business.

Back then, when I came out here in the late seventies, things were different. Everything and everybody weren’t enormously rich. People would come out for the summer, join the tennis club, have socials. It’s completely different now.

I remember those days myself. I could walk down Main Street East Hampton with my quarter allowance and actually find things to spend.

Now people are lucky if they can get a three-week vacation.

Where do you live?

Amagansett. When we started looking, we found a house on Marine Boulevard for $75,000. A neighbor of theirs recently sold for $5.75. I thought the house needed too much work to be worth $75,000. But we eventually found land and paid $120,000 for it and built our house.

Did you become an agent when you gave up the landscaping business?

I had been an agent before then, but I gave up my license. With landscaping, I loved plants, the flora and fauna and designing gardens and watching them grow. But eventually it got a little too much for me physically. And the next best thing were houses. You have history, architecture, light… You can’t buy good taste, but with enough education–

You can buy a decorator with good taste.

And there are so many talented people out here. The great architects, and you have people like Steven Gambrel. I did get involved with James Michael Howard, and I love his work. I love to see to how these talented people work.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to walk the beach and swim in the ocean as often as I can. I love to go over to Shelter Island on a summer day. I love the ability to go out on my boat and go out on the bay. Once you’re on the bay it’s like you’re in another world.

What else would be your dream job–if you could pick any job in the world to do, which would it be?

Out here? I’d love to gut homes and put in some really beautiful, tasteful, quality designs. Not to be a developer, but to give a tired house a refresh, transforming it into something really charming.

So that people really appreciate the old stuff instead of just tearing it down and building something new.

I closed yesterday on 6 Association Road. It’s an old 60s contemporary, and the new owners are actually going to renovate the existing house. It’s not even very large.

What are some of the best things about being an agent in the Hamptons?

The people. Meeting really nice people. Meeting people who are educated and really know what’s going on. And some of the other agents I just adore. There are a bunch of people I have a real affection for. The dynamic quality of life–there couldn’t be a better life. So, basically: the people.

What would you say are the drawbacks?

Long hours. And also, people call you when they’re ready. You can’t expect nine-to-five hours. If you’re not available to people when they’re ready, they may or may not walk into an open house and decide to buy it. People you’ve been working with for years and of course you have to congratulate them.

What do you think of the market right now?

It’s actually a very busy market right now. The last three years or so have been slow, but prices have dropped, which is a good thing, because people had unrealistic expectations.