The 20 Richest Estate Tycoons On The Forbes Billioniares List

Erin Carlyle

Forbes Staff
Property values are rising globally, creating wealth–and new billionaires–across the planet. Fifteen people join the FORBES ranks this year thanks to their real estate holdings, bringing the total number of property tycoons on the FORBES Billionaires List to 135.

The most elite group–the 20 wealthiest of the real estate moguls–include a whopping 14 people who hail from Asian-Pacific nations. Seven are from Hong Kong, four from China, two from Singapore, and one from Australia. Only six of the richest real estate 20 are Westerners: three each from the U.S. and the U.K.

A look at the numbers helps explain where all this wealth is coming from. The latest version of Knight Frank’s Global House Price Index, which tracks prices in 53 countries, shows that as of Q3 2013, residential property was up 4% from its 2008 peak. That’s 12.7% higher than values during the trough of the global financial crisis. Of course, these figures represent a global index and the rise or fall in property values varies for each nation. Still, more than two-thirds of countries tracked were seeing positive growth. Dubai, China, and Hong Kong saw the greatest annual rise in home prices, up 28.5%, 21.6% and 16.1% respectively.

Commercial properties, too, are faring better and rising from the crisis, with global office rents up by 3% overall by last year, according to Cushman & Wakefield research, though the figures vary widely by country.

Given the numbers, it’s not surprising that Asian-Pacific countries are leading the world in terms of property fortunes, with 72 billionaires counting real estate as a major part of their fortunes. The U.S. ranks second as a regional real estate wealth creator, with 29 property billionaires, and Europe has the third-greatest number, with 21.

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Country-by-country, the U.S. boasts 29 real estate billionaires, the greatest number of any individual nation. China has the second highest number of the property-rich at 21, followed closely by Hong Kong, with 18 real estate billionaires.

Coming in as the wealthiest of the real estate tycoons on the FORBES Billionaires list is Hong Kong’s Lee Shau Kee, ranking No. 35 with a fortune we estimate at $19.6 billion. His Henderson Land HLDCY +% Development has a stake in Hong Kong’s International Financial Center, and numerous project on the mainland, including the Henderson Metropolitan along Nanjing West Road near the Bund, a waterfront area in Shanghai. Although still the wealthiest real estate billionaire, the Henderson head saw his fortune drop over the past year as the city’s real estate sector dipped after a hike in property taxes.

The second-richest real estate billionaire, also from Hong Kong, is 88-year-old Cheng Yu-tung, who ranks No. 54 on the list with a fortune of $16.2 billion. He turned over the chairmanship of his New World Development to his elder son, Henry, 66, in March 2012. That same year he reportedly had a stroke, and is no longer active in his companies.

Wang Jianlin, China’s richest person, is the third-richest person in real estate (No. 64 with a net worth of $15.1 billion). He owns 75 department stores, 85 shopping plazas, 51 five star hotels, and the United States’ AMC theater chain, which he purchased in 2012 and listed on the New York Stock Exchange in December. Wang also launched an $8 billion mini-Hollywood in China’s coastal city of Qingdao last year. A man from humble beginnings, Wang entered the military and became chairman of the then-government-run Wanda in 1989, when he was just 35. Today he is chairman of China’s largest commercial real estate developer, Dalian Wanda Group.

Donald Bren, No. 69 on the FORBES Billionaires list, is the 4th-wealthiest property tycoon by our numbers. With a net worth of $14.4 billion, Bren’s fortune has grown thanks to rising estate prices in California, where he holds the majority of his vast portfolio. Bren’s Irvine Co. owns about 50,000 apartments, 40 million square feet of office space, and 8 million square feet of retail in Orange County, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley, plus three golf clubs and five marinas. It also owns the Hyatt Center and is an investor in the UBS Tower, both in Chicago. He preserved half of the original 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch as permanent open space.

Asia is doing well in terms of not only creating great wealth, but continuing to produce new billionaires. Of the 15 newbies to the FORBES Billionaires list, two are from China, two from Hong Kong, two from Singapore, and one each from Malaysia and Taiwan.

The United States also added two new billionaires to the FORBES list. David Walentas debuts on the list, with a net worth of $1.7 billion; as my colleague Caleb Melby wrote earlier this year, he developed Brooklyn’s DUMBO into the neighborhood it is today. Jeff Sutton, the Manhattan retail landlord who brought American Girl to Fifth Avenue and commands some of the highest rents in the country, is the second American newcomer, with a net worth of $2.7 billion.

Notably, three of the 20 richest people in real estate are brothers: Thomas, Raymond, and Walter Kwok. Their father, Sun Hung Kai Properties founded Kwok Tak-seng, was an early business partner of Lee Shau Kee, real estate’s richest person.

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