Top 5 OG Real Estate Investors

It’s easy to be good at something. It’s entirely different to rock at it and be listed among the world’s greats. Who are the leading real estate investors who have made history? How did they rank among the top billionaires? What were their guiding philosophies? Read on as we explore the top five OG real estate investors of our time.

“Since the end of the second World War, some of the most significant wealth generated in this country has been mainly within brick and mortar, which only continues to expand exponentially.”
-Husein I. Sonara, FundRebel Chief Strategy Officer

The Man Who Made Forbes 100 Greatest Living Business Minds: Sam Zell

“I’ve spent my whole life testing my limits” - Zell

Sam Zell is a current-day lifelong entrepreneur and philanthropist and a self made billionaire. He has founded or built hundreds of companies and was highly influential in building the $1 billion REIT industry. He strongly believes that a fair deal is a low debt to equity ratio where everybody makes money, that the real estate industry should sell reality instead of “futures”, that properties should be of quality, and that REITs should be self-managed and leaders should be incentivized.

Zell doesn’t balk at taking risks; he will gamble big if the reward justifies the risk and is known to do deals that others avoid. He attributes his staying power that has enabled him to survive economic downturns to the liquidity he has to invest in distressed assets. Zell prizes principles of humility, accessibility, transparency, and alignment both personally and professionally, and is known to comment that he absolutely loves what he does.

The Engineer Who Transformed Skylines Across the Globe: Gerald Hines

“Corporations are today’s equivalent of the Medici, or they can be.” - Hines

Gerald Hines transformed the business of commercial real estate investment with his philosophy that good design is good business. He was passionate about the intersection between design and profit-making real estate development, and believed in a beneficial ROI of investing more to create a building with a distinct identity because people would spend more to be there. He was practiced at inspiring creativity and at the same time controlling construction costs, perfecting his formula for hiring architects to design one-of-a-kind skyline landmarks. He’s been recognized as a visionary for urban development to this day.

The Tax Attorney who Used Tax Smarts For Wealthy Clients: Stephen Ross

“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.” -Ross

Stephen Ross got his foothold into real estate investing when he pivoted from a career as a tax attorney and began organizing deals for wealthy investors. He capitalized on the opportunity offered by affordable housing construction that allowed wealthy investors to shelter income with federal government incentives. This was the springboard for his future as an affordable housing developer.

Ross is the founder of the real estate firm The Related Companies, holding over $60 billion in assets and named one of the world’s most innovative companies, as well as the private investment firm RSE Ventures and the Miami Dolphins. Deeply committed to giving back and making a difference, Ross sits on the boards of numerous foundations and has pledged to give more than half of his estate to philanthropic causes and charitable organizations through the Giving Pledge.

The Pioneer of Safe & Affordable NYC Housing: Sam LeFrak

“I like to serve the mass, not the class.” - LeFrak

Carrying buckets of water and nails for workers at construction sites at the age of eight, Sam LeFrak was born into a family of developers. His great grandfather was a developer in France, and after his son and children moved to the USA they also entered the real estate business. LeFrak built his first 16-story building as a college student, and after World War II went on to take over The LeFrak Organization family business and build out their trademark two bed, two bath spacious apartments. He was wildly successful at creating affordable housing, keeping down costs by buying reasonably priced land close to subways, schools, and shopping, utilizing quick production methods and buying mass supplies, and keeping almost everything in house from engineering to financing.

LeFrak was a major philanthropist and developed numerous endowed buildings. He was recognized for his long term support of the United Nations and his interest in underwater archaeology led him to fund the successful search for the Titanic.

The Man who Bought the World Trade Center & Rebuilt Ground Zero: Larry Silverstein

“Miraculously, I’m alive. I’m here, which is a miracle.” - Silverstein

Best known for rebuilding 911’s Ground Zero, New York real estate developer and investor Larry Silverstein completed the largest real estate transaction in New York history with the purchase of the World Trade Center just weeks before the area was tragically demolished. An appointment kept him from being in the towers that terrible day, and he dedicated himself to immediately rebuilding the area after the attacks.

Silverstein became involved with real estate with his father and brother-in-law in the 1950’s, and he owns landmark buildings across the city skyline. Silverstein is actively involved at New York University, for which he created the Silverstein Scholarship Fund and has taught real estate development and investment analysis.

Changing the Name of the Game

Each of the above men were incredibly instrumental in changing the game of real estate development and investment. They were dynamic visionaries who dreamed big and innovated in ways ahead of their times, changing skylines of the largest cities around the globe.

Stay tuned for a series of deep-dives into each of these men in order to better learn from the history makers who shook up the entire landscape of real estate investing, each in their own way.