The Trophy Polisher

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.”

The Trophy Polisher