Antivirus Software Pioneer Gets Dose of Reality

John McAfee lost most of his $100 million fortune, but says, "I feel freer."

ByABC News
September 1, 2009, 11:31 AM

Sept. 1, 2009— -- John McAfee knows about risk. A mathematician by training, in the late 1980s he developed the antivirus computer software program that has become a household name. In the 1990s he pioneered instant-messaging. In both cases, he grew bored and cashed out. At his peak, he was reportedly worth about $100 million.

"I don't know and that's the honest truth, eventually you have so many resources that a tiny fluctuation in the market can make you worth ten million dollars more in the morning and ten million dollars less in the evening," he explained of his ever-changing net worth.

Like many wealthy Americans, McAfee was hit hard with the simultaneous collapse of real estate, stocks and Wall Street investment banks. But he got whacked more than most, since much of his fortune was tied up in luxury properties.

"Oddly enough, when real estate markets crash, it's the higher end properties that crash the most ... simply because they're not necessities," he said. "My father always said, 'Real estate, you can't lose in real estate' ... you know, oddly enough you can."

Last Saturday, auctioneers worked up bids for his 80-acre retreat in the high desert of Rodeo, N.M. With a private airstrip and hangar, it's a slice of paradise, and it's all up for grabs.

"Everything that you see, from the real estate, the house, the automobiles, artwork, furniture, the entire ball of wax," McAfee told ABC News.

Raising the stakes for McAfee, it's an absolute auction: The highest bid wins, no matter how low it is. "It means if only one person shows up and they bid fifty cents, that's the amount of money I get," he said.

McAfee's net worth dropped from within the ballpark of $100 million to less than $10 million, he told ABC News. But instead of feeling a sense of loss, he says he feels free.

"I feel a sense of freedom," he said. "People think that it's a joy to own things. But it really isn't."

McAfee has sold his private twin-engine plane, beachfront property in Hawaii and a Colorado mansion in the shadow of Pike's Peak. His posh New Mexico getaway is the last property to hit the auction block.

"At one point, I had five houses in five different locations and it's impractical, it's almost insane to have that much real estate," he conceded. "You can only be in one place at a time."