Key author of the month: Stuart M. Saft
As part of our ongoing series highlighting Thomson Reuters key authors, this month we highlight Stuart M. Saft, a partner in Holland & Knight’s New York City office. Saft is the chair of the firm’s New York Real Estate Practice Group, the co-chair of the Global Hospitality, Resort and Timeshare Group, and the co-chair of the Global Condominium Development Team. He has represented numerous major national and international clients in every conceivable commercial real estate scenario over his career. Saft currently authors Commercial Real Estate Forms 3d, Commercial Real Estate Leasing 2d, Commercial Real Estate Transactions 3d, West’s Legal Forms, 3d, 4th & 5th and Commercial Real Estate Workouts 3d. Senior Attorney Editor Patrick Fong interviewed Saft on his practice and writing career.*
Patrick Fong: What led you to specialize in commercial real estate law?
Stuart Saft: When I came back to New York City after my military service (as a U.S. Army transportation corps officer) I was doing corporate work for a medium-sized Wall Street law firm, including securities offerings and mergers and acquisitions. At the time, Wall Street law firms generally did not practice real estate law, so when a pension fund manager wanted to finance a shopping center as an investment, the partner for whom I worked asked me to handle it. No one at the firm had ever done a real estate transaction so I had to figure it out on my own. That led to other deals and clients and inside of a year I was doing real estate all the time. I was lucky to be a young attorney at the moment in time when real estate became more than a small local practice and became part of the global economy with extremely complex forms of financing.
PF: How did the recent recession impact the commercial real estate law practice nationally?
SS: Real estate has its ups and downs every decade or so. In 1990, there was a real estate recession tied to Tax Reform and the Savings & Loan Crisis. In the early 2000s, there was a real estate recession right after 9/11. In 2008, we had a terrible recession that started with the subprime crisis, but we’re out of it now and commercial real estate is stronger than ever. 2013 was the strongest year on record for commercial real estate and 2014 looks to be even stronger.
There are a number of reasons for the strength of real estate as an investment and ownership vehicle. Unlike many other industrialized nations, the U.S. has a growing population through birth rates and immigration, so there is an increasing demand for housing and other forms of property. This is especially true in the coastal and southern cities. Coastal cities are all growing and demand is strong for new commercial real estate developments.
Also, other economies around the world haven’t recovered as quickly as the U.S. has from the last recession. This has led to a flight to safety for foreign investors to the U.S. So there is no shortage of foreign investment for new commercial real estate projects.
PF: What do you see as the current or “hot” areas of your practice?
SS: A few come to mind. Hospitality law and the hospitality sector have become very strong because a lot of wealthy people from around the world are coming to the U.S. for recreation and entertainment. In contrast, the retail shopping center market is suffering due to increasing online shopping. In response to this, malls are joint venturing with entertainment complexes, especially in and around the Washington D.C. area. Similar to the Vegas model, shopping areas are increasingly being linked to hotels and other entertainment venues. Also, I predict demand for senior housing will be strong in the coming years. There will be continued growth in assisted living and retirement communities. There is a tremendous need for this as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age. The old pattern of seniors making an exodus from the Northeast to Sun Belt states will not continue. Retirees will likely sell their houses, but choose to remain in their communities.
PF: How did you become an author?
SS: I had been writing articles about real estate, finance and economics for almost my entire career and, in 1986, I was approached about authoring the first edition of Commercial Real Estate Forms. That project started out as a single volume, then expanded to three volumes, and now is in its third edition with eleven volumes. After completing the first Commercial Real Estate Forms book, I proposed writing additional books focusing on commercial real estate leasing, transactions, and workouts. I am now up to five titles, which total 23 volumes including a six-volume part of West’s Legal Forms, all of which have to be supplemented regularly.
PF: What is your greatest challenge(s) as an author?
SS: Keeping up with the deadlines! I do enjoy going through thousands of pages a year to find what is relevant to practitioners but it is sometimes difficult to balance it with my practice. My goal is to keep the book relevant regardless of the sophistication of the end user, which requires a significant amount of time. I attempt to keep the material helpful for every reader from the neophyte to the most knowledgeable practitioner.
PF: What do you enjoy most about being an author for Thomson Reuters?
SS: I have fun staying on top of so many aspects and areas of the law. It has helped my practice tremendously.
PF: Any advice for aspiring legal authors?
SS: Yes! I had “stage fright” when it came time to write my first book. I had probably written over a hundred articles at that point, so I treated the book as a series of articles. That is how I approach writing a book. Instead of worrying about having to write a book of several hundred pages, I find it easier to think of it as writing a series of smaller articles on related topics. I always write the first chapter last since until the book is completed, I do not always know where it is going. They always seem to take on a life of their own.
*This interview has been edited for length