Who Is The Real Estate King Ben Mallah?
We are suckers for rags-to-riches stories, aren’t we? But surprisingly, there aren’t many doing the rounds these days. The last good one we heard was Roman Abramovich. That’s a continent away from home.
Just when we were starting to wonder whether the land of opportunity had lost its sheen, along comes Ben Mallah with his $250-million dollar fortune and a boisterous lifestyle that’s plastered all over YouTube and Reddit these days.
The man who plays real-life Monopoly (his words, not ours), who owns some of Tampa Bay’s most expensive homes, who has a fleet of luxury cars, who owns hotels, yachts, a wine cellar and boasts of a backstory as good as any.
He’s larger than life in the true sense. No pun intended given that he’s 6’2 and close to 380 pounds. He looks like a wrestler. Sounds like one too. Is pals with ex-wrestlers. Spews profanities in that spot-it-from-a-mile-away, thick, New York accent.
Here’s the fun part. Despite having all the makings of a blockbuster, Ben’s life came into the spotlight only when he was featured on a YouTube video documentary series called ‘Life for Sale’. The show describes him as someone who has the mouth of Donald Trump, the presence of Don Corleone and the personality of Larry David. Not kidding.
We found him more in-tune with Tony Soprano with a generous garnish of Trump. Or was it vise-a-versa?
The question is, where was he all this while? Sorry, let’s rephrase that a bit. Where were we all this while?
Cause Ben certainly was right here in Tampa bay ‘fixin beat up things’ as he calls it.
If you too have been curious about Ben’s meteoric rise from being broke to sitting on top of a $250-million real estate fortune, then you are at the right place. Today, we unravel the mystery that is Ben Mallah.
Rough childhoods make tough adults
Benjamin Mallah was born on 29th of October 1965 in Rockaway, Queens, New York. For those who are not familiar with the place, it was a glorified ghetto. Childhood for Ben was probably as tough as nails.
It would be fair to assume that he ran into criminals every day on the street. There are rumors that he had a brief stint with crime himself. But we couldn’t find evidence to corroborate it. There’s a story of his uncle, who coincidentally was also called ‘Benjamin Mallah’, being convicted though in a conspiracy involving 50-people, to distribute coke and heroin.
His mother was a lunatic and the house a shit box bungalow (again his words). His father was painstakingly frugal.
Tough conditions such as these typically breed resilience and a fervent desire to get out of those conditions to never return. That’s exactly what happened with Ben.
He dropped out of school and started hustling on the streets. His first job was that of an errand boy for an office on Wall Street. His next job was working in an office in the garment district.
When he got a chance, he joined the army at 17. According to him, the military did two things for him.
- It helped him get out from a violent neighborhood.
- It helped him understand the importance of discipline.
Both as we now know, were crucial in forming the mettle of the man.
He was initially posted in Germany for three years, before being stationed at Oakland, Calif., in 1987.
This is where opportunity came knocking. Eager to make money, Mallah would work weekends cleaning cigarette butts and trash around his rented apartment. This caught the eye of the landlord, Mark Wilton.
Mark Wilton and MarWil
Mark Wilton was mighty impressed with this 22-year old who was clearly willing to go the extra mile. So, he made Mallah the manager for the apartment.
It wasn’t long before Ben was managing all the apartments in Mark’s portfolio.
It can be argued that this were the founding blocks of his real estate career, although he’d learn some of the more critical fundamentals of the business when he quit the army and joined Mark Wilton’s Marwil investment as a partner.
MarWil is a real estate firm involved in fix and flips.
Mark describes Ben as a very astute young man who was eager to learn the nitty-gritties of the business. He was pushy, he once said in an interview to Tampa Bay Times.
Here’s a fun fact. Every one of Ben’s properties is rented out. This means, that they are always generating income.
How did Ben Mallah build his portfolio?
We are sure that this is the big question that you all want the answer to. How does a guy who worked as a property manager for a rental portfolio create one of the biggest rental portfolios for himself?
How does someone who’s not backed by big ticket syndication or investors, manage to go from 0-250 mil?
There’s definitely more than what meets the eye, right? We chuckled when we read some of the allegations on Reddit, including a non-existent Mafioso connection.
Wrong. It’s just smart work, a lot of resilience and some plain old luck.
But let’s try and go through his life in important phases.
The partnership with Mark – The turning point in Ben’s life has to be his meeting with Mark. Mark introduced Ben to an untapped real estate business niche that’s generally frowned upon by the
bigwigs. Subsidized low income rental properties. That’s a forgiving way to describe it. It’s mostly cheap crack houses & abandoned buildings. It wasn’t a popular business niche back then. We would be surprised if it is now.
But the money was definitely there. Think of it like digging in a ton of dirt to find gold. Mark spotted the goldmine hidden in plain sight. Kudos for him and Ben for going after it.
Most online reports suggest that his first investment was a 200-unit building on Belcher Road that had multiple families. The story goes that he bought it for $9 million and flipped it after a while for $12 million.
That’s not true though.
His initial investments was cars. Two of them and both clunkers, which he flipped for a profit. He reinvested the money and bought a house for $27,500. He renovated it and flipped it for $100,000 for a net profit of $72,500. He continued to make such small investments cumulating tiny sums of money, which added to his capital.
But not all of the investments he made were cakewalks either. A lot of them were high risk deals.
By 1999, Ben was divorced and living with his two kids. MarWil made an investment that most people wouldn’t dare touch with a barge pole. They bought a 12-unit apartment building in one of the most violent neighborhoods in Cali. There were flowers all around the property as an ode to the people who had been killed there.
This is where he met his future wife Karla. She was 14 at the time.
It was investments such as these that helped Ben grow his portfolio all around California, then Texas and finally Chicago.
The BRRRR Strategy – Ben and Mark also used the BRRRR method. The term is a portmanteau for Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance and Repeat.
As made obvious by the terms, it involves buying distressed or dilapidated properties, rehabilitating or renovating them, renting it out to people, refinancing the property and using the money to buy more properties.
One of the innate benefits of this business model is the ability to defer capital gains taxes. The caveat is that you’ve got to keep reinvesting. You need a constant turnover to ensure that all that accumulated tax pile up doesn’t come hunting.
In hindsight, the business sounds doable. ‘Oh, why didn’t I think of this before?’
But in reality it’s rife with risks and definitely not a model that sane businessmen are too keen to pursue.
Imagine buying a rundown crack house, renovating it and trying to rent it or flip it for a profit. It’s a lot of hustle. But hustling comes naturally to Ben. That’s how he started out on the streets. Be it meeting government officials or slacks, he’s a pro at it.
The Recession years – In 2008, the great American housing bubble finally burst. By this time, Ben Mallah had accumulated a sizeable capital and unlike the average American, had a flawless credit history. When the market around him crashed, he used the opportunity to grow his portfolio.
We believe that he picked up prime real estate for nickels and dimes, which he later flipped when the market turned around. It is estimated that he sold $70-million worth of properties in 2012 and reinvested the money into Hotels.
Consultancy – When you are great at something, you can make millions just talking to people about it. As the consumer economy took over America, Ben set up Equity Management Partners, a real estate management company. Part of the company’s skillset involves property management (what he did for Mark in his early years), acquisition (what he’s been doing all along) and construction management.
With over 25+ years in the business and a track record like that, Ben’s the guy people can trust with their money.
Hotels – It was circa 2012 that Ben Mallah decided to diversify his investment portfolio by venturing into hospitality. Once again, the crux of the business remains the same. He acquires hotels and luxury suites and continues to run them. Maybe at some point, he will flip these for a profit.
As of now, he has 7 hotels to his name. One of them is the Sheraton Tampa Suites Airport Westshore.
In 2012, restaurateur Frank Chivas threw a birthday party and one of the attendees was Danny Jones, who had just set up a video production company called Koncrete. At the party, Danny spotted this crazy character who seemed to have left the public-filter back home. He was gregarious.
After a brief icebreaker, Danny knew that this man was meant for showbiz. Mallah’s predicament at that time was imminent death. The doctors had told him that he would be around for five years tops. He wanted to make sure that he left his legacy and his inheritance to someone with balls as big as his.
They decided to turn this into a show and ‘Life for Sale’ happened. Danny followed Mallah on his typical work day where he hustles and tries to crack deals in his signature profane, raspy and sometimes smiling way.
The 8-minute teaser spoke about this dying real estate tycoon willing to sell of his assets so that he can walk away into the sunset in peace. It garnered 20000 views overnight. This was 2012, mind you. Those numbers are insane by today’s standards.
‘Life for Sale’ became Koncrete’s most popular show to date. Danny’s still trying to pitch the show to a global platform like Netflix. It certainly has the elements, don’t it?
A dying tycoon, $250-million dollars, a ghetto-to-mansion story, fancy cars, luxury hotels and Ben Mallah.
Life Lessons from Big Ben
Ben is now a YouTube celebrity in his own right. His channel has 262K subscribers and it’s growing at the rate of knots. If you look at his life from the outside, it seems like he’s not made one wrong decision.
It’s a success rate that everyone would love to emulate. Few can though. Few will. Because not everybody can be Ben Mallah.
We thought that we’ll wind up this blog post with five life lessons that we can borrow from Big Ben.
No matter what your business or your career goal, if you apply these or even try to apply a modicum of it, we are sure that you’ll see results.
#1 – “Money can be made by fixing problems”
Every time you try to start a business, you’ll be fed the same horse crap. It’s too competitive. It’s too challenging. It’s not lucrative enough. But if you look at history, it tells us one thing. People have made money doing stuff that others wouldn’t do for various reasons.
Find that thing. People have problems. If you can offer solutions, you can make money from it. It may not be a popular business niche. It doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be successful.
#2 – “You find something that has value in it, if it’s beat up, fix it up …I started out by buying boarded up crack houses in Oakland, Calif. and fixing them up with less than reputable people”
Get ready to get your hands dirty. You might have to walk through a pile of crap to get to the gold. So be it.
#3 – “Networking is a very big part of it, you’ve got to network”
Hustling is a critical part of your success. To be successful, you have to build relationships with people. Be willing to get out your comfort zones and do things that you wouldn’t do otherwise. Put in more hours than the rest. 18-20-hours. Whatever it takes.
One of Ben Pet Peeve’s is having to make property deals from a distance. He likes to go out there the old fashioned way. That’s what has worked for him.
#4 – ‘Everything has a price, and if somebody is willing to take that price and you can make a profit, take the money and run’
If you can bank, do it now. Money earned right now, is better than potential earnings a few years down the line. A lot of people hoard assets that they may not really need in the long run. But they keep it, hoping that it will miraculously generate a profit.
The takeaway from this is that if there’s demand for what you are offering, capitalize on it. Take the money. Use it to build your capital. You will need that capital when the market hits rock bottom.
#5 – ‘Buy everything when the market’s low’
The market will hit a low. It’s inevitable. Wait for that opportunity and use your capital to buy everything that you can. That’s how you go from a reasonable rental property portfolio to crossing $100-million.
#6 – ‘Money, power, respect mean nothing if you are unable to enjoy them with the ones you love.’
Ben’s gripe with his father was this. The main was frugal, which was fine. But he was frugal to the point of futility. He saved. But never enjoyed his savings with his family. They carried cheese slices from home when they went out for burgers. Ketchup bottles were half-filled with water.
It was not pragmatism. It was deprivation. Hence, Ben has made it a point to enjoy his fortune with his family.
Be it his wife Karla, who he met when he bought that 12-family apartment in California, her family who manage his properties, or his three boys.
Ben Mallah Jr. dropped out of college to manage properties for him. So did Vinson Mallah, who ventured into the hotel business. He claims that his youngest son Aaron is still in training.