Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2007 | People

An Expert Expat: Michael Koh

By Pat Adams

A reminder of his own mortality led Michael Koh to a new country, a new life, and an unexpected new career.

Before becoming one of Buenos Aires' biggest names in real estate, Koh, 95BA, was doing just fine in Dallas. Co-owner of a successful healthcare company, he was working hard and earning plenty of money. But after several years on the job, Koh had begun to worry.

"I was seeing a lot of clients pass away just three or four years into retirement," he recalls. It made him wonder: "What if it were me? What if I had three years?"

Koh decided that from then on he would live life as though his doctor had told him he had only a few years left. "I really made myself believe it," he says. And since he could afford to, Koh began to travel. His first stop: Buenos Aires.

After arriving in Argentina in 2002, Koh spent his first few months living in Buenos Aires' luxury hotels, coming and going every few weeks. Then, to stretch his money out a bit, he decided to buy an apartment. He found an old, abandoned place, renovated it, and furnished it nicely. When Koh had to return to Dallas for awhile, he put it up for rent. "All of a sudden, I was getting all these calls," he says. "I thought, wow, there may be a business here."

There was indeed. After buying several more apartments and leasing them out to tourists, Koh founded his own apartment rental company, Apartments, with a novel concept. Rather than compete with other rental companies catering to the many tourists pouring in at the time, Koh decided to take on the five-star hotels.

"We wanted to offer everything they do and more — more space, more style, better technology — for less. And we do," he says. "We pioneered the luxury rental market."

Over the past three years, Koh has bought up more property than any individual in Buenos Aires. That's landed him in the New York Times and the Economist, among other publications, as an expat with rather uncommon expertise. No one knows the Buenos Aires real estate market better. Not even Argentines. And while Koh welcomes the success, he hasn't forgotten why he came in the first place: "I love this place: the people, the food, the language-everything," he says. "The best part of all this is that I get to stay."