Real estate investing has minted its share of multimillionaires over the years as well as a handful of billionaires, including President Donald Trump. While the president might be the most well-known real estate billionaire, he doesn't even crack the top-10 list of richest real estate investors in the U.S., according to the Forbes 400 list. Here's a brief look at that elite group of billionaire real estate investors.
1. Donald Bren: Estimated net worth $15.5 billion
Donald Bren tops America's real estate rich list. He became the wealthiest person in real estate thanks to his ownership of Irvine Company. He bought a large stake in that company in 1977, which controlled 93,000 acres of land in Southern California, known as Irvine Ranch. The real estate mogul became the sole owner of Irvine in 1996. It now controls ranch lands as well as a portfolio of more than 115 million square feet of real estate, primarily in Southern California, including 550 office buildings and 125 apartment complexes. He also owns dozens of retail centers, a coastal resort, a couple of hotels, some golf courses, and several marinas.
2. Sun Hongbin: Estimated net worth $9.2 billion
Sun Hongbin is an American citizen. Unlike the others on this rich list, though, his wealth comes entirely from investments outside the U.S. He founded Sunac China Holdings, which is one of China's largest real estate developers, focusing on developing large scale, medium- to high-end residential properties. Sunac has expanded and diversified its real estate empire by acquiring Wanda Group's hotel and tourism portfolio for $9.3 billion in 2017, which was the second-largest real estate deal in China's history.
3. Stephen Ross: Estimated net worth $7.6 billion
Stephen Ross is the founder and Chairman of The Related Companies as well as the owner of both the Miami Dolphins and Sunlife Stadium. He started out by developing affordable housing. However, he has expanded his real estate investment into other development opportunities, including leading the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project in NYC. After more than a decade of planning and construction, the first of two phases opened in 2019. It features eight structures that house residences, offices, a hotel, retail space, and a cultural center.
4. Sam Zell: Estimated net worth $4.8 billion
Sam Zell founded private equity firm Equity Group Investments in 1969, which invests in several industries, including real estate. He was one of the early leaders in the real estate investment trust (REIT) sector. He is currently Chairman of five public companies, including several REITs, led by Equity Residential (NYSE: EQR), which is one of the largest residential REITs in the country. He also famously sold office REIT Equity Office to private equity giant Blackstone (NYSE: BLK) right before the real estate market crashed in 2007. At $39 billion, it was one of the largest real estate deals in history.
5. Leonard Stern: Estimated net worth $4.5 billion
Leonard Stern started in his father's pet supply business in 1959 before venturing into the real estate market seven years later by purchasing a warehouse in New Jersey. His company, Hartz Mountain Industries, now owns more than 260 properties, comprising over 45 million square feet of residential, office, hotel, and industrial properties, primarily in the New York/Northern New Jersey area.
6. John A. Sobrato & Family: Estimated net worth $4.3 billion
John Sobrato started selling houses in California while he was still in college. He later worked to develop industrial properties and founded his real estate company, Sobrato Organization, in 1979. Today, that company owns more than 7 million square feet of office space, mainly in the Silicon Valley area of California, as well as roughly 6,700 apartments.
7. Sheldon Solow: Estimated net worth $4.2 billion
Sheldon Solow made a major real estate gamble in 1972 by betting his entire net worth on building 9 West 57th Street in New York City. The 50-story office tower has unobstructed views of Central Park, making it a highly sought-after building. In 2016, it appraised at more than $3.4 billion, making it one of the most valuable office buildings in the city. In addition to that landmark property, Solow also owns several other office buildings on 57th Street as well as residential real estate near the East River.
8. Jerry Speyer: Estimated net worth $4 billion
Jerry Speyer is the Chairman of real estate developer Tishman Speyer. His company has developed over 152 million square feet of real estate, including skyscrapers in iconic cities like New York, Chicago, Berlin, London, Frankfurt, and Paris. He's also redeveloped several landmark properties, including the Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan.
9. Igor Olenicoff: Estimated net worth $3.9 billion
Igor Olenicoff came to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union as a teenager. He lived out the American dream by building a real estate empire. His company, Olen Properties, owns more than 8 million square feet of office space and 15,000 residential units, primarily in California.
10. Jeff Sutton: Estimated net worth $3.8 billion
Jeff Sutton is the founder of Wharton Properties, which owns many prime retail locations in Manhattan. Wharton has acquired more than 120 buildings throughout New York City and the surrounding area. It owns marquee properties along Fifth Avenue, Times Square, and 34th Street.
What the richest real estate investors all have in common
One recurring theme among most of America's top real estate moguls is that they made the bulk of their fortunes developing commercial real estate, primarily in major cities. While development projects carry higher risk, as these rich real estate investors show, they can also produce huge rewards.