Lottery Winner Plunges Millions Into Real Estate

Developer Miguel Pilgram had little to no formal training when he dove into South Florida real estate in 2010.

Backed by a military background and a 10-year career with Norwegian Cruise Line, Pilgram was second-in-command of the cruise line’s global security operations when a Quick Pick lottery ticket gave him the opportunity to explore a third career.

In 2010, Pilgram stopped by his North Bay Village gas station for a bottle of pinot grigio to accompany the chicken fricassee he was cooking at home. But Pilgram left the Shell gas station with a lot more than a bottle of white wine. He realized his lottery ticket carried the winning jackpot numbers — 15-16-20-32-45-50.

When Pilgram claimed his lump-sum payment of $29.24 million, he said he had two options. He could let the money sit in the bank and gradually accrue interest over time, or he could invest the winnings in a new trade.

He chose the latter. Pilgram had experience managing large sums of money: As Norwegian’s head of security, he handled a $20 million budget.

Pilgram soon launched the Pilgram Group, a family-run real estate business focused on purchasing and renovating existing apartments. A few failed deals in Memphis and Miami brought Pilgram to Broward County, where his company acquired about a dozen small properties such as duplexes and townhouses in the Pompano Beach and Coral Springs areas.

“It was perfect timing because everybody was trying to sell their property or get out of it,” he said. “I saw it as a way to give some people relief, which the banks weren’t doing.”

Pilgram set out to upgrade each property but soon realized there was a lot more to being a landlord than he originally imagined.

At one point, Pilgram received a call from the police citing his 16-unit apartment building — his largest asset — for trash violations. It was during the holidays, and the property’s garbage containers hadn’t been emptied in a week.

“I got a trash bag, and I went to combat,” Pilgram said, recalling his team members were on vacation around Christmas Day. “I sat back and thought to myself, ‘This is what being a landlord is all about.’ ”

Over the next three years, Pilgram attended innumerable free real estate classes across South Florida. He also joined community organizations, including the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, to bring awareness to his newfound real estate brand.

He heavily invested time and money in his properties, bringing them up to his personal standards before strategically selling them. He worked 12- to 14-hour days even with millions of dollars sitting in his bank account.

“Miguel is unique in that he has a vision for what the neighborhood needs and brings innovative concepts and exciting design to all of his projects,” said Kristy Armada, a partner with Hackleman, Olive & Judd in Fort Lauderdale who has represented Pilgram in his real estate ventures. “He is creative and seems to always be looking ahead.”

The developer truly felt he found his footing after renovating an eight-unit apartment complex and marina at 313 Hendricks Isle in Fort Lauderdale, one of his company’s biggest projects to date. He upgraded the seawall, homes and courtyard in addition to adding a pool and barbecue area.

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