Craig Price, the youngest partner in Belkin, Burden, Wenig and Goldman LLP’s history, has enjoyed a swift rise up the career ladder. At 39 years, the real estate transaction lawyer has already worked with bestselling authors and foreign dignitaries, closing on several eight-figure deals. But Price’s rise had its bumps along the way. At one point, he practiced law from a bagel shop, schmearing cream cheese between calls with clients.
Like most real estate professionals, Price had different career plans growing up. Born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn, he wanted to work in television broadcasting. As an undergraduate at Ann Arbor, he majored in political science and communications. Even when he changed his mind and attended Brooklyn Law School, he hardly wasted a thought on real estate.
“At the time, I thought I wanted to go into criminal justice, but after five days at law school, I knew this wasn’t for me,” he said.
His first foray into the real estate sector wasn’t so much a conscious career decision as a convenient way to make money. “I really needed to supplement my income, and had a friend who was doing title closing. He said I should get my notary stamp and learn how to be a title closer,” Price recalled.
When Price graduated from law school, he continued to work as an independent title closer and per diem closing attorney. He learned that there was a strong demand in the city and surrounding counties for “witness only” settlement closers for residential loan transactions being handled by upstate New York settlement and title companies.
He had made some contacts, and settlement agencies from upstate would send him loan packages to have executed and notarized on their behalf in the New York City and surrounding county vicinity.
Lacking an office, Price had to be creative. “I had moved to Hewlett, Long Island,” he recalled. “A friend of mine owned a couple of bagel stores. I would sit at his counter getting calls from upstate. I was facilitating the closings, and doing this out if the bagel store. During the busy times, I would hop in and schmear cream cheese on bagels for people.”
Luckily, Price didn’t have to work out of his friend’s bagel shop for long. “One day, I was closing on a $7 million co-op purchase. Across the table sat a paralegal representing the seller. He was shadowed by a partner at his law firm. At one point the partner asked me how old I was. When I answered 25, he asked me how I got here. I ended up giving my him my card.”
Four months later, the partner called Price at the bagel shop. There was an opening at his law firm, and he thought Price might be a good fit. A few interviews later, Price joined his first law firm, Eiseman, Levin, Lehrhaupt & Kakoyiannis, P.C., as a junior associate in 2001.
The boutique law firm specialized in real estate and securities litigation. During his three years with Eiseman Levine, Price worked with a large Wendy’s franchisee and several REITs. “I really gained an immense amount of knowledge,” he recalled. “Up to that point, I had primarily worked with residential real estate. This gave me an entry into the world of commercial real estate.”
Despite his success, Price still had doubts about his career and considered becoming a real estate investor himself. He and his wife were about to have their first child, and he was thinking about his financial prospects. “When you don’t have grey hair, trying to get commercial real estate people to retain you as a lawyer is a difficult thing,” he said. “We lawyers have this vision that being the client is always better, or could potentially be financially more rewarding.”
The opportunity to help build up Belkin Burden’s transactional practice helped Price dispel his doubts. He joined the firm in 2004 and became a partner in 2007, when he was only 33 years old.
Price describes his work for Belkin as that of a “tweener” — he handles both commercial and residential real estate.
One of his first transactions in 2008 was the sale of an office tower at 139 Center Street in Chinatown for $55 million, where he represented the seller. He has also represented the buyer of the Fine Arts Building in Midtown East, which went for $34 million.
One important lesson Price has learned is that being nice pays off. “You find yourself dealing with a lot of the same colleagues very often. You always have to be mindful that today it’s you, but tomorrow it’s them,” he explained.
On the residential side, Price said he has worked with everyday New Yorkers as well as celebrities and foreign dignitaries.
He has also left his mark in Stamford, where he lives with his wife Randi, a school social worker, as well as his nine-year-old daughter and his seven-year-old son. He is active in Stamford’s Jewish community, building on his education at a Hebrew school in Flatbush and the semester he spent in Israel as a college student.
He also raises money for the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital through the team “Sock-it To Cancer”. The team was founded by his late mother-in-law, who died after a nine-year struggle with ovarian cancer. “This is a matter that’s very dear to my heart. My mother in law was very instrumental in helping me find my path in life,” he said.
After many periods of doubt, Price says that he is finally happy with the path he has chosen. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather work,” he said. “I look forward to what the next 20 years have to bring.”