Reading — and Skip — List

Real estate books cover a lot of ground (pun intended).

At one end of the pendulum are the various “how to” books: how to invest, how to fix up properties, how to get into the business and prosper.

At the other end of the pendulum are the more purely recreational and/or aesthetic books that celebrate real estate’s potential to thrill and inspire us. You know, “coffee table” books.

No matter where your interests lie, here are a couple ideas likely to appeal to you (or someone you’re buying a gift for!).


“A Man in Full” — Thomas Wolfe. This book is to real estate what “Bonfire of the Vanities” was to Wall Street.

“The Real Estate Game” — William Poorvu. Best investment book I’m aware of: informed discussion of “cap rates,” risk/return, etc. with none of the inane advice found in the various “get rich quick” entries. (The latter collectively conjure up Mark Twain’s stock market advice: “making money in stocks is easy. Only buy a stock if it goes up; if it doesn’t go up, don’t buy it” — more on this below).

“The Not-So Big House” — Susan Susanka. A reaction against the “McMansion” movement in 2001, this book is arguably even more relevant today. Susanka has practically turned this into a franchise, ala “The Idiot’s Guide to,” or the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” series of books (see below).

Dwell magazine. Who says it has to be a book? Of the multitude of real estate magazines out there, this is consistently one of the most interesting and “fashion-forward.”


–Anything by Donald Trump. He’s a vain idiot, who’s burned practically everybody who’s lent him money or bought shares in his companies. Or married him: I think it was New York Magazine that wrote that Trump doesn’t marry — he “rents with an option to buy” (apparently, he favors 5 year leases).

–the guy who wrote “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” (nice franchise, dude!). I’m under the impression that very little of it is reality-based, including the mentoring provided by the “rich Dad” who supposedly lived next door.

–anything with the word(s): ‘the best’; ‘profit’; or “secret” in it.

After browsing maybe a couple dozen of these, here’s a fair summary of what they all say:

“Buy an overlooked gem that’s priced ridiculously cheap by an unsophisticated, motivated seller who somehow has lots of equity in the property. Get them to finance the purchase. Make a few, cosmetic changes, then sell at a huge mark-up.”

Not succinct enough? How about this: “Buy low, sell high.”

In truth, there is one useful nugget I got from one of these books (I forgot which one): invest in properties close to where you live. Driving across town to meet a plumber/electrician/handyman is a time-consuming drag.

Your Call:

–“Getting to Yes.” Well-known book on negotiation. However, not sure that great negotiating can be taught any more than someone can be taught to throw a 95 mph fastball.

In my experience, negotiating skills are a function of temperament and experience. Lots and lots of experience (I almost think of it like jet pilots logging flying time).

Not in the mood to read?

There’s always Monopoly . . .

P.S.: Unlike the various “insider” books on what it’s like to be in a various trade or profession — Scott Turow’s “One L,” about the first year of law school, comes to mind — I’m not aware of a consensus pick for would-be Realtors.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

Leave a Reply