The Real Deal New York

Jed Garfield

By E.B. Solomont

Jed Garfield is the owner of Leslie J. Garfield Real Estate, the residential townhouse-focused brokerage founded by his father in 1972. Garfield has personally sold more than 600 townhouses — some more than once — during his 30-year real estate career in New York. His conquests have included the record-setting sales of the Duke Semans Mansion at 1009 Fifth Avenue for $40 million in 2006 and the Japanese embassy at 11-13 East 62nd Street for $21 million in 1999. Born and raised in Manhattan, Garfield started in real estate as a leasing agent at Grubb & Ellis, but joined the family business in 1990. In 2003, he bought the brokerage from his father, who is now in his 80s and is still working at the firm.

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Have you ever live outside of NYC?

I spent a couple of years ski-bumming in Colorado.

What was that like?

I loved it. I worked as a busboy at a hotspot called Gordon’s High Altitude. It was the spot in Aspen [with customers like] Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime with Maria Shriver, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. I also worked construction. I started working for a builder who had just finished an 8,000-square-foot spec house on Snowmass, but he didn’t put in a Jacuzzi. On my first day, he said, ‘Here’s a pick and a shovel.’ It was backbreaking work.

What prompted you to go to Colorado?

After college, I worked in commercial leasing. When I started, my boss said, ‘Do you know where the World Trade Center is? Go canvas it.’ I went to the top floor and knocked on every door. I made a couple of small deals. Then I broke up with a girl. So I was unhappy in my work, my love life had just disappeared and I was like, ‘I’m going to go ski.’

What made you come back from Aspen?

I got a little tired of the skiing and a little tired of Aspen. It was an intellectual void. People were like, ‘Oh we got another six inches of snow and there’s a kegger tonight.’ I applied to the [School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University for a master’s degree] and my father said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, fine, I’ll pay for it, but I’d like you to work here in your free time.’

What did you study?

I studied economics and wanted to join the CIA. I took the CIA test, had an interview on campus and then never heard from them again.

So you ended up working for your dad?

I’d grown up around real estate. Leslie worked six days a week. On Saturdays, I’d go with him to show houses and to galleries. … Leslie said two things, which I’ve always taken with me. He said, ‘Don’t ever get into the office after I do and don’t ever lie to a customer.’ He used to have index cards with every single house in NYC. I’d come in the morning and he’d say, ‘Canvas these guys.’

What’s the biggest deal you’ve done?

The sale of 1009 Fifth for $40 million. I sold it to [the late] Tamir Sapir, who was in the building for 10 minutes. I will never forget when his legal counsel called me just before Christmas. He said, ‘I have a Christmas present for you. Tamir is prepared to pay the asking price. Just make the deal.’

What’s the key to keeping wealthy clients happy?

There is an expectation about your availability. You can’t respond with, ‘This isn’t really a great time.’ You get paid six- and seven-figure fees and in return for that, you are available. All the time.

Do you feel like you make enough money?

I don’t think anybody feels they make enough by the time they’re at closing. … But yeah, I make enough. I make a fortune every year.

Will you encourage your sons [ages 14 and 11] to join the business?

If they want to. It’s genuinely a great job. … The downsides are that it’s brutal. It’s a world of lying, cheating and stealing. Anyone who tells you differently is just lying, cheating and stealing.

What’s your craziest client story?

I had a great customer named Ted Ammon. He was ultimately murdered by his wife’s boyfriend in 2001. But [when I met him], he and his then-wife, Generosa, lived in a house at 17 East 92nd. I knocked on their door one day, and Generosa said, ‘Yes, we’re thinking of selling.’ I kept calling, and one day she said to call Ted at the office. I must have called 50 times between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. [That night], my cell phone rings. It was Ted. I’d never met this guy. He said, ‘I thought we were going [to make a deal through] Douglas Elliman or Stribling, but they’re insisting on 6 percent. Would you do it for 4.5?’ I said, ‘Sure, great. Done.’ I subsequently sold them four other properties, worth $50 to $60 million … [Years later] I get a call one morning from his lawyer who said, ‘Jed, you’re going to see something in the paper and I don’t want you to talk to anybody.’ The front page of the Times read, ‘Financier murdered in East Hampton.’

Where do you live?

We live in a townhouse at 510 East 89th Street. We [also] own a country house in Sandisfield, Mass.

What are your hobbies?

I collect prints, like my father. I love to read. I ski almost every weekend during the winter. I love to play golf. I play alone if I can. I like the tranquility.

Do you have any regrets?

If I could do it again, I would marry earlier and have more kids. I like my life. I went to Dalton, I didn’t graduate at the top of my class, but I made some really good friends. Did I want to go to Skidmore? No, but it was the only place I got in. But things work out for the best. My roommate is a guy I talk to every week.

Do you have any vices or bad habits?

When I was younger, I had a plethora of bad habits. As an adult, I find my life just runs better when I don’t drink to excess, when I don’t do any drugs. For the most part, I like to get home at 7 p.m., hang out with the kids, eat dinner, watch Jeopardy. I like that life. It’s not glamorous but it’s mine.

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