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Tycoon in the making
Jaz Wray is always on the move, picking up bits of property along the way.
September 21, 2005: 9:47 AM EDT
By Les Christie, CNN/Money staff writer
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Although still a comparative youngster at 32 years old, Jaz Wray has already lived in dozens of homes around the country and even internationally, from New Jersey to Brazil.

When Wray was growing up, his army dad father moved the family around a bit, but as an adult, Wray has really been in perpetual motion.

"Since 1988, the longest I have lived in one place was just over a year," said Wray. "In the past 10 years I've been in 15 different cities." Portland Oregon, Jonesborough Tennessee, San Francisco, and Rio de Janeiro, to name a few.

Along his peripatetic way, he's managed to buy a couple of the houses he lived in and he has held onto them even after he moved on. These purchases now form the basis of his burgeoning real estate empire.

The start

He was in his second year of college and selling LA Times subscriptions door-to-door when it came to him that he was building up too much debt. He didn't like that, so he dropped out of school and took a full-time job.

Wray has worked mostly in the telecom and contracting industries, serving on various projects over the years. The jobs often called for relocation.

A major benefit to this gypsy existence was that compensation sometimes included both a salary and per diem payments. "My expenses were paid and I was able to save most of my salary," Wray said.

That sometimes helped him afford to buy the house he lived in. In 1997 he was stationed in Dallas, where, he said, "Rents were high and home prices very low. It was a great opportunity to buy rather than rent."

He purchased a three-bedroom, two-bath house 20 miles west of downtown for $86,000. Then, when he moved several months later, he rented out the house. "It's cash-flow positive," he said, the rent more than paying off the taxes, maintenance, and other expenses.

The one thing the Dallas house has not provided is any extraordinary price gain. "If I had bought just about anywhere else, the house would have at least doubled in value," said Wray. But in Dallas, the house is currently worth only about $110,000, a modest 28 percent increase over eight years.

In contrast, his second purchase, in Buena Park, California, near Los Angeles, which he bought in April 2003, has already gone up more than that. He purchased the 1,000 square foot, three-bedroom, one-bath for $300,000 and he believes that it's worth perhaps $460,000 today, about 50 percent higher.

He has not turned a profit on the rents since he moved out last October, but he's building equity because the rent covers the mortgage.

Abandoned equities

Wray's house investments make up the bulk of his net worth. Like many 1990s investors, in particular those who worked in the tech and telecom industries, he lost quite a bit in the Nasdaq meltdown. That spurred him to re-evaluate his investing.

"I stopped putting new money in the stock market after that and began saving toward new real estate investing or paying down my home mortgage," he said. His investable assets, including savings and retirement accounts, amount to about $200,000.

His more conservative investing style goes hand-in-hand with his recent new responsibilities. In 2002 he married Shelly, and the couple now have two children, Jag, a-year-and-a-half-old boy, and Brazil, a brand-new daughter born this August.

The family moved to Glendale, Arizona, outside of Phoenix, last year and they bought their third property, a good-size (four-bedroom, two-bath) house. They paid just $155,000 for it. The Phoenix market has been among the hottest in the country lately -- through June 30 the 12-month gain there averaged 47 percent for single-family homes.

That means Wray has already logged a substantial paper profit on the new house. He estimates it's worth $250,000 today.

Strictly investment

With his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Wray went in as a partner this year on the purchase of a Phoenix area condo.

"We put a bit more than $40,000 into it," he said, "plus blood, sweat, and tears." The three replaced the floors, renovated the baths with new fixtures and tile, put new cabinet doors in the kitchen, and spackled and painted.

Even counting all that sweat equity, the condo seems like a bargain. It's strictly an investment that Wray hopes will appreciate with the Phoenix real estate market and become a cash-flow positive rental later this year. Meanwhile, his brother-in-law lives there. All told Wray has only put about $4,000 in cash into the property and figures that his share of profits, if sold today, would come to about $5,000.

The Wrays own the Dallas home outright, owe about $235,000 on the California property, and about $115,000 on the Phoenix house. That means they've accumulated approximately $475,000 in home equity on the four properties.

He said, "I plan to buy my next house as a primary residence again if the real estate market is good for the area (wherever that may be) and then try to keep the house as a rental if I can make it work."

Meanwhile, Wray has gone back to school in addition to full-time work. He attends Thunderbird Business School in Phoenix and is working toward an MBA in international business to "further my value to the workplace."

He has already done quite a bit to further his value in real estate.

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Read about North Carolina tycoon-in-the-making Ted Theodoropoulos

Phoenix home prices rang up gains of 47 percent in the 12 months ended June 30. To find out how your home town fared, click here.

See this list for the most over- and under-priced housing markets in America.  Top of page

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