3 Entertaining Tales of Epic Failure in Recent Real Estate History

by | BiggerPockets.com

Welcome back,

Sometimes this business gets tough. As real estate investors, we are oftentimes alone, pulling the triggers solo, making decisions that can sometimes make or break our businesses. With this said, it is always important to have a support structure, including mentors and experienced real estate friends with whom you can discuss ideas and potential deals.

Still… sometimes, we feel like failures as investors.

In today’s post, we’ll be discussing 3 monumental failures that occurred in current real estate history, in no particular order.

3 Epic Fails in Recent Real Estate History

1. George C. Parker

George C. Parker was an ambition business man and real estate mogul in the early 1900’s living in New York City. Parker’s prestigious rel estate company sold many landmark properties, such as the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn bridge. Parker was certainly doing well for himself.

Many of Parker’s customers were other immigrants just arriving to the country and eager to invest. The only problem with what Parker was doing was that he did not own or represent any of these properties. Parker is still one of the most brazen con-men to have lived, oftentimes placing no more than a “For Sale” sign on the Brooklyn Bridge and waiting for his victims to come to him. He once sold the Brooklyn Bridge for $50,000.

Related: 10 Surefire Ways to FAIL as a Beginner Real Estate Investor

Parker was sentenced to life in prison after his third arrest and conviction for fraud.

2. Ponte City Apartments

In 1975, the tallest building in Africa was built. This pinnacle of luxury, located in Johannesburg, South Africa, stands an impressive 54 stories high. In addition to being the tallest building around, the property also boasts a cylindrical shape with a massive atrium area in the middle, known as “the Core,” to let added light in for the luxury residence.

However, while the luxury was evident, the higher-end residents never came. Soon after the construction ended, gangs moved into the building, and the crime rate soared. More and more lower income households moved in, and during the 1990’s, the building was even considered a “high-rise penitentiary.”

In 2007, new owners purchased the building with plans to revitalize the area and remove the gangs. Plans were underway until the sub-prime collapse of the real estate market withdrew the needed funds to complete the project. The building was given back to the prior owners and currently sits in disrepair, a reminder of a once-great dream turned into an epic failure.

3. Andre-Francois Raffray

In 1975, at the age of 90, Jeanne Calment signed an agreement with young, suave attorney named Andre-Francois Raffray. The agreement read that Raffray would pay 2,500 francs ($500) per month to Calment for the rest of her life, with the condition that he would purchase her apartment home when she passed away, paying only what he had already given her.

Related: 7 Steps for Rebounding from Major Real Estate Failures

The obvious benefit to Raffray is that he would purchase this elderly woman’s home for pennies on the dollar when she inevitably passed away in a number of months or years. However, time rolled by. Months turned to years, and years turned to decades. After 30 years of waiting for his apartment home, Raffray died himself, leaving his wife obligated to pay this $500 per month debt.

Jeanne Calment went on to do the improbable. Calment lived to be the oldest living person in recorded history, passing away at the age of 122 in 1997. The Raffrays eventually paid over $180,000 for the home, twice what the apartment was worth at the time.


A takeaway from these tales is that it is important to remember that we as real estate investors are here to help others, both buyers and sellers. Oftentimes, humans can be too money hungry to see past the harm we may knowingly or unknowingly cause others. For most of us reading this article, we have never made a deal that killed anyone, displaced a section of the population, or destroyed anyone’s life.

Stay busy everyday and know where you are headed.

And as always… love what you do daily.

[Sources: Cracked.com, Wikipedia: George C. Parker, Wikipedia: Ponte City Apartments]

Which of these stories captured your imagination? What tales of disaster would you add?

Don’t epically fail by NOT leaving a comment below!

About Author

John Fedro

Investing since 2002, John started in real estate accidentally with a 4-bedroom mobile home inside of a pre-existing mobile home park. Over the next 11 months, John added 10 more mobile homes to his cash-flowing portfolio. Since these early years, John has gone on to help 150+ sellers and buyers sell their unwanted mobile homes and obtain a safe and affordable manufactured home of their own. Years later, John keeps to what has been successful—buying, fixing, renting, and reselling affordable housing known as mobile homes. John shares his stories, experiences, lessons, and some of the stories of other successful mobile home investors he helps on his blog and YouTube channeland has written over 300 articles concerning mobile homes and mobile home investing for the BiggerPockets Blog. He has also been a featured podcast guest here and on other prominent real estate podcasts, authored a highly-rated book aimed at increasing the happiness/satisfaction of average real estate investors, and spoken to national and international audiences concerning the opportunities and practicality of successfully investing in mobile homes.


  1. Thanks for writing these up! You made me laugh. It’s been a good day all around (read on).

    I have my own tale of Real Estate epic fail, although on a personal scale. When my mother passed away, I oversaw dispersal of three properties as executor on her will. Like the three pigs, I had one made of brick, one of wood, and one of straw. The first one was worth the most, its mortgage was paid, and it sat on the water in an upscale community. The second was also paid off, and it was a beach cottage on a small tropical island, although in need of some updating.

    The third was the epic fail. I inherited a converted windmill, with a garden (I kill plants), a pool (I can’t keep the chemicals straight), and a hefty mortgage. It is full of character and desperately in need of constant love and attention like the community icon that it is. It was on the market for three years, during which I pulled weeds, trimmed hedges, cleaned chimneys, vacuumed pool bottoms, and chased out mice. I live in a condo. For a reason. I hate all of these things.

    But my epic fail has a happy ending. This week, I finally signed a P&S, for far less than what it is worth, but for enough to pay off the mortgage and promise myself that I will never again have to stare at a garden grub. I just had to tell someone!

    • John Fedro

      Hi Sukey,

      Thank you for commenting and your feedback. I regret to hear about your lessons however we almost all have some of these in our history. I suppose you can’t be very active without making some less than great decisions. It is how we get back up that makes the difference. I’m glad to see you still here and investing.

      All the best,
      John Fedro

  2. Tom Keith

    Good stories to learn from John, Trust but verify and sometimes don’t just Not Trust, RUN! ANd never assume anything, including you up are going to outlive and profit off a 90 year old person. I don’t have the slighest idea what to think about the high rise in Johannesburg except to think what a shame. Remember why we do this and always love what you do. Thanks so much. Tom

  3. Pavel Sakurets

    2 million dollar lesson for me. I consider things not as failers (can’t spell the word, sorry, English is my 3rd language) but as stepping stones to the success.
    I believe Eddison once said when he was creating a bulb ” I look at things differently, every time when my experiment fails, it leads me closer and closer to my new creation”.

    Lesson 1: Don’t bet on appreciation. I bought a bunch of RE in 2004-2006 and have negative equity for
    $ 2 million now, and that’s OK as long as properties are rented or cash-flowing.

    Lesson 2: Owning a bunch of rental real estate is a liability and not an income generating vehicle.
    Carnegy said “Own nothing, control everything”.
    With tenants, trash and toilets (love this expression) comes a lot of liability and it’s not a fast income generating tool. I don’t want to wait for 15 years when my loan will get paid off and I’ll be enjoying ”debt free life” when I’m 50 years old. I want it now!!!

    Lesson #3: Negative cash flow is OK when you have principal reductions.
    No, in 12 years that I have been owning some properties where I was betting on appreciation and was OK with negative cash flow, guess what? -I still have negative cash flow (from $700/month to $2000 on some of the properties) And now they are worth the same amount that I paid for them in 2003-2005 maybe less.
    Thus you need to have a cash flow from day one when the property is rent ready.

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