Success Stories: Realtor Accumulates $1,300,000 by Age 52

Money magazine brings us the story of Fiona Saulness. At age 52, her net worth is at least $1.3 million: $720,000 in real estate; $290,000 in retirement accounts; $250,000 in cash; and $60,000 in taxable-investment accounts.

How’d she do it? The article is short on details, but here’s what I could glean (some really by extrapolation):

First, she invested in what she knew, in her case, real estate. She did this in two ways: her primary residence in Phoenix, Arizona and a rental property, a condo in Seattle, Washington. Some might say your primary residence isn’t an investment, but in any event, Saulness owns her home in Arizona free and clear. And at her age, it seems relatively unlikely that she bought the house at age 22 and just made regular payments on a 30-year mortgage—so it looks to me like she paid down her mortgage aggressively.

Second, she made a good income—at least in some years. For instance, the article notes she earned a ton in 2006, more than $200,000 that year. In 2007, she earned $125,000. A good income by most people’s standards—but clearly trending downward along with the real-estate market and potentially portending a lower income in 2008.

Third, and what’s more interesting to me, is how she saved and continued to save even as her income must have gone up and down through the years. Since there are significant annual contribution limits for most retirement accounts, the amount she has in retirement accounts makes me think she was at least decent—and maybe quite good—about continuing to tuck money away for retirement each year.

And the article specifically notes that, since she paid down her mortgage, she has been saving aggressively. And this is evidenced by the amount she has in cash.

Incidentally, the article was more about what she should do going forward and included several recommendations about how she was too concentrated in real estate and should diversify her investments (including by investing much of what she has in cash) and how she should simplify her stock portfolio.

But the happy conclusion of the article is that Saulness appears to be on track to hit her goals: retire at 62 with enough financial strength to both be able to take care of her mom and do more and more traveling—with a separate goal of visiting 100 countries in total!


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