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Best-selling real estate authors

Posted by John Reed on

Here is a list of all the best-selling real-estate authors I can think of and their financial lowlights.

Best-selling Author Book Title Financial Lowlights
William Nickerson How I Turned $1,000 into $5 Million in Real Estate in My Spare Time
Got richer until death in 2000
Albert Lowry How to Become Financially Independent by Investing in Real Estate
Declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June of 1987
Bill “Tycoon” Greene Two Years for Freedom
Indicted on 1/13/81 for federal income-tax evasion. In 8/81, he was convicted, sentenced to prison and fined. He later escaped from the minimum security prison and is now apparently living in England under the name Dr. William G. Hill.
Howard Ruff How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years
Craig Hall Craig Hall’s Book of Real Estate Investing
Sued by the Resolution Trust Corporation for various wrongdoings, filed bankruptcy in April of 1992
Tony Hoffman How to Negoatiate Successfully in Real Estate
Hoffman’s company, National Superstar, Inc. declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on 10/3/86
Wade B. Cook How to Build a Real Estate Money Machine
Declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy on 6/17/87; 10/00, corporations agrees to refund millions
4/03, bankrupt—again; 12/05 Wade Cook indictment for tax fraud teaches lessons about investment advice, asset protection (article about his indictments for tax evasion); 2/20/07 convicted by a federal jury in Seattle of seven counts of tax evasion, filing false returns, and obstructing the IRS See my guru-rating page for details.
Dave Glubetich The Monopoly Game
Declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy on 6/26/87
Dave Del Dotto Cash Flow System
Charged by the Federal Trade Commission with misrepresenting products on 4/22/93, lost headquarters building to foreclosure on 5/6/93, subject of federal tax lien for $240,406.38 in unpaid taxes, sued by State of Washington, IRS placed a lien on his home in 1993, agreed to pay $200,000 fine to the FTC, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1995
Charles Givens Wealth Without Risk
Successfully sued for giving bad financial advice by a former customer, ordered to pay $377,000 in refunds by Florida attorney general, his company International Administrative Services, Inc. declared bankruptcy in August of 1996, died pending trial
Sonny Bloch Inside Real Estate
Indicted on 5/26/95 by federal gand jury for fraud, fled to Domican Republic to avoid prosecution, deported to U.S., died 3/10/98 pending trial
Ed Beckley Million Dollar Secrets
Declared bankruptcy on 3/22/87, sentenced to federal prison for wire fraud
Robert Allen Nothing Down, Creating Wealth, The Challenge
$412,045.65 in IRS liens filed against him on 6/16/86, $76,000 warrant for delinquent tax liens filed by State of Utah in 1986, sued by fellow gurus who spoke at his conferences for $117,000 in compensation, declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May of 1996
Mark O. Haroldsen How to Awaken the Financial Genius Within You
Charged with 83 counts of deceptive sales practices by the State of Utah in May of 1997. Apparently prevailed in another case versus FTC (
Robert Kiyosaki Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Claims he was bankrupt and homeless in 1985 although federal court records say no one named Kiyosaki ever declared bankruptcy. Also claims he refused to return to his ship when he was a Marine during the Vietnam war but his military records show no such incident. Wikipedia write-up says his company Rich Global LLC filed Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy on 8/20/12 in Wyoming.

In spite of this appalling track record, I get weekly emails accusing me of being jealous of the fact that Robert Kiyosaki is a best-selling real-estate author. Apparently the public grossly overestimates the meaning of best-seller status. A “best-seller” is a book that sells to a lot of laymen. A better judge of quality is how popular a book is with experts in the field.

I am a self-published author myself.

How To Write, Publish, and Sell Your Own How-To Book

Why did almost all the best-selling real-estate authors get into trouble? Simple: the way you get to be a best-selling author in the get-rich category is to lie. It’s like politics. The biggest liar wins. As in politics, the author who promises the most for the least effort wins.

William Nickerson told the truth—but he did that back in 1959. His book, which is excellent, says to save money, put 25% down on rental property, renovate it, and exchange up to a bigger one and repeat the process. How many books do you think he’d sell today—competing with authors who say saving and renovating are unnecessary? Al Lowry’s first book, How To Become Financially Independent by Investing in Real Estate, was also excellent. In fact, it was a restatement of Nickerson’s book. The two were partners at the time. Lowry’s book was a best seller in 1977.

Then came Robert Allen’s Nothing Down in 1980. He blew Lowry and Nickerson away. Lowry and Nickerson subsequently sort of imitated Allen trying to compete with him and started putting out lousy stuff. People would rather hear that you can get rich for nothing down and no work than 25% down and renovation. Ever since then, would-be best selling authors have had to tell bigger and bigger lies to achieve best-seller status. It’s a sort of “That’s nothing! Wait til you read my book!” series of one-upsmanship ploys.

Here is an email I got. I think it epitomizes the sort of person who the best-selling real-estate authors appeal to.

“youre [sic] a dream stealer , quit giving your stupid opinions on things you know nothing about . millions of dollars of real estate is bought and sold all the time using methods you say dont work. you just want people to think youre [sic] some kind of expert youre [sic] not.”

If you want to be a best-selling author, tell people their wildest financial dreams can come true, with virtually no effort or risk. Another email I got was more perceptive. He called what the get-rich-quick authors do, “blowing sunshine up my a--.”

To an extent, a best-selling book is a product of mob psychology. Charles Mackay wrote a book called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds about various financial disasters caused by mob psychology.

Here’s an inside tip about the book business. The list that is most respected is the back list, not the best-seller list. The back list is the list of books that sell year in and year out for decades. Leigh Robinson’s Landlording is an example. So is Les Scher’s excellent Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country.

Not eligible
Some have accused me of being jealous of best-selling authors because I am not one. I am not

eligible. To be a best-selling author, you have to sell your books through book stores, which I no longer do. The last time I sent a real estate book to my old book-store distributor was March, 1998.

Even during the twenty years when I did sell my books through book stores, I still could not have had a best seller. Here is how the conversation might have gone with my distributor if the sales of one of my books took off.

Distributor: “Jack! Great news! We have 50,000 orders for your tax book!”

Reed: “Well, that’s nice, but I have some bad news in response. I don’t have 50,000 copies of that book. I only printed 5,000.”

Distributor: “So print more.”

Reed: “Easy for you to say. You don’t have to pay the printing bill—which is due within 30 days of the books coming off the press. 50,000 copies of that book would cost about $125,000 to print. I don’t have that kind of money lying around. My credit limit with book manufacturers is around $20,000, because that’s all I’ve ever needed. I doubt they would up my limit to $125,000 and I would not be able to pay the bill if they did. I would have to put a second mortgage on my house to print 50,000 books.”

Distributor: “Whatever. You’ve got a best seller. You need to do it.”

Reed: “Will you buy the books on a no-returns basis or are you going to insist on your usual 100%-return-privilege deal?”

Distributor: “We never ever buy on a no-returns basis.”

Reed: “That’s what I thought. Fine. I’ll print 10,000.”

Distributor: “10,000! But what will we tell the book stores who placed the other 40,000 orders?”

Reed: “Tell them that I will be glad to sell them to them if they will buy on a no-returns basis.”

Distributor: “They’ll never agree to that either.”

Reed: “I know. But we both know that there comes a time when a best seller stops selling and huge quantities of the book come flying back through the pipeline at the publisher, namely me, for full refunds. If there were some predictability to it, I would consider it. But it’s a total crap shoot. I don’t bet my home on a crap shoot. I’ll call some major publishers and see if one of them will print the 50,000 and take the risk of the returns, but I suspect the terms they will insist on—like owning the rights to the book forever—will be unacceptable to me.”

Distributor: “So what are we going to do with all these extra orders?”

Reed: “Not my problem. I am not in the best-seller business. I’m a back-list guy. Tell them to take a number.”

I attended a convention of small publishers once. One stood up and told about their best seller. The story was that they always hoped for one, but when they finally had it, it was a nightmare of scrambling for cash to pay for printing, then getting hit by massive returns when the book stopped selling. They swore they would never fill all orders for a best seller again. Rather they would, for an appropriate fee, release the author to take the book to a bigger publishing house.

When I was at Harvard Business School, I attended a talk by Akio Morita, the founder of Sony. He said he produced transistor radios in the sixties. He came to America to try to sell them. One company said something like, “OK. We’ll buy three million. What’s your price?” Morita, who had previously quoted a price of, say, $2 each for a 100,000 quantity, did some calculations and said, “$8 each.”

The Americans smiled indulgently and said, “You don’t understand. The bigger the quantity we order, the lower the price per unit we should get.” Morita responded equally indulgently, “No, you don’t understand. My current factory can only produce one million radios a year. To produce the three million to fill your order, I will have to build a second factory. Since I have no other such order, I will have to pay for the entire factory from what you pay me for this order. When I divide the cost of the new factory and workers by the size of your order, I get $8 per radio.”

Now that’s a smart man. And he was not even in a business where the retailers have the right to return every item for a full refund if it does not sell like the book business. It was that sort of risk control that made him successful. I would have followed his example if I ever had a best-selling book.

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  • Edward, this will sound ego-maniacal, but there do not seem to be any good real estate investment books except mine and the following authors: William Nickerson, Leigh Robinson, Les Scher, I also liked How You Can Become Financially Independent By Investing in Real Estate by Al Lowry. It is just a rewrite of Nickerson but better because Lowry taught the material as a course and that makes you better at explaining it. I have also recommended other’s books, but not great things that I would remember off the top of my head. When I started in 1967, there were a number of decent books. Then Robert Allen wrote Nothing Down and sort of made the real estate investment advice world safe for BS artists. Imitators came pouring out of the woodwork. Then the BS artists moved to higher-priced seminars and mentoring and virtually all the real estate investment books in the book stores became loss-leader lead generators—nothing but advertising brochures that teased you into giving up your name and phone number then had Utah telephone boiler rooms pester you into signing up for $10,000 or $20,000 of seminars and mentoring.
    I am frequently amused by readers who want me to recommend, say, a good book on buying duplexes in Illinois or some such—as if there were a million books on real estate investment and thousands of good ones. See my guru-rating for the gurus I recommend. I also have a number of book reviews at this web site or And I am one of the last authors on earth who puts a bibliography in the back of most of his books.
    One of the great discoveries of my life has been that when I try to do great things for which I assume I have millions of competitors, I find I end up on top or near the top: getting admitted to West Point and Harvard Business School and writing about my six book subjects. I have always thought that they were far more successful and therefore better qualified people to write books on my subjects, but where the hell are they and their books? I don’t know. Beats the hell out of me. So mine are good and these few other guys’ are good and I recommend others here and there.
    If you find one you think I should be recommending, let me know. I would truly like to find more to recommend.

    John T. Reed on
  • Interesting post. I’d never really thought about best sellers that way before, but it makes a lot of sense now that you mention it. The parallel between politicians and best-selling authors is spot on.

    I know that you mentioned William Nickerson and Al Lowry already, but I was wondering if you had a list of quality books that would resonate with the experts. As common popularity isn’t an effective measure, I’d be interested to see the sort of material I’ve missed.

    Edward on

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