The Closing: Edward Lee Cave

Founder of a 24-year-old residential brokerage firm

When is your birthday?

August 5, 1939. I’m a Leo.

Where do you live?

I live at 70th and Park, and I have a country house in Union, Connecticut.

Do you spend more time in New York or Connecticut?

I can’t wait to get to Connecticut, and then by Sunday night I can’t wait to get back to New York.

Are you married?

I’m a widower.

Do you date?

Not at my age. There are people I see and enjoy being with. There’s no nefarious intent.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in northern Virginia.

What was your first job?

My first job, which was a perfect way to begin, I was hired right after I got out of school by Parish-Hadley, the decorating firm, because they were just starting to do the White House with Mrs. Kennedy and they needed someone who knew about art.

How did you get started in real estate?

I really started in ’68 because my father helped me buy a small apartment building in New York. It was a very, very prudent real estate lesson, because I bought it in ’68 for $110,000. I sold it in ’77 — when [the city was] going bust — for $115,000.

What advice would you offer a younger version of yourself?

You’ve got to learn your product. You see, I’ve been in and out of these buildings for 20 years by the time I started. When they wanted something, they’d call me because they knew I know all about their Picassos — which was a Blue Period, which was Cubist. So they knew I know how to live. That’s why I sell prewar buildings, each of which is a private club that represents a way of life — because I’ve lived in those buildings, I understand the way of life, the nuances.

Is it true that that Richard Nixon turned to you for help with an apartment, and you advised him to give up trying to find a co-op and instead purchase a private home, as it says in the book “The Sky’s the Limit” [by Steven Gaines] that came out a year or so ago?

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That’s what it was, but it was his attorney, not Nixon himself.

Though you travel in very refined circles, have you ever made what you’d consider a major social gaffe?

Oh, wonderful, [chuckles]. I went to a really grand dinner party in a Fifth Avenue building, and we’re having cocktails in the library, then we walked into the dining room. It was, you know, ladies first and all that, I was the last one out. You know what I did? I flipped the switch to turn the lights out because I often do that when I leave an apartment. That was a real occupational hazard. Nobody noticed at all, but I did and I just thought it was so funny. There I am in a dinner jacket turning the lights off.

What do you do in your free time?

I read voraciously. I don’t watch television because in my boarding school we didn’t have television. I never got hooked on it. I’m a great gardener. Maybe my plants don’t agree. I started gardening when I was in sixth grade. I would train myself to get up when the sun came out because I had to go to school at 8:30, and run out and work in the garden.

How much money do you have in your wallet right now?

Two $100 bills, which I always carry, two blank checks — because all of a sudden I see something, maybe in an antique store, and they don’t take a credit card so I write them a check — and three credit cards, I don’t know how many $20 bills, and I always have six or eight $1 bills.

What do you read every day?

I read the front page of the New York Times, the front page of the [Times] business section and obits. The obits are little tiny biographies.

How often do you read?

I read every night and I usually wake up in the middle of the night and read for 10 minutes so I don’t worry about business, and go back to sleep.

What do you have on your night table?

A new biography, “Andrew Carnegie” [by David Nasaw] is underneath “The Green Hat” [by Michael Arlen]. I have a letter opener because I sit in bed and open my mail when I get home at night. I usually have a pot of flowers. I have a little, baby rose bush right now that’s dying, probably dead, because when the central heating came on it roasted it.

What keeps you up at night?

I’ve had somebody’s apartment to sell for a long time — about nine months — and I haven’t sold it yet, and it really makes me mad.

What did you eat for dinner last night?

I had Christmas dinner with a friend. We always have Christmas dinner together at the Carlyle. We always have grilled sole, because she’s always worried about her figure. And we each have a martini; I have mine on the rocks, she has hers straight up. We never have dessert. And we’ve probably been doing that for 20 years.

What should someone give you for Christmas?

A book that I haven’t read. And I dare them to do that.

Interview by Lauren Elkies