Carlos Vaz, President, The Conti Organization
Jensen Walker/Aurora Carlos Vaz, President, The Conti Organization

Two years ago, Carlos Vaz, one of nine children born in Brazil to illiterate parents, arrived in Dallas with no local contacts and less than $100,000 to start a multifamily investment business. He did just that. Last month, Vaz closed his 10th distressed acquisition deal. His company, The Conti Organization, has purchased nearly 2,000 units in the Dallas and Houston markets in two years—either REO assets or distressed note acquisitions—and now holds assets of about $40 million in value. Nine of the deals were bought off-market from lenders for a fraction of their value. Conti is now selling three communities, with expected returns north of 40 percent.

While those are great returns, what’s even more incredible is how Vaz, at just the tender age of 31, made it all happen. He worked his way through college in Brazil and moved to the States at 19 to intern at the Boston-based real estate law firm Donahue & Grolman. At night, he continued his studies at Harvard Extension School. He worked in construction for a brief stint and from 2005 to 2007 set about to buy, rehab, and sell 34 single-family projects in Boston. He was working 80 hours a week as a one-man shop. Along the way, Vaz was mentored by an industry heavy hitter: George Ross, a senior advisor to Donald Trump and a frequent guest on The Apprentice.

In 2007, Vaz saw the problems in the single-family market and decided to shift gears to multifamily. His latest deal, for the 266-unit Lenox Court Apartments in Dallas, is a distressed note acquisition selling for $3.4 million, though the note itself was $6.2 million. He was offered $1.5 million over what he paid—the same day the deal closed. Today, Conti has its sights set on more acquisitions by way of raising its next acquisition fund.

Vaz says there’s no particular secret to working the lender network. “Shaking hands and trying to negotiate as many REO meetings as I can is the best way. It’s just hard work, homework, and relationships.”