The best books on real estate and wealth-building

William J. Poorvu Author Of The Real Estate Game: The Intelligent Guide to Decisionmaking and Investment
By William J. Poorvu

Who am I?

Bill Poorvu is a successful real estate investor and developer who for 35 years headed the real estate program at Harvard Business School, where he taught several generations of students, many of whom went on to become industry leaders. He is also one of the founders of the Baupost Group, a Boston-based investment firm that is considered one of the savviest hedge funds in the world, with some $30 billion in assets under management.


I wrote...

The Real Estate Game: The Intelligent Guide to Decisionmaking and Investment

By William J. Poorvu, Jeffrey L. Cruikshank,

Book cover of The Real Estate Game: The Intelligent Guide to Decisionmaking and Investment

What is my book about?

My book offers an insider’s perspective on how to make smart decisions about real estate. The “game” involves interactions among four variables: players, properties, capital markets, and the external environment. How does a real estate professional participate in this game and win? I walk the reader through the key “periods of play” in the real estate game—concept, commitment, development, operation, reward, and reinvestment.

Let me surprise you by saying this book is not for everybody. It focuses on commercial real estate, and on deals above a certain threshold scale, so small-scale residential developers and house flippers may be disappointed. I offer real-world war stories and some very practical advice to the thoughtful investor, including a powerful “back of the envelope” technique for analyzing the financial implications of a potential deal. 

The books I picked & why

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Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail

By Ray Dalio,

Book cover of Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail

Why this book?

Successful real estate investment and development is in part the result of understanding an economic context and taking the long view. Toward those ends, there’s no better jumping-off point than Ray Dalio's historical review of the economic “Big Cycle” that has determined the success and failure of nations and economic systems over the past several centuries. And by the way, Ray knows what he’s talking about: his Bridgewater Associates is the world’s largest hedge fund.


The Smartest Places on Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation

By Antoine van Agtmael, Fred Bakker,

Book cover of The Smartest Places on Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation

Why this book?

So where are you going to invest and develop? Antoine Von Agtmael offers a very interesting analysis, in this regard. He points to the advantages of investing in certain kinds of smaller cities, including those with good community colleges, ample affordable housing, a welcoming political environment, and no shortage of abandoned factory buildings that can be easily converted for high-tech uses. This isn’t the only great contemporary context for investment, of course, but it’s a good one to study and understand.


Professional Real Estate Development: The Uli Guide to the Business

By Richard B. Peiser, David Hamilton,

Book cover of Professional Real Estate Development: The Uli Guide to the Business

Why this book?

This is an Urban Land Institute publication by lead author Rick Peiser—a longtime Harvard University Graduate School of Design faculty member—and a large group of additional contributors. PRED is especially useful for those taking management or developmental roles in the commercial real estate industry. It’s systematic, comprehensive, and logically organized. It’s also expensive, but then again, it’s 400 pages long. Spring for the hardcover edition—easier to work with, and well worth the investment. 


Margin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor

By Seth A. Klarman,

Book cover of Margin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor

Why this book?

If you are now in a position to invest your money broadly. Margin of Safety presents legendary investor Seth's Klarman's views on risk-adjusted investments in several asset classes, including real estate. He focuses on understanding the underlying values of a specific opportunity, and his consistent emphasis on taking the longer-term view is especially relevant to the property world. Now I will frustrate you by reporting that MOS is long out of print, and the used copies that are available online are...very, very expensive. If you can’t find it or afford it, look for Seth’s interviews on YouTube, and a short but interesting New Yorker interview.


Creating and Growing Real Estate Wealth: The 4 Stages to a Lifetime of Success

By William J. Poorvu,

Book cover of Creating and Growing Real Estate Wealth: The 4 Stages to a Lifetime of Success

Why this book?

Out of sheer modesty, I almost didn’t include my other trade-oriented real estate book, but I haven’t come across any other books that talk about building real estate wealth over a lifetime, and over generations. I write about the four stages that successful real estate investors and developers typically go through—starting out, scaling up, hedging your bets, and taking stock—and also focus on building wealth over generations, in the context of a family enterprise. As with my book, I try to ground my prescriptions in real-world stories, presented in user-friendly language.


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