Real Estate Billionaires got richer this year

No event in recent history has created an impact comparable to the sheer magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has redefined government and corporate policies, customer behaviors, businesses, technology, and industries, in unprecedented ways.

For instance, although there is a general sense of downturn across the global real estate landscape, the Forbes’ Billionaire 2021 list tells us that real estate billionaires got richer during the pandemic – with some even making it to the uber-rich list.

Building the fortunes

Despite the pandemic and its cascading effect on all facets of life, the world’s wealthiest are now $5 trillion richer than a year ago, reports Forbes. In 2020, people became billionaires at a rate of one every 17 hours. And real estate was among the industries that lead the charts, in this context.

At a net worth of $31.7 billion, Hong Kong-based Lee Shau Kee, who co-founded Sun Hung Kai property developers, is ranked 47 in the ‘richest-persons-in-the-world’ list – which is the highest for entrepreneurs predominantly invested in the sector. While real estate billionaires, who are part of the list, include stalwarts from Europe and North America, it is largely dominated by Asians. This could be a reflection of the public perception of real estate as an investment avenue, in the East.

The success of Chinese and Hong Kong-based real estate businesspersons is also thanks to investors from the West, attracted by the resilience of Eastern markets, in the face of disruptions.

Leveraging bear markets

The pandemic resulted in investors sitting on “dry powder”, and those looking for second homes, thronging the premium property segment that featured a historic low in prices. This trend was also biased in favour of sought-after markets like Dubai – which led to an increase in the fortunes of UAE-based developers as well.

At $3.6 billion in net worth, Majid Al Futtaim & family lead the real estate billionaire list in the UAE, followed by DAMAC Properties’ Hussain Sajwani, who is worth $2.4 billion. In Dubai, thanks to success in pandemic management, sales have increased by 31% in Q1, FY21, year-on-year, with buyer registrations increasing by a whopping 34%.

Premium segment aside, even the affordable segment saw massive sales at the tail end of 2020, especially in markets like India that boast sizable aggregate demand. According to HURUN real estate India rich list, the total wealth of the 100 richest builders in India jumped 26% year-on-year to $46.27 billion. Among the 100 are eight new dollar-billionaires. The report also estimates that, due to India’s acute housing shortage, which requires an additional 25 million homes by 2030, the country could add 50 billionaires annually, in the foreseeable future.

The recent upswing in real estate billionaires’ fortunes can also be attributed to a new window-shopping trend in real estate, with marketplaces like Zillow, PropertyFinder, and Bayut witnessing massive traffic. Zillow has registered 855.4 million visits in the first three months of 2021, with traffic in March up 11.94% from February. The corresponding figures for UAE-based Bayut are 10 million visits, representing a 17% month-on-month increase, in March. PropertyFinder has recorded 9.7 million visits in three months, and witnessed a traffic increase of 22% month-on-month, in March. Unsurprisingly, Zillow founders Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink made it to the billionaire list for the first time. And as odd as it may sound, they have the pandemic to thank for their rise.

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