The Closing: Jay Neveloff
The high-profile real estate attorney on growing up with his wife, shooting guns and his bond with the Trump family
Jay A. Neveloff is a partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, where he chairs the real estate practice. A transactional lawyer with a catalog of marquee deals over three decades, his longtime clients include Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, which he advised on deals at the Plaza Hotel, GM Building, Trump Tower and other projects. Since 1974, Neveloff has been involved in more than $100 billion worth of deals. He currently represents CIM Group at 432 Park Avenue and is advising China’s Anbang Insurance Group, which paid nearly $2 billion for the Waldorf Astoria in 2015 and plans to convert part of the hotel into luxury residences. Neveloff is a graduate of Brooklyn College and NYU School of Law.
DOB: October 11, 1950
Lives in: Westchester
Family: Married with two adult sons (ages 36 and 38)
Where did you grow up? Brooklyn. My parents were divorced, and I grew up as an only child with a mother who worked at night as a photographer in a nightclub. So I had the ability to wow my dates.
What were you like as a kid? I was always pretty out there and hard to manage. I got into a lot of trouble — not bad trouble, but I questioned authority a lot. I had this view that in order to be respected, you had to earn the respect. My wife, Arlene, and I grew up together, and I think the principal of our elementary school [P.S. 177] was upset when we got engaged.
How did you and your wife meet? I met her on Kol Nidre night [Yom Kippur] in synagogue, and one of my classmates who was with my wife-to-be just pointed me out and said, “That’s who you are going to marry.” It turned out to be true.
Are you particularly religious? No, three days a year I’m religious.
You just turned 67. How did you celebrate? By working and having dinner with my family. I find my attitude toward life and the world in my 60s is infinitely more secure and more comforting than it was in my 40s. It’s a tremendous asset.
You have two adult sons. What were you like as a dad when they were young? I struggled to be around. We raised our children in the suburbs, and I remember taking the train or a car to watch a soccer or basketball game and then going back into the city. There were a lot of things that had to get done, and I was less a master of my own time.
Both of your sons ended up in real estate. Was that your doing? Our house was real estate-centric. My closest friends were my clients. Both boys were on more construction hoists than you could imagine, but they didn’t want to do what I did. They had seen how hard I was working. But they both ultimately came to the dark side.
What are the most complex deals you’ve worked on? They’re becoming more and more complex as we go along. When I worked on Trump Tower, that was state of the art. The Time Warner Center was, at the time, the grandfather of mixed-use projects. When Starrett City was first offered for sale [in 2007], the deal didn’t go through. Working behind the scenes with [Sen. Chuck] Schumer, we got federal legislation adopted to permit the then-owners to do a refinancing that otherwise couldn’t get done.
You’ve been close with Donald Trump for years. How has your relationship changed now that he’s the president? There are transactions that I’ve historically been involved in, so there’s always continual work. I am in touch regularly with his sons, whom I have a lot of affection for. When I’m with Don Jr. or Eric, we don’t talk at all about politics and government.
Do you find yourself defending President Trump’s policies? When Donald was first elected, I’d get a lot of calls from the press. And as my quotes were generally supportive of him, they stopped calling. If I want to debate someone on a particular issue, I’ll do that. If I don’t, I’ve gotten pretty good at deflecting it. It used to be that people would read the headlines of the New York Times and feel like they had a sense of what’s going on. But it’s all totally biased, and I think we’ve all lost a lot because of it.
What are your hobbies? Almost anything outdoors. I like boating and have a powerboat that’s kept at 79th Street. I hunt, I play golf, I play tennis. I ski. My wife and I also hike a lot.
How did you get into hunting? Somebody invited me, and I laughed and I laughed. But I went and I enjoyed it. It’s outdoors, it requires eye-hand coordination and it’s just a challenge. And all the birds are picked up and either cleaned up and given away or eaten at the club.
You host an annual get-together at your club upstate. How do you get a bunch of liberal real estate people to pick up guns? I’m as big of an advocate of gun control as you’ll ever know. I think these tragedies we’ve seen are awful, so I’m not a pro-gun person. Many people think it’s their most enjoyable event all year; we always have a big turnout. I don’t have to convince anyone to come.
What are your guilty pleasures? I eat red meat too much. I probably have too much red wine, and I’ve recently been exposed to really good tequila. But seriously, I’m a baby. I hardly ever want to miss anything. I’m out a lot — sometimes just with friends — when I should be home sleeping.
Do more deals happen over golf and dinner than in the office? Not necessarily. My wife and I were out last night with a client and his wife and we talked for three minutes about deals, [and] otherwise it was just social. Business is business.
How do you deal with demanding developers? Directly, openly, honestly. If you’re a young person coming up, it takes a lot of courage to say, “I think you’re wrong.” Now I find my role is different. I’m more of a counselor and I can flat-out disagree. I’m pretty vocal about my views.
Did you ever have to tell someone they were wrong early in your career? I remember being on vacation in Spain when my kids were young and I was on a call with two clients whose interests were divergent, and they both fired me. I went into the kids’ room and one of the boys said, “Do we have to go home now?” Of course we didn’t. You go through those things. But it was more traumatic then than it is now.
Have you ever had to fire a client? Yes, but mostly the clients I “fired” were people I didn’t like as human beings. There are some people that give me bad karma. Life’s too short for that.
How many hours a week do you put in? I don’t know how to measure anymore. I pick and choose the deals that I really dig into. If you ask my wife, she’ll say constantly.
When you leave a room, how do you want people to remember you? Smart, with integrity. I tend not to take crazy positions, but I decide in my mind what the right outcome is, and I’m not moving off that a whole lot.