top of page

Suze Orman’s Practical Real-Estate Portfolio

The personal finance expert’s holdings are in places like New York, the Bahamas and South Africa

What I Did
     Celebrity homes are popular with readers, and I helped ensure that profiles go far beyond the pretty pictures.

     Understanding the finances behind high-end homes offers insights to anyone who's looking to buy and sell property.

     Showcasing beautiful homes as investments set these stories apart from other publications' lifestyle sections and shelter magazines.

By Candace Jackson

The Plaza Hotel’s most prized apartments offer sweeping views of New York’s Central Park. Suze Orman wasn’t sold.


Instead, in 2007 Ms. Orman and her wife, Kathy Travis, bought a 1,275-square-foot apartment in the Plaza that faces the courtyard for $3.6 million. “The same apartment on the other side with park views was $3 million more,” Ms. Orman explained. She also noted that by skipping the view, she and her wife can put guests in a hotel room across the way that faces their living room. “We’ll hold up a sign in the window that says, ‘breakfast is ready!’”

Ms. Orman, the 63-year-old personal finance expert and television personality, has made a name for herself giving Americans straight-talking, tough-love advice on saving money, investing cautiously and not overspending. Her oft-repeated mantra: “People first, then money, then things.”


She takes a similarly pragmatic approach to her portfolio of properties, which includes a South Florida condo, a waterfront parcel in the Bahamas and a condo near Johannesburg, South Africa. Ms. Orman said she doesn’t try to invest in real estate, saying it isn’t “my forte.” Instead, she buys places she likes—often relatively modest homes in nice locations—and is willing to pay market rate for them. Despite current low interest rates, for her own homes she likes to pay cash. “If I can’t write a check for it, I can’t afford it,” she said.


She can afford a fair amount. With 10 best-selling books and a long-running CNBC television show, Ms. Orman declined to say what her personal net worth is today, but said it is well over the $25 million in liquid assets that was reported by the New York Times several years ago.

When they bought their apartment in the Plaza Hotel—the building had just converted to condominiums—Ms. Orman said they initially found the grand-dame French Renaissance-style building, with its gold accents and white-gloved butlers, “too fancy.” They thought the apartment, in contrast, was too basic. Its heat and air-conditioning were delivered via metal wall units and it had cheap aluminum fixtures and finishes. “It was like a Motel 6!” said Ms. Orman.


Still, the Plaza had sentimental value—Ms. Travis, who grew up in New Jersey, had stayed there with her family—and both liked the building’s location and amenities, including room service, housekeeping and a high-end food court, which opened since they moved in. “It could be like a nursing home,” Ms. Orman joked. “But really, when you’re 63 you start to think like that!”

They spent almost a year renovating the space, and moved in shortly thereafter. Today, the one-bedroom feels like a plush pied-à-terre with thick white crown moldings and herringbone hardwood floors, and Venetian plaster and marble in the hall bathroom. There is a desk just off the living room, where Ms. Travis often works while Ms. Orman works on her laptop in the bedroom. A Murphy bed folds down from the wall of the living room.

Ms. Orman said she lowered the ceilings in the master suite and closet to install central heat and air-conditioning but left the living room ceilings high. “When you have a small unit, what gives it grandeur are the high ceilings.” Small closets have been added to hold everything from the couple’s china to leather-bound, first-edition copies of Ms. Orman’s books. She’s even stored her two Emmy Awards. “Suze can’t live with clutter,” said Ms. Travis, 62, who is also Ms. Orman’s manager.

Looking toward her gray couch and silvery silk wall covering, Ms. Orman, who has short blond side-swept hair and a Chicago accent, threw up her hands and said, in her typically exclamatory way, the Emmys are “gold—so they don’t go!”

In 2004, Ms. Orman and Ms. Travis bought their primary home, a 2,175-square-foot condo with big windows and 600-square-feet of outdoor space, in Hillsboro Beach, Fla., for $954,000. Initially, the couple came to the area to be closer to both of their mothers, who have since died. They ended up “absolutely falling madly in love with Florida.”

Though real-estate agents tried to steer them toward a larger penthouse, Ms. Orman said she and Ms. Travis decided to purchase a smaller place on the second floor, which felt closer to the water and was plenty large enough for the two of them. Ms. Orman said it is in a “totally regular” condo complex in between the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, with a swimming pool but few other amenities.


Earlier this year, while she and Ms. Travis were on a fishing trip in the Bahamas, they came across a waterfront parcel near where they were docked. Ms. Orman said it was up for sale because the previous owner lost her money investing with Bernie Madoff. “On the spot I said, ‘I’ll take it’!” she recalled. She said they paid $2.5 million for the property, which turned out to be roughly equal to the proceeds from the sale of a 53-foot Azimut yacht and a San Francisco home. “I’m not, at this point in my career, trying to increase expenses,” said Ms. Orman.


Now they are building a small waterfront home with 14-foot-ceilings that Ms. Orman said will be completed in about a year. “I told [the previous owner] when it’s done she’s always welcome to come back and stay with us,” said Ms. Orman, who said they are considering retiring there


Ms. Orman grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and began working at her father’s deli when she was 11 years old. Her personal story, which is recounted in her books, has become a part of her brand. After college, she worked as a waitress for seven years at a Berkeley cafe. One of her regular customers lent her the money to start her own restaurant, with contributions from other regulars. On the customer’s advice, Ms. Orman put the money into a money-market account at Merrill Lynch until she was ready to launch.

A Merrill Lynch broker persuaded her to put her savings into a high-risk investment account, Ms. Orman said, and within three months, her savings were wiped out. Dismayed, she began studying the financial markets and decided to apply for a job herself at Merrill Lynch to become a broker. Meanwhile, she sued the company over her loss.

Ms. Orman got the job as a broker at Merrill, and learned that her lawsuit allowed her to work with little fear of being fired (companies can be hesitant to fire employees in the midst of litigation). Eventually, the company settled with her for the entire amount invested plus interest, which Ms. Orman said she subsequently returned to her customers.

She opened her own firm in 1987. In 1995 she wrote her first book, “You’ve Earned It, Don’t Lose It,” and has since wrote nine more, with titles like “The Courage to be Rich” and “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke.” Ms. Orman’s been a regular on Oprah Winfrey’s show and network, and in 2002 her show made its debut on CNBC.

She doesn’t collect properties she doesn’t use regularly. In March, the couple sold their 2,000-square-foot Edwardian home in San Francisco. “It was our best house!” said Ms. Travis. But they were only able to use it about two weeks a year with Ms. Orman’s schedule.

Ms. Orman said she would soon let go of her condo in Northcliff, a suburb of Johannesburg. She purchased it after spending time in the country in 2000 and falling in love with the area. A business partner built a condo development and, with the favorable exchange rate, Ms. Orman thought it was a good place to have a foothold for investments. But she hasn’t visited the country since she and Ms. Travis married there in 2010. She spent about $400,000 on the apartment, which is about 2,500-square-feet with “stunning views.” The home is currently on the market for about the amount she paid for it, said Ms. Orman.


“I’m not sad to let real estate go. Ever,” said Ms. Orman. “My real estate and the things I own don’t define me. I could care less if I lived in a tent somewhere.”

Ms. Travis said Ms. Orman’s aversion to holding on to extra stuff means they are constantly getting rid of old clothes and organizing. On a recent morning, Ms. Orman pointed out a few of her signature colorful jackets that were ready to be donated. “How many damn jackets does one need?” said Ms. Orman.

bottom of page