The rules of wealth and power haven’t changed much in the last thousand years.
Even the fictional world of Game of Thrones adheres to the basic laws of success. Economists talk about how industrialization shifted the source of wealth from land to manufacturing, but ultimately manufacturing was just one more technological advance, like the Italian banking system or the telephone. Wealth today comes from the same places it always has: ideas, personal connections, disruptive technology, lending, trade.
Chief among them is the most constant source of wealth over the centuries—care to hazard a guess?
You nailed it. Real estate remains one of the most powerful forms of wealth creation to this day, perhaps more than ever. After all, people keep cranking out more people, but nobody’s cranking out more land! (Except maybe the Emiratis, building palm-tree-shaped islands. But I digress.)
These lessons about wealth, success, and real estate are so timeless, so ingrained in the human experience, that they can even be witnessed in the fictional world of Westeros. And yes, there are spoilers ahead, so consider yourself warned if you’re not current!
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Game of Homes: 9 Lessons of Wealth & Real Estate from Game of Thrones
1. Education is central to success, even for the rich.
Four out of five American millionaires are 100 percent self-made—none of their wealth came from trust funds or inheritances. They earned it all themselves. That doesn’t mean they missed out on a good education, though.
Almost none of the currently powerful players in Westeros inherited wealth, either. Danaerys didn’t inherit a cent. Neither did Jon Snow. Nor did Littlefinger, Tyrion, Ser Davos, Tormund, Jorah, Bronn, or even that crazy woman from Dorne, before she got thrown in a dungeon.
Related: 7 Lessons I Wish I’d Known When I Started Investing in Real Estate
Most of them did benefit from a good education, however. Jon learned about leadership from Ned Stark and mastered the arts of war from the best in the North. Danaerys learned the history of Westeros while living in exile with wealthy Magister Illyrio.
Even back when Tyrion had access to his family’s money, it was his own keen intellect that saved him, time and again. It was also what scored him his current job of Hand of the Queen.
Likewise with Sam Tarly. He was disinherited by his father, but before that, he had a good education, which served him later on the Wall.
Just as important as education though are the advantages that come with family connections.
2. Network and connections are worth more than gold.
Who you know is worth more than how much money is in your pocket. Littlefinger started life with only one advantage: He grew up with the Tully children, receiving their education and gaining from their connections. He leveraged that into a business in King’s Landing, then a position on the Small Council, then a lordship.
Varys the Spider was born a nobody, but it was his network that lifted him into a position of power. Melisandre grew her political power initially by building a relationship with Stannis Baratheon.
And look no further than Arya’s long journey, which she only survived because of her family connections and her own hard-won relationships. Yoren looked out for her at first, then Gendry and Hot Pie, and then she developed a rapport with Jaqen. Later, the Hound protected her, before she set sail to meet up with Jaqen once again to apprentice under him.
3. Choose your partners with care because they require absolute trust.
Partners are in a position to help you succeed—or to destroy you entirely.
Ned Stark thought he could trust Littlefinger and lost his head for it. His wife Catelyn and son Robb lost their lives too, when they trusted their partnership with the Freys.
The Tyrells were wiped from the face of the earth after their failed partnership with the Lannisters.
Jon learned from his mistakes after thinking he could contain Ser Allister by offering him a position of power as First Ranger. After Ser Allister’s coup, Jon retook power by trusting Sam, Ser Davos, and Tormund—all trustworthy partners.
Related: 5 Critical Financial Lessons We Can Learn From Poverty & Homelessness
Danaerys found trustworthy partners in Tyrion, Jorah, and Grey Worm. You can’t go it alone in life. On the road to wealth, you’ll need to find people to trust with important tasks. Knowing who to trust, who you can count on, is often the difference between success and failure.
4. You can marry into wealth—if love isn’t your priority.
Littlefinger married Lysa Arryn specifically for her wealth, lands, and titles. Then he promptly killed her and took over all of them.
Bronn was granted a marriage with a wealthy lady, which would have worked out fine for him if Jaime hadn’t shown up and plucked him away for an adventure in Dorne.
Even Danaerys married her way into power initially, with her (albeit unwilling) marriage to Khal Drogo. By the time she actually grew to love him, he died (of course).
Those born with ambitions of wealth, but none of their own, can always marry their way into it. But don’t expect rainbows and butterflies; marrying into money is a tactic, not a recipe for everlasting love.
5. Real estate demand shifts, but can still be predicted.
When winter (finally) came, suddenly food was in demand. The fertile Tyrell lands surrounding Highgarden, with their bountiful harvests and full granaries, suddenly became more valuable.
And so, they were acquired—forcibly, in this case.
It’s not rocket science that when a winter lasting years came along, fertile lands that still produced food would become precious.
Look at the Lannister properties, originally so valuable—until the gold mines ran empty. Then they became expendable.
And no matter what, the lands (and bridge) controlled by the Freys was always going to be valuable. There was no other river crossing for a hundred miles! The Freys knew the value of their land and protected it with scarcity.
6. Debt can crush the rich just as easily as the poor.
No matter how much you earn or how much you have, beware of debt.
Robert Baratheon—and later the Lannisters—racked up massive debts. And when they were most threatened, as Danaerys landed with the intent to invade, who should come calling? The bank, calling their debt.
Jorah Mormont found himself in debt once, as a young man with a wife who liked to spend. He made a desperate gamble, committing a crime to try and score some quick money. After being barred from his family home, stripped of his inheritance and property, and sent overseas, it’s safe to say he regretted both the debts and the crime.
Get in the habit of thinking as a lender, an investor, rather than a borrower. It may seem impossible, but suspend disbelief and set an extreme savings goal, such as saving and investing half your income.
Think the Iron Bank ever comes out behind? Nope. Save and invest money rather than racking up debts.
7. Never assume you’ll receive an inheritance.
Far too many people go through life thinking that they’re sitting pretty, that they don’t need to create their own financial independence, because one day they’ll inherit a hefty chunk of change.
Don’t count on it.
We just got finished telling Jorah Mormont’s sad story of disinheritance. Danaerys was born a freakin’ princess and inherited nothing from her parents but a life on the lam.
Sam Tarly was disinherited by his father (although he might well end up with his family’s real estate holdings anyway).
Tyrion Lannister: also disinherited. And even if he hadn’t been, his family’s coffers were draining quickly, with the family’s gold mines emptied and now worthless.
That poor Martell kid down in Dorne lived just long enough to see his family toppled, their holdings taken by force by his dead uncle’s girlfriend.
The examples go on. You might inherit money and real estate, or you might not. Anything can happen between now and then. Build your own fortune, and create your own financial independence.
8. Most people squander their inheritance, even when they receive one.
No, really. By the second generation, 70% of high net-worth families are no longer wealthy. That figure rises to 90% by the third generation. Incidentally, these figures make a strong case that we don’t need an inheritance tax to redistribute wealth—spoiled heirs and heiresses do a much more efficient job of spreading that money far and wide than the government can.
If you were to guess, how long do you think the average heir waits to buy a new car when they inherit a substantial sum?
The sad answer: 19 days.
According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 70% of those who receive a sudden windfall are broke within a few years. That includes major lottery winners, too.
Robb Stark lost his family’s estate to the Boltons. Jorah Mormont spent through his family’s money, bringing the family into debt. Edmure Tully lost his family’s estate to the Freys at the Red Wedding.
And Stannis Baratheon? He blew through all of his family’s wealth on a failed political campaign.
Even among the privileged, most people just don’t know how to manage money.
9. Hard work still trumps everything else, if you have a strategy.
If inheriting money doesn’t make you rich, what does?
The (usually unwelcome) answer is hard work.
No, the average laborer digging ditches isn’t going to get rich, no matter how hard he works at digging. It does take an element of strategy (which is why we’re all readers of BiggerPockets, right?).
Start by being accountable, always willing to take on more responsibility. Jon Snow rose to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and later to King in the North not because he was ever the most popular guy in the room. Quite the contrary—he’s dour and serious and rarely cracks a smile.
But when no one else was willing to take responsibility, he was always there. When no one else was willing to risk themselves, their careers, their lives in some cases, he stepped forward and did whatever needed doing.
Littlefinger and Varys were both born with next to nothing, but both rose to wealth and prominence. Why? Because they spent every hour of every day working hard, especially at networking. They both knew more people, high and low, than anyone else walking the lofty halls of the Red Keep, and it paid off for them.
By contrast, look at Robert Baratheon. Even kings lose their power if they’re lazy!
Or Loras Tyrell, who spent his entire life complacent. He thought he could sit back and simply enjoy the privileges of his wealth—until he found himself stripped of that wealth and all of his privilege.
Some Truths are Predictable
No one ever accused Game of Thrones of being predictable, yet here are all these age-old rules of success.
Those who continually push themselves to keep learning, to know more than the people around them, will succeed. Those who keep expanding their network, trying to know more people and how they might collaborate to reach mutually-beneficial goals, will succeed.
Debts, overspending, laziness, complacency—these are habits of people who will not succeed.
These truths are timeless, even in fiction. They are woven into the fabric of our world and even bleed into the worlds we create. If you want to succeed, pay attention to these lessons of success, even when they appear in the least likely places.
What other lessons about money have you learned from Game of Thrones? Who’s ready to nerd out with me?
Drop your GoT (and real estate) knowledge below!