Bar tab: Kramer Levin, Starr Associates extend lead in NYC condo filings

Stroock & Stroock & Lavan drops off TRD's 2016 ranking

From left: Jay Neveloff, Samantha Sheeber, Stuart Saft and Alvin Schein
From left: Jay Neveloff, Samantha Sheeber, Stuart Saft and Alvin Schein

When it comes to filing condominium plans for new development projects in New York, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel and Starr Associates continue to rule the roost, and in fact pulled even further ahead of rival law firms over the past year.

The Real Deal ranked the city’s top 15 law firms by the total value of new condo filings they prepared that were accepted by the New York State Attorney General’s office between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016.

Kramer Levin, whose real estate condo practice is co-headed by Jay Neveloff and Jonathan Canter, took the top spot in 2015, with seven projects valued at $7.3 billion, up 73 percent year-over-year. Starr Associates [TRDataCustom], whose condo practice is led by Allan Starr and Samantha Sheeber, came in second, with 20 projects valued at $5.1 billion, up 31 percent year-over-year.

In third place was Holland & Knight, whose condo practice is led by Stuart Saft. The firm had $1.9 billion in plans accepted, down about 7 percent year-over-year, while Seiden & Schein, led by Alvin Schein, had $1.5 billion in plans, up nearly 90 percent year-over-year.

Rounding out the top five was Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas, a firm founded in 2015 by alumni of the real estate practice at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz. Schwartz Sladkus, whose condo practice is led by Jeffrey Schwartz, had eight projects worth $609 million accepted over the past year.

The condo projects in this ranking, such as Extell Development’s One Manhattan Square and Related Companies’ 15 Hudson Yards, moved forward during a turbulent period in the high-end residential sales market, which saw softening demand and a softer international buyer pool.

NYC's top law firms by condo filings (based on dollar volume)
Oct. 1 2015 - Sep. 30 2016
RankFirmDollar valueChange (year-over-year)No. of unitsNo. of projects
1Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel$7.3 billion74%1,9527
2Starr Associates$5.1 billion31%1,22020
3Holland & Knight$1.9 billion-7%6346
4Seiden & Schein$1.5 billion90%3557
5Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas$609 millionn/a3268
6Law Office of Jay Lichtman$368 million27%44237
7Herrick Feinstein$326 million423%281
8Marans, Weisz & Newman$311 million-12%21313
9D'Agostino,Levine,Landesman & Lederman$236 million-36%16810
10Goldberg, Weprin, Finkel Goldstein$210 millionn/a291
11Tsyngauz & Associates$158 million196%1387
12Dai & Associates$154 million527%2117
13Law Office of Charles Mandelbaum$144 million68%19432
14Daniel A. Schwartzman, Attorney At Law$138 millionn/a584
15Ganfer & Shore$137 million-83%582
Source: The Real Deal analysis of condo filings with the New York State Attorney General, accepted between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016, and compared with the prior 12-month period. The dollar ranking was based on price at acceptance.

One of the most ambitious projects in recent years, the $1.9 billion offering for the upper portion of the Sony Building at 550 Madison Avenue, was abandoned in April when Clipper Equity and the Chetrit Group decided to sell the building for $1.4 billion to the Olayan Group. The Saudi investment firm will continue to operate it as an office property.

Insiders said the slowdown on the high end has caused several changes, including a decline in land sales, and developers willing to put up condo buildings in more affordable neighborhoods, both in Manhattan and in the outer boroughs.

“The areas that are desirable for condo sales are expanding,” said Schein, citing a project on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn as a neighborhood new to their practice.

The current crop of projects, Saft said, are from acquisitions made years ago. That said, he believed the market was not as dire as some are saying.

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“We really have more [projects] proceeding than we did a year ago,” Saft said.

The most active firm by number of filings was the Brooklyn law office of Jay Lichtman. His firm specializes in smaller projects, with most of them under $10 million, and did 37 projects with a total value of $368 million.

In addition to large and small law firms representing developers, there was one developer who used its own lawyer to file plans.

Francis Greenberger’s Time Equities relies on attorney Daniel Schwartzman to file its condo plans. It also came about in part because during the conversion boom, in the 1980s, some developers were converting dozens of buildings a year to cooperatives.

“I like being about to keep the business and the administration fully integrated with the legal,” Greenburger said.

Between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan filed plans for $3.6 billion worth of projects, including Vornado Realty Trust’s 220 Central Park South. During that period, the firm placed third on the list, but dropped off the ranking this year, with no projects. Stroock has only submitted one project since late 2014, a relatively small one in Brooklyn.

But the firm’s hiring earlier this year of Erica Buckley, the former chief of the AG’s Real Estate Finance Bureau, will turn things around, said Ross Moskowitz, a partner at the firm.

“We have clients [who say], ‘We want to move now on the plan because you have Erica,” Moskowitz said.

Yet he said even before she was hired, Stroock was still gunning for deals.

“We all pitch everything,” Moskowitz said. “I am sure there was a deal we did not get. We don’t get every one.”