Pérez was an economic development director with the city of Miami before he decided to enter the real estate business and became a developer. In 1979, he founded The Related Companies with New York builder Stephen M. Ross. Pérez built his fortune by building and operating low-income multifamily apartments across Miami, then branched off into rental apartments before becoming one of the most prolific high-rise condo builders in the Southern United States. Pérez has owned 50 condo towers in various stages of completion in South Florida, Fort Myers and Las Vegas. He is known as the "Donald Trump of the Tropics".
The Related Companies had $2.1 billion in revenue in 2004, putting Pérez at the top of the Hispanic Business 500 during this period of time. He is an active Democratic fund raiser; he advised Bill Clinton on Cuba during his presidency and was an active fundraiser for the failed presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. In 2008, he also hosted and raised money for Barack Obama after he became the Democratic presidential nominee.