By Dan Orlando
The pool of real estate professionals in New York is comprised of an assortment of individuals, each with varying backgrounds and unique paths that led them to their respective careers.
Stuart Saft, took three unexpected turns to arrive at his current position as chair of Holland & Knight’s New York Real Estate Practice Group.
“All I knew was it was a test on a Saturday and I just walked in and sat down and I finished in the 97th percentile,” Saft told Real Estate Weekly while discussing the quick and easy assessment known as the LSATs.
Saft hadn’t previously given serious consideration to becoming a lawyer, despite majoring in political science and government during his undergraduate career at Hofstra University.
On the advice of the president of the university, he took the exam and soon found himself headed towards his JD a Columbia Law School. Turn one.
“I had no plans whatsoever of being a lawyer,” said Saft, who “didn’t know the first thing about real estate,” when he arrived at Columbia.
“I never thought about real estate. I was thinking about criminal law.”
Today, his compaby represents such development giants as Extell, Moinian Group, Harry Macklowe, Soho Properties, HFZ Capital Group and AvalonBay.
He rose to become head of the global real estate practice at the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf before joining Holland & Knight in 2012.
Saft’s winding road led him to southern Manhattan, but it steered clear of the court house. Turn two’s apex placed Saft on Wall Street instead.
Upon settling in as a fresh-faced lawyer handling corporate securities cases for a FiDi firm, Saft was soon tasked by a partner with a real estate related assignment.
“I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing,” said Saft, who despite being a novice leaned into a
“serendipitous” turn three with enthusiasm. “I love really convoluted, complicated things to work through,” he said.
Saft’s pet project soon became the entirety of his workload as the firm began expanding their real estate offerings. Soon, this new niche would monopolize 100 percent of his time. 26 books on commercial real estate later and Saft couldn’t be happier that there wasn’t a turn four.
“It’s just incredible what’s going on right now in New York,” he told Real Estate Weekly. “I’ve never seen it like this before and I never imagined that the recovery would be this strong,” Saft said, remarking on the city’s resurgence from the lean times of ‘09.
He pointed to investor activity as a main driver for his bullish attitude, saying that “it makes perfect sense because we’re a global city.ˮ
His confidence is due in large part to the stability of America’s government in relation to many other foreign markets.
“Billionaires and high net worth companies and individuals are concerned that if there is a change in the government, or a change in the government policy, their assets will get wiped out,” said Saft while discussing alternatives to investing on domestic soil.
“It always starts in Manhattan but now look at what’s going on Brooklyn,” said Saft. “Many parts of Brooklyn are even more exciting than what we’re doing in Manhattan. We’re doing a lot of creative things, but in the past you’d never see the outer boroughs take off as quickly.
“The development is so strong that we’re really seeing it being in the four connected boroughs,” continued Saft, labeling Queens as an area that holds “a lot of under-used space” and calling attention to growth on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.
“I think this is going to continue for at least five more years,” said Saft, who is not worried that climbing prices could place the area in immediate danger of another bubble burst.
“The market will set itself at points in time and we’ve always had that in New York,” Saft said.
“(Investors) may not ultimately get a high return, but they know that their principle is safe.” While Saft’s confidence that New York will remain an ideal landing spot for investor dollars is certainly logical, the fact remains that rising prices could eventually choke out even the strongest market if demand can’t keep pace.
“There are almost nine million people living in New York City,” Saft said. “We don’t have nearly enough housing.
“At some point you’ll run into a price situation, but I think that’s being considered already.
“Because the deals that I was doing two years ago (involved) developers building these very large, high-end apartments.
“By last year, developers were rethinking what they were building and deciding to build somewhat smaller units in order to bring down the price point in anticipation of that happening.
“The reality is, as long as the government doesn’t get involved and interfere in this development, it’s likely that with increased supply to meet the demand, there will be some relief on the price pressures.”
The veteran real estate lawyer added, “I think we’re seeing a very broad development cycle where different developers are looking at different price points. There are more affordable projects that are being undertaken now.”
Large or small, Saft is eager to continue working on the real estate deals that keep New York’s market surging.