The Trophy Polisher
Jotham Sederstrom Dec. 8, 2009, 7:45 a.m.
Just a few days into his budding real estate career, Richard Farley was tapped to canvass a manufacturing building in the city’s garment district.
One by one, he knocked on the doors of a dozen or more small clothiers, asking each if they were looking to move their businesses. The response from many of the men and women he spoke to was a resounding no, but Mr. Farley, then in his 20s and working at the now defunct Norman Weissman Realty firm, continued knocking away.
One clothier that Mr. Farley spoke to politely but firmly told him no, he wasn’t interested in relocating his shop, but, as a matter of fact, he did have a nice collection of men’s suits. Would the broker like to try one on?
Mr. Farley bought the suit and moved on to the next business, incidentally another suit manufacturer. Again, the proprietor told the broker nope, not interested in relocating—but I do have a fabulous suit that you might enjoy.
“By the end of the day I went back to the office, and one of the principals of the firm asked how I had made out,” laughed Mr. Farley of his day of canvassing in 1980. “I said, ‘Well, I didn’t find anyone who needed space, but I have these two beautiful suits.’ Needless to say, he was hoping for a more productive day than I’d had.”
Thirty years later, Mr. Farley no longer has to fret about his wardrobe, or, for that matter, lucrative real estate deals. Armed with suits befitting a man in full and a sought-after position as the executive vice president of leasing for RFR Realty, the agent is long past his early days of canvassing. Just as he has traded up, suit-wise, Mr. Farley has also graduated from the garment district and risen to rank among the top leasing agents for many of the city’s ritziest commercial buildings. Indeed, since joining RFR in 1998, Mr. Farley has accrued a track record that boasts more than 5,000 leases, totaling upward of 6.5 million square feet.
Shining brightest among the 17 office buildings and approximately 8 million square feet that Mr. Farley has been charged with leasing, the luxurious Lever House and the historic Seagram Building are perhaps the real estate pro’s most conspicuous achievements.
Indeed, while rent has fallen at commercial buildings across the city and the nation, both of the midtown trophies still command, on average, more than $100 a square foot, according to Mr. Farley.
The intense demand for both buildings despite such a high price was evident this spring when investment firm Thomas Weisel Partners announced to RFR that it would be vacating three of the four floors it currently occupies at the Lever House. Within months, however, Mr. Farley was able to lure investment firms Sanders Capital and Stone & Youngberg into two of the freed-up, 10,700-square-foot spaces, leaving only one floor on the market.
At the Seagram Building, meanwhile, the draw was so irresistible for many tenants that Mr. Farley was able to successfully complete 20 transactions totaling 100,000 feet this year.
“You get spoiled,” said Mr. Farley, 56, of his role at the top-tier towers. “To be a leasing agent associated with these buildings is really kind of like being a surfer and finding a perfect wave. To be associated with some of the best buildings in the world, and dealing with the highest level of brokers in the city, it’s really just an opportunity that you’re grateful for.”
In total, Mr. Farley estimates that in 2009, he has completed 400,000 square feet in transactions valued at $200 million. The Upper West Side resident pointed to a deal he inked in October with the Simons Foundation to occupy 60,000 feet on four floors of newly renovated 160 Fifth Avenue, a nine-story gem that underwent a soup-to-nuts structural rehab earlier this year. Another lease that’s expected to be finalized at the 120,000-square-foot building later this month will leave only a small amount of space on the market, said Mr. Farley last week.
Additionally, Mr. Farley has executed 12 transactions totaling more than 50,000 square feet at the Lower Manhattan building 17 State Street, the Emery Roth & Sons–designed tower notable for its curved facade.
“I’ve always loved the buildings in New York,” said Mr. Farley, a board member at the nonprofit Landmark’s Preservation Foundation, of 17 State Street and other the iconic buildings throughout Manhattan. “I’ve always loved the city and its energy, and so I thought combining my love of architecture with my sales background would be a good choice for me, and it really has been.”
MR. FARLEY PARLAYED HIS job as a tenant representative into a new position at Madison Newmark before joining SL Green as a leasing agent in 1983. By the time he accepted an in-house job with the mega-landlord in 1989, he was well on his way to becoming a trusted owner’s rep for towers across the city.
It was at SL Green, in fact, that Mr. Farley brokered a deal in 1992 that eventually placed Cornell University into a converted manufacturing building on East 34th Street. The complicated renovations at the 70,000-square-foot building included adding elevators and overhauling the space to accommodate the needs of students and faculty. Mr. Farley told The Commercial Observer that the deal ranks atop his proudest achievements.
“There were a lot of changes there,” recalled Mr. Farley of the Cornell deal. “That was a particularly challenging project because rather than putting in an interior staircase, we gave them their own elevator. There were various changes in the use and certificate of occupancy. That was one of the more memorable experiences.”
Of Salander O’Reilly, the art gallery that RFR filed a lawsuit against after its proprietor, Lawrence Salander, failed to pay rent, Mr. Farley has little to share about the ordeal. But one good thing did come out of the doomed relationship. Through Mr. Salander, the agent was introduced to yet another New York City landmark nearly as beloved as the Lever House: Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro.
The broker and the actor met, said Mr. Farley, at an art exhibit for Mr. De Niro’s father, a renowned Abstract Expressionist painter. A friendship formed and the commercial broker was briefly tapped by Mr. De Niro to scout out a Manhattan townhouse. Despite little experience as a residential broker, Mr. Farley obliged.
“When Robert De Niro is looking for a townhouse, you accept his assignment,” said Mr. Farley, before breaking out a surprisingly good impression of the sneering Goodfella.
“So that came out of the Salander relationship, which was great,” continued Mr. Farley, laughing, before pausing for a moment. “But, in general, things have been good—and that’s not just because of the suits.”