(Spoilers below, beware!)
Property law hasn’t changed that much since the days of Medieval England, and the laws of supply and demand remain constants of capitalist economies. Sure, the details of real estate zoning and inheritance/estate law can shift, but the fundamentals of real estate are essentially timeless.
Look no further than HBO’s Game of Thrones; here are eight real estate and financial lessons that we can learn from the denizens of Westeros.
1. Choose your partners well, because your partnerships will be tested (and often).
Partnerships are tricky things, and should never be entered into without 100%, unfailing trust. Just ask Ned Stark after Littlefinger revealed his true colors. Or Robb and Catelyn Stark at Edmure’s wedding, hosted by the Freys.
For better results, Jon found someone he can trust implicitly in Ser Davos, in Sam, in Tormund. Of course, he too learned some hard lessons by trusting Ser Allister Thorne to be First Ranger. But note that the lesson he took to heart wasn’t “trust no one” after he was betrayed; it was to take the true measure of his future partners and only partner with honest, loyal people.
2. Starting rich helps, but it isn’t everything.
It definitely helps to begin life with the advantages of a wealthy family. For starters, you get a good education, which prepares you to create your own success. Beyond education, family connections can make a world of difference. And then there’s the little matter of access to funding when you need it.
How far would Tyrion have gotten in life without his education, or his access to money?
Still, where you start isn’t always where you stay. Tyrion was sold as a slave, after all. And look at poor Sam Tarly: firstborn son of a wealthy landowner, whose father disowned him and sent him packing for the ends of the earth.
But in both of those cases, excellent educations eventually led to their recovery, their ability to stand back up after a fall from grace.
3. Weren’t born rich? You can still marry into wealth and property.
Even in Westeros, smarts and a way with words can mean more than raw money. Littlefinger was not born into money, but he was lucky enough to receive a first-class education. He leveraged that education into business success, into networks of contacts and into a marriage with Lysa Arryn.
Likewise with Bronn: sure, he’s no ink-smudged scholar, but he’s bold and he knows his trade well. Opportunity came when Tyrion needed a warrior at the Vale, and Bronn later leveraged the contacts he made through Tyrion to be offered marriages with wealthy women.
4. Debt can crush the rich, too.
When you spend outside your means, bad things happen. Debts can ruin families, can undo all that a family has built. Robert Baratheon overspent, and it put him under the power of people who didn’t have his best interests at heart. His successors are still trying to clean up the financial mess of debts he left behind.
And then there’s Jorah Mormont, who accrued so much debt that he turned to crime to try and pay it down.
Live on a fraction of your income, and invest the rest. If you spend more than you earn, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of lenders, attorneys and advisers who are savvier and more ruthless than you are. Or you’ll find yourself in such dire straits that you make desperate gambles, destined to fail.
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5. Don’t count on inheritances.
Children of wealthy parents often don’t see a penny of their parents’ money. Danaerys didn’t see any of hers. Sam didn’t see any of his (well, he wouldn’t have, if he hadn’t stolen his father’s sword). And poor, stupid Edmure Tully… that remains to be seen.
In Medieval England, there wasn’t much social mobility to speak of. But in today’s world, most millionaires are self-made, based on their habits. Rich heiresses might make for entertaining “reality” TV, but most of America’s rich never inherited a cent.
6. …And even when people do inherit property and money, they usually squander it.
Did you know that 70% of wealthy families see the wealth exhausted by the second generation? By the third generation, 90% of originally wealthy families are no longer wealthy.
Robb Stark lost his family’s wealth and property. Jorah Mormont did the same, blowing through his family money and racking up terrible debts. Stannis Baratheon lost everything, including his wife and daughter, after risking everything on a failed political campaign.
Likewise with lottery winners; 70% of major lottery winners are broke within three years. Save and invest in diverse assets that produce income (like, say rental properties!) if you want to build sustainable wealth.
7. Connections count: sometimes who you know makes all the difference.
In her teenage years, Danaerys had nothing but a bratty brother and a couple connections: a rich businessman (Magister Illyrio) and a high-ranking government official (Lord Varys), to be exact. But one of those connections introduced her to a powerful warlord whom she would marry, and through her marriage she secured several other connections and gifts that would later prove invaluable.
Varys himself was only able to create wealth and power for himself through connections and networking. Likewise with his nemesis, Littlefinger.
Even Arya Stark, on the lam from the law, was only able to survive and eventually escape the country because she had relationships with several powerful men (Yoren, Jaqen, The Hound).
8. Hard work yields results (especially when that work is put toward networking).
There’s no substitute for hard work, no shortcuts to lasting success. Jon wasn’t made Lord Commander because he was the most popular guy in the Watch; he earned grudging respect because he worked harder than everyone else and kept a cool head in a crisis. Even our earlier example of Littlefinger, who married into real estate, didn’t take a shortcut – he spent years working harder, networking more, learning and knowing more than anyone around him.
Success takes work. Nor does it last, regardless of how much wealth you’ve already attained, if you don’t continually work at maintaining and improving it. Look no further than lazy, drunken Robert Baratheon. Even Loras Tyrell, heir of the second-wealthiest family in Westeros, succumbed to complacency and indifference. Where did his complacency get him? Sidelined and eventually ruined, because he wasn’t paying attention to the threat of his competitors.
Life, like Game of Thrones, is unpredictable, but there are still firm rules to success. Someone with connections and education can go far in real estate investing and in life, if they carefully manage their finances and their partnerships.
Who would have thought Game of Thrones could teach us so much about wealth and real estate?♦
Have some life lessons from Game of Thrones you want to add? Spread the love in the comments section below!