Savills Studley’s Lance Leighton is making his name as a specialist in the office leasing sector of New York City’s real estate market.
Leighton, a managing director at the firm, focuses his tenant representation work on financial services clients as well as tech and new media firms. Since the beginning of the year, he has completed 25 deals for a total of more than 250,000 s/f.
Since joining Savills Studley in 2010, Leighton has closed more than one million s/f in deals, with clients such as co-working company The Yard, and finance firms Third Bridge, Winton Capital, and Harbor Springs Capital.
In 2012, Leighton co-founded a real estate blog, HedgeFundSpaces.com, dedicated to helping boutique financial firms find office space. He also recently co-founded TechOfficeSpaces.com, with the same goal, but for tech, advertising and new media companies.
“Ever since the day I started, I’ve been super-passionate about what I do,” Leighton told Real Estate Weekly.
His start was far less glamorous than his position now. In the summer of 2008, he took a sales position with office supplier W. B. Mason, selling their products “door-to-door, floor-to-floor,” which entailed lugging a suitcase around Times Square in 100-degree heat, something he called “less than ideal.”
“I decided early on that wasn’t going to be for me,” he said. He then began working as a residential salesperson at Keller Williams in Long Island, during a time when the market was unforgiving.
“It was tough, right when the market crashed, no one was buying or selling and the banks weren’t lending,” he said. But Leighton found a way to make it work, going after for sale by owner and expired listings.
Just when he finally felt he’d figured out the business, his cousin and mentor Evan Margolin, approached him and asked him if he wanted to join his team at Savills Studley, where he has been ever since.
But it wasn’t the first time he had the opportunity — Margolin wanted him to join him right after he graduated from college, but Leighton wasn’t ready.
“He said there would be really long hours and you’d get rejected every day, but in the long term it would pay off. I said thanks, but no thanks,” said Leighton. “But I finally figured out that in sales, you have to grind hard and stay late, and I was finally ready to commit myself to long days and rejection.”
But he also found that in the midst of all the hard work, he came to love the unpredictable days that came from being a broker, and never having the same day twice. Leighton and Margolin pride themselves on their strength in forming relationships, living by the mantra that people always want to do business with their friends, so treat clients like friends and family.
They also believe in the power of having a strong specialty in one area of the business, which is why they’ve carved out a niche representing hedge funds, private equity firms, investment banks and boutique financial firms.
“I’d say there are thousands of people in New York that do what I do, so having a focus and being able to tell someone that you specifically focus on their industry and know it better than anyone, it really resonates with them,” said Leighton.
The idea for HedgeFundSpaces.com grew from hedge funds that Leighton and Margolin were working with that were looking for specific kinds of spaces.
“I said how great would it be to build a website showcasing opportunities,” said Leighton. “We went from cold calling CEO’s and companies to having them come to us.”
He estimated that on any given week, his team gets four to five leads from prospective tenants as a result of the website’s popularity, and they’ve closed a “tremendous amount” of deals from it.
Leighton just finished a deal representing Winton Capital Management in their move out of the Seagram Building to 315 Park Avenue South.
Though he has several deals in the works, he couldn’t talk specifics about them, since many of his financial clients prefer to keep quiet about their moves.
The newer website, TechOfficeSpaces.com, came from the surge in tech firms taking space in NYC in the past several years.
“It’s hard to ignore what’s going on in the tech sector,” said Leighton. “We’ve been spending a lot of time focusing on tech companies, too, that’s why we started the blog. If we just pigeon-holed one niche we would miss out on that.”
In particular, Leighton has done a number of deals with The Yard, most recently a 35,000 s/f space they took on 60th Street near Columbus Circle.
He is also helping them expand on a national basis, working with them to find new locations.
Leighton and his four-person team are “as busy as ever” but wouldn’t rule out expanding the team given the right opportunity. Looking to the future, he is focusing on strengthening existing relationships, and making new ones.
“People want to do business with people they like and trust, so if you can build that trust and that bond with your clients, and they can become your friend, they’ll never do business with anyone else,” said Leighton.