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The 8 Biggest Real Estate Investors in America

The 8 Biggest Real Estate Investors in America

It’s always worth checking what big real estate investors managed to accomplish. For some of us, their success shows what is possible when you work hard. When you put your end goal in this perspective, it serves as a source of inspiration that can help you tackle day-to-day setbacks and challenges.

Also, real estate investors can learn a lot from studying about the big players in the industry when it comes to investment strategies, real estate markets, business processes, and so on. After all, a large number of the investors on this list are self made (started with a house flip, and now own a lot more) and accumulated wealth through their success as real estate investors.

Others inherited a fortune, or created capital by building a successful business venture, and they managed to find a way to increase the wealth they inherited (or created) by acquiring property. Regardless of the actual source of their capital, real estate moguls are great examples for any aspiring real estate investor.

We will feature a breakdown of the biggest real estate investors in America – how they got into real estate, the deal (or market or strategy) that made them great, their net worth, and other information that is relevant about their success.

1. Donald Bren

Net Worth

In the first quarter of 2021, Donald Leroy Bren’s net worth was $12.4 billion. As we head into 2022, his total net worth is set to surpass it’s pre-pandemic peak and reach $18.5 billion.

What Made Him

Bren made his first real estate investment in 1958 with a $10,000 loan. It was a house in Orange County, CA and he remained dedicated to that real estate for decades to come. Today, he owns as much as 20% of the properties in Orange County. In 1977, Bren purchased shares (~30%) in the Irvine Company, a traditional real estate development company founded in 1864. He set out to become the sole owner of the company, and in 1996 he finally achieved this goal.

Irvine Company owns more than 500 office buildings, 125 apartment complexes, hotels, golf courses, and marinas. Donald Bren owns property on the east coast as well – he has 97% stake in the MetLife Building in Manhattan.

Life Story

Donald Bren holds a degree in business administration and economics and he served in the Marine Corps. He is known for his philanthropic contributions to educational institutions. Bren has 8 children from 3 spouses and two companions.

Quote

My two primary areas of focus have been open-space conservation and education, and I expect those to remain my priorities in the future. The Irvine open space and parklands provide serenity and balance to our unique Orange County lifestyle.

2. Stephen Ross

Net Worth

In the first quarter of 2021, Stephen Ross’s net worth was $9.97 billion. At the beginning of 2022, his net worth is $8.39 billion.

What Made Him

Stephen Ross was a tax attorney who managed to deliver returns to investors through deals in federally subsidized affordable housing back in 1972. He is another self-made real estate billionaire who started with a loan of $10,000, borrowed from his mother. Ross went on to establish The Related Companies, but his wealth is not limited to real estate assets.

He is one of the largest landlords of high end rentals in New York (thousands of units) and he is the primary developer of the Hudson Yards Project (set to be completed in 2024). Related’s portfolio includes residential, office, and retail real estate assets as well as sports stadiums. Stephen Ross owns the Miami Dolphins (and their Sunlife stadium), has an interest in Equinox Fitness, and is about to organize the first Formula 1 Grand Prix race in Miami at a newly built circuit.

Life Story

Stephen Ross was born in Detroit, and he has a degree in accounting from University of Michigan (1962), and a degree in taxation (1966). He has two kids, he is a big contributor to his alma mater, and has hosted fundraisers for two presidential campaigns (for Mitt Romney and Donald Trump).

Quote

As a developer, it’s a great feeling knowing you have made an impact. There’s also a lot of responsibility that goes with that: you have to really put the city’s needs first. It’s not all about making money.

3. Sun Hongbin

Net Worth

In 2019, 2020, and 2021, Sun Hongbin’s net worth was slightly above $9 billion, however, his real time net worth at the start of 2022 is estimated to be $3.8 billion.

What Made Him

Hongbin increased his wealth by investing in large residential real estate development projects in Tianjin, China (he is a US citizen). He founded Sunac China Holdings (2003), one of the biggest real estate developing companies in China, and bought the dominant share of Wanda Group in 2017 (tourism industry).

Life Story

Sun Hongbin was born in Shanxi province, and he holds a masters degree from Tsinghua University. In 2000, Sun completed a management program at Harvard Business School. He has two kids. 

4. Leonard Stern

Net Worth

In the first quarter of 2022, Leonard Stern’s net worth is around $6.4 billion, up from $4.2 billion.

What Made Him

Leonard Stern inherited a successful pet supply business in the 50’s, so he did not originally start with real estate. However, what he did with the capital from this business is quite remarkable. In the early days, he invested in warehouses and then he acquired commercial real estate.

To this day, his company – Hartz Mountain Industries – boasts an extensive industrial real estate portfolio. Leonard Stern owns more than 40 million square feet of real estate, some of it residential, plus hotels and offices. He operates in New York and a number of East Coast States, and his focus is on suburban warehouses. 

Life Story

Stern comes from a multigenerational wealthy family. When they emigrated from Germany, his father tried to run a textile company, with little success. Over the years, canaries and pet supplies became their main business – Leonard managed to buy out the shares of his siblings eventually. He has three kids and is known as a philanthropist (supporting the homeless). 

Quote

I brought my sons into the business to extend my working life, so I could keep my hand in the business.

5. Neil Bluhm

Net Worth

In January of 2022, the net worth of Neil Bluhm is $6 billion (down from $7.4 billion in October of 2021).

What Made Him

Neil Bluhm worked as a lawyer, climbing through the ranks until he became a partner at Mayer, Brown & Platt. His wealth comes from investments in private equity. In 2020, the online betting firm he owns (Rush Street Interactive) went IPO and increased his profile over night.

His real estate investing portfolio includes premium residential properties in Chicago (Gold Coast neighborhood) and New York, but he also owns hotels and holds shares in sports teams from Chicago who compete in MLB (White Socks) and NBA (Bulls).

Life Story

Bluhm was born and raised in a poor immigrant Jewish family and holds a degree in accounting from the University of Illinois (1959). He has three children, all of whom are involved in his business and philanthropy. Bluhm owns extensive art collection (estimated worth $300 million), and is a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Quote

Everybody in America came from some immigrant place, or else they’re Native American. That’s what made America great.

6. Igor Olenicoff

Net Worth

Olenicoff’s net worth was recently estimated at $4.7 billion, up from $3.7 billion in 2017.

What Made Him

His first real estate investment was a 16 unit duplex. Over the years, Igor Olenicoff was focused on building his portfolio of residential properties, mostly in California where he has more than 10,000 rental units. He is also active in the real estate markets of Florida and Nevada. Today, he diversified his portfolio to include more than 6 million square foot of office space across many markets.

Life Story

Igor Olenicoff was born in the Soviet Union to tsarist loyalists who had to flee, first to Iran, and then to the US. He grew up poor (his father was an engineer, but he had trouble finding a job because of his political affiliation), however, as soon as he came to America (1957), Igor found the American Dream appealing. He has a degree in corporate finance and has one daughter. Olenicoff is infamous for tax evasion – he paid millions of dollars as damages and was sentenced to two years on probation.

7. Jeff Greene

Net Worth

Before the virus, Jeff Greene’s net worth was estimated at $3.9 billion, however, in 2022, the value of his assets increased to $5.1 billion.

What Made Him

Jeff Greene invested in rental property as a student, and by the time he graduated, he managed 18 properties. While real estate investing was always in his focus, he made most of his fortune during the housing crash of 2007, when he traded credit default swaps (mortgage backed securities).

Today, his real estate investment portfolio consists of residential properties in Palm Beach, FL, but also includes land, and retail property. The value appreciation in California and Florida throughout this crisis bumped his net worth further up.

Life Story

Greene perfectly fits the template of self-made real estate billionaire. He was born in Massachusetts, to parents who struggled to make ends meet. He managed to graduate from Johns Hopkins University and to attend Harvard Business School – supporting himself through all sort of part time jobs. He has three children. He tried to run for public office in Florida two times (2010 and 2018) but he was eliminated in the Democratic primaries for both elections.

Quote

In real estate, you make 10% of your money because you’re a genius and 90% because you catch a great wave.

8. Sam Zell

Net Worth

In the last couple of years, Sam Zell’s net worth is around $6 billion ($4.7 billion – $6 billion – $5.9 billion in January of 2022).

What Made Him

Sam Zell was a property manager of the student apartment building in Michigan while he was a student. He started to manage other properties as well, and by the time he graduated, the business brought him $150,000. After graduation, he either purchased or managed properties in Ann Arbor, MI, and Reno, NV, but eventually turned to real estate investment trusts.

He went on to create three REITs: Equity Residential, Equity Office Properties Trust, and Equity Lifestyle Properties – who at that time were the biggest publicly traded real estate companies. They were sold in 2006 (or before the real estate market crash), and Zell has been buying shares across industries since.

Life Story

Sam Zell was born in Chicago to Jewish parents of Polish descent. His alma mater is University of Michigan, and he has three children. Zell is notorious for not mincing his words and his management style has drawn controversy. He is also recipient of many awards and honors, induction into the Hall of Fame of the Chicago Association of Realtors being one of them.

Quote

Risk is the ultimate differentiator. I have always had a deep and complex relationship with it. I am not a reckless person, but taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above-average returns—in life as well as in investments.

9. Richard S. LeFrak

Net Worth

At the moment of writing this, Richard S. LeFrak’s real time net worth is $3.9 billion.

What Made Him

LeFrak simply joined a family run real estate company (established in 1883 in France). The LeFrak company was focused on rental properties for moderate income tenants in New York City (Queens, Manhattan, Newport) – thousands of rental units and hundreds of acres of land.

With Richard LeFrak at the helm, the company expanded into other real estate markets including Beverly Hills, CA, and South Beach, FL, in diverse range of properties: office, medical, vacation, malls, etc.

Life Story

Richard LeFrak was born in New York, and he holds degrees from Amherst College and from Columbia University. He has two children, who follow in his footsteps. Richard LeFrak contributed to Donald Trump’s election campaign, he donates to charities, and he sits in a number of trusts.

Quote

The real estate business is just a proxy for the demographics of a community. If a community is growing, the real estate business benefits from it. If the community is shrinking, then the real estate business gets damaged.

Honorable Mention

We can’t afford to close the list of the biggest real estate investors in America without mentioning Robert Kiyosaki. He is not a real estate billionaire like the other entrepreneurs on this list, however, his influence in our industry is big, especially when it comes to inspiration. His name often pops up in discussions, and some of the real estate investors who’ve been guests on our REI Marketing Nerds podcast have explicitly referenced his work (Keith Gillespie, Josh Eberly, Joe McCall, and Greg Dickerson).

Let’s check out what’s so exceptional about him.

10. Robert Kiyosaki

Net Worth

Robert Kiyosaki’s net worth is estimated to be “only” $100 Million.

What Made Him

Although Robert Kiyosaki is best known as a personal finance author and speaker, especially through the Rich Dad Poor Dad book series and seminars, he also holds substantial real estate assets. These include hotels, golf courses, and big apartment complexes, as well as investments in stocks (oil drilling and startups).

Kiyosaki was made through his failures. Many of his companies went bankrupt, and he was selling Xerox copy machines, and velcro wallets and bags. He published his own book, and that’s where most of his revenue comes from.

Life Story

Robert Kiyosaki was born in Hawaii to parents who were third generation Japanese Americans. He served in the Marine Corps as a helicopter gunship pilot (in Vietnam 1972-1973). Kiyosaki is a college dropout.

Quote

My educated dad’s personal financial statement best demonstrates the life of someone caught in the Rat Race. His expenses match his income, never allowing him enough left over to invest in assets.

Closing Thoughts

A comprehensive list of real estate investing moguls could include hundreds of entries. We have selected these 10 people to showcase the success of their real estate businesses, so you can see how success looks like, particularly on a grand scale. And if you give it some thought, its more than enough to come to conclusions about their success.

Let’s single out the obvious.

The Typical Real Estate Billionaire

Yes, we are aware that each of these investors has a unique story to tell, but let’s focus on the common thread. They all share three characteristics:

  • Their average age is 70 years – maybe this was not readily apparent from the format that we used to present these real estate billionaires, but most of them spent decades to accomplish their success. And their wealth did not accumulate fast, not before they got to an advanced age.
  • They have a diverse real estate investing portfolio – most of them entered the industry through residential properties (house flips, rental properties, or property management), however, as soon as they accumulated wealth, they started to diversify their assets to include commercial real estate (offices, retail, hotels), raw land, and other types of real estate (mixed use).
  • They are active in multiple real estate markets – if they had their big break in New York, they’ve soon tried to find opportunities in markets such as Florida, California, Chicago, and others.

So, there’s your road map if real estate is your passion. We wish you a lot of success!

 

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