The Real Deal New York

At the desk of: Stuart Saft

The real estate lawyer on writing books, client crises and staying grounded
By Katherine Clarke | February 01, 2017 07:00AM

Stuart Saft (Photos by Michael McWeeney)

Stuart Saft knows all about the well-timed exit. He joined Holland & Knight, a prominent international law firm, in May 2012, a little less than a month before his former employer, Dewey & LeBoeuf, filed for bankruptcy. As a law school student at Columbia University, the 69-year-old initially aspired to be a criminal attorney, but he eventually found his calling in real estate and has since amassed more than four decades of experience. He joined Holland & Knight as the firm’s real estate chairman, bringing along an enviable roster of clients, including Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital, HFZ Capital Group and the Feil Organization. It’s no surprise that his office, which overlooks the corner of 52nd and Sixth Avenue, is a treasure trove of fascinating artifacts. He has penned 44 books on everything from commercial real estate to strategizing for changing markets. “The nice thing about writing is that you don’t have to deal with clients and other lawyers,” he said. “You can just sit and pontificate all you want.”

Cub Scouts photo

Saft has hung on to this grinning picture of himself [third from right] as an eight-year-old cub scout in Rosedale, Queens. “It’s been with me my entire career because it reminds me of who I really am,” he said. Otherwise, he explained, “you get involved in billion-dollar deals and you become somebody else.”

Memoirs of a soldier without a rifle

Saft’s father, Stanley, was a hero in World War II, a medic who landed at Normandy Beach on D-Day and survived the Battle of the Bulge. The French government awarded him the Legion of Honor. “Growing up, he never talked to us about the war; he was too busy making a life. But when my children grew up, they started asking him questions,” Saft said. About three years ago, he decided he wanted to write his dad’s memoirs. After collecting an oral history, he self-published a book called “Memoirs of a Solider Without a Rifle.” In an emotional presentation, he gave it to his father on his 95th birthday, which was also Christmas Day. “Everybody was crying,” he said.

Offering plans

Saft’s bookshelves support the weight of seemingly endless stacks of condo offering plans, on big-name towers such as One57 and the Baccarat Hotel and Residences. He will keep one set in the office and another at home. “Because I get so many calls at night and on weekends,” he said.

Family photo

Saft met his wife, Stephanie, when they were both 17-year-old freshmen at Hofstra University. After meeting by chance in a hallway, they became close friends. “We stayed up late at night talking about politics and who we were dating,” he said. “Eventually, we had a discussion about whether it would ruin our friendship if we started dating. But obviously it didn’t.” They have two sons, Bradley and Gordon, who are now 38 and 35, respectively. This photo was taken at Bradley’s wedding in 2009 and includes his daughter-in-law Allison.

Timebomb

Saft picked up this time bomb gag gift at a novelty store. “It reminds me that if I say I’m going to do something immediately, it’s going to blow up in my face,” he joked. So many of his clients want answers to their questions on the spot, but he often needs time to digest, research and think. “People will call and say, ‘Are you too busy to handle my work?’ I say, ‘You don’t want a lawyer that’s not busy.’”

Giant aspirin box

Every now and then, Saft needs to reach for the medicine cabinet. “About 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, I will have a client call and he will tell me the most horrible thing imaginable, and I’ll get to the logical conclusion that he’s either going to end up bankrupt or in jail,” Saft said. “I’ll be a basket case the whole weekend. I’ll call Monday morning and say, ‘I have the solution to your problem.’ And he’ll say, ‘What problem?’”

Condo bill

In the early 1990s, Saft represented the condo board of the Midtown mixed-use building CitySpire, whose developer, Bruce Eichner, had filed for bankruptcy. “I needed to find $6 million to satisfy the creditors’ requirements, but no one wanted to lend to a condominium because there was no collateral,” he explained. What came out of that experience is framed on his wall: an official pen and document for a piece of condo financing legislation drafted by Saft. The first draft of the bill, which allows condo boards to borrow money, was vetoed by Gov. George Pataki, but it passed in 1997 on
the second try.

DVDS

Saft’s son Bradley, who graduated from Princeton and has an M.B.A. from Harvard, started out in finance but made a career change several years ago when he had an idea to make American history-themed DVDs for children. In one of the series, titled “Learn Our History,”  the kid characters invent a time machine and go back to an important moment to learn what happened and what the consequences were. “When we went on long car rides, I would teach them all about history,” Saft said of his sons. “Maybe that’s where his love of history started.”