Mystified and intrigued by this wealth building process

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Hi all, Long time reader here and small time investor hoping to make it big one day. I was wondering if any of you came across this type of investor. Had a few friends in college and growing up who's families owned a nice amount of real estate. When asking how they started they all said their grandparents came to this country with no money and saved up and bought one rental and slowly continued acquiring property amassing a mini real estate empire. The few families I knew of have the same type of story. What I don't understand is how they obtained property with no credit and income verification (I obviously don't know the whole background but the basic storyline was they saved cash working menial jobs) was lending that much easier back then (40 years ago) I dream of one day owning multiple properties and I feel like I have the resources (good paying job) but it seems SO intimidating today (especially in a big city think San Fran /ny where you can barely get a studio for 500k)  am I  missing something ? 

By solving people's problems with creative financing.....and taking risks.

Things to google: sub2, seller financing, short sale, pre-forclosure, and section 8.

You could always invest in another market. A lot of people from CALI invest outside of their home market. 500k could get you several homes in another area.

500k$ would buy 5x the cost of the house I live in @[email protected] 3/2 1300 5 years old. (not selling my house. just describing features for comparrison)

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