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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Prime Property Investors Co-CEO/MZ Capital Founder Michael Zaransky

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.  

Four decades ago, Michael Zaransky saw that as higher education expanded dramatically, taking in millions more students across the country, housing remained scarce. He dipped his toe into student housing, his first foray into commercial real estate.

He has stuck with those roots, but has also widened his footprint over the years. He now wears two hats — he is co-CEO of Prime Property Investors, which owns student housing, multifamily and healthcare properties around the U.S., and he is managing partner of MZ Capital Partners, which he founded in 2005 to provide equity and capital to acquire a diverse spectrum of properties, though its specialty is Class-B apartments.

Michael Zaransky and his wife/high school sweetheart, Barb

Zaransky has made a name for himself by rehabbing older properties; he said he is driven to provide affordable, highly livable apartments to middle-class Americans by restoring and refitting functional structures with modern amenities, layouts and rooms.

Beyond the two roles, Zaransky has written books on real estate investing, is on the board of the National Multifamily Housing Council and is the chairman of the board of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/the Jewish United Fund.

The Illinois native is a James Scholar graduate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and received his juris doctorate from Northwestern University School of Law.

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Michael Zaransky: Our company invests in larger apartment complexes, and we have a cadre and a following of investors in our company that over a period of time have invested with us very successfully on a number of properties. We continue to evolve. Ten years ago, I was building a portfolio of properties that focused exclusively on student housing. Did well with that. Built a nice portfolio of student-housing properties. I still like that field, but we’ve also expanded to conventional, non-student properties that serve neighborhoods. We largely focus on suburbs.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Zaransky: Can’t imagine not being a real estate investor. It is what I grew up with and always did. Comes natural. I’m actually the third generation of my family to go into real estate, but I wanted to formalize our general business. Today, my son is also in the business with me.

Michael Zaransky lands the big one at the Walker & Dunlop industry retreat in Cape Cod.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had? 

Zaransky: I washed dishes in the catering department at a hotel that my dad owned in Evanston, Illinois, when I was growing up.

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Zaransky: I was part of a limited partnership that purchased the Sheraton Chicago Hotel on Michigan Avenue and rebranded it the Hotel InterContinental. I was a minority partner, but it was a major transaction and I learned a great deal from it.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure? 

Zaransky: I invested in a new, super-high-volume restaurant on Chicago’s Gold Coast with a famous athlete. We set gross revenue records and closed within two years! 

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?

Zaransky: I’d wave a magic wand and make all people involved in the industry nice, sharing, straight shooters who are easy to get along with.

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Zaransky: People who repeat the same thing over and over again.

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor? 

Zaransky: My dad, David (Big Z). Super street smart and made friends with everyone from waiters and parking attendants to CEOs of major public companies and governors. I grew up when my dad had a family business. He had a car rental firm. I ended up going into that business out of Northwestern law school and also doing real estate on my own. And my brother, who was nine years younger, joined the business when he graduated college. And I ended up leaving that business and just gravitating to the real estate business.

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten? 

Zaransky: Best advice: “Never, Never, Never Quit.” Worst advice: Do what is best for you and don’t worry about others in the transaction. (I never follow that advice.)

MZ Capital Partners principals Brad and Michael Zaransky enjoy a family celebration in South Beach.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Zaransky: I am a member of every major airline airport lounge club and like to fly first class.

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

Zaransky: Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak, & Stone Crab in Chicago.

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?

Zaransky: Given the terrible partisanship and divisiveness present today (not me, I’m the opposite), I’d sidestep the conversation and avoid it.

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken? 

Zaransky: Diving off high rocks into the Pacific Ocean in Acapulco, Mexico.

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?

Zaransky: Any of my three (soon to be four) grandchildren.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night? 

Zaransky: The deal I happen to be working on at the time. Thinking through all of the steps to get through due diligence, get comfortable and closing. My team and I have a very specific process that we’ve refined over the years, the result of hard-won experience.

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?

Zaransky: Giving back to society and helping those most vulnerable in my community, as well as passing on these values to the next generation. When you've been successful in life and life has given you a lot of good, I think there is an obligation to give back. I think there is an obligation to provide a safety net and care for others in society that are most vulnerable. And growing up in a Jewish family I feel that it's an important heritage and history that needs to be preserved. My in-laws both survived the Holocaust. They came over after the Holocaust. They were in Nazi concentration camps and survived. Their families were otherwise wiped out. My grandfather survived the Holocaust, but his family was wiped out. You have a sense of history and an obligation of the heritage of my people to preserve, but to do it through a lens that shows that caring for those who are vulnerable and providing social services is important not just to the Jewish but all people.