NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - When Ted Theodoropoulos was about 10 years old, he learned a valuable lesson.
"My father bought a corner house in Chapel Hill for $60,000," says Ted. "He intended to knock it down and build another. But before he had a chance to do that, they announced that a mall was going in directly across the street."
His father wound up selling the property six months later for a cool $200,000 profit.
"It was mostly luck," says Ted. "But it made a big impression on me."
Perhaps it has helped focus Ted's entrepreneurial attitude. The 32-year-old North Carolinian has invested in three properties during the last two years and is looking for more.
Ambition and Ted are well acquainted. His mom and his dad have both been business owners, in addition to dabbling in real estate. Ted himself started a company, a collection agency, when he was still in college.
It was his mother who made the suggestion that launched his company. She was a restaurant owner who had taken some bad checks and she didn't have the time to pursue them herself. She told Ted she would give him a fee for any accounts he was able to make good.
Ted was so successful that he dropped out of school and started a collection agency. It began with restaurant clients, then branched out to corporations, such as Lucor and Time Warner Cable, for which he collected equipment when customers moved away or fell behind in bills.
At the peak, Ted employed 15 to 20 people. He ran it full time for a year as he attended night classes. It proved lucrative enough that his mother and a brother joined the business.
After college, where he studied information technology, Microsoft offered him a good job, "50 percent more than I was making at the collection agency," he says. So he turned the collection business over to his brother and mother, and went to work at Microsoft's Charlotte office.
He stayed there for a year or so and then went to work crunching data for a major bank, where he is a vice president today.
In 2001, Ted made his first real estate purchase, a one-bedroom condo in downtown Charlotte. He he paid $145,000 and it's now worth about $235,000.
Watching the value soar "got my wheels turning." At the time, a bank colleague was supplementing her income flipping properties regularly. "She was not hitting the ball out of the park," he says, "But she was doing well."
Through her, he met a broker who asked about Ted's means and goals: How much did he have to invest? Did he want to manage the property? What return was he looking for, and in what time frame?
"He gave me a realistic picture of the business," says Ted. "A lot of it -- like cleaning up after tenants and chasing them for rent -- is undesirable."
But Ted was used to working with credit reports and "skip traces," which enable collectors to track down people. So in early 2002, he bought a three-bedroom, one-bath, brick ranch near a gentrifying part of town. He paid only $72,000 plus a little more fixing the cosmetics and installing new air and floors.
"I rented it out for a year," he said. "Then my mother and brother moved down to Charlotte and started living in the place." The two had put up some of the money for the house, as they have with subsequent ventures. The home's value has risen to the low $90s.
Shopping for foreclosures
The next step was to plunge into the foreclosure market. This is always a gamble because home inspections can be difficult to arrange making it tough to analyze how much more cash will have to be invested. On the other hand, foreclosures can be great bargains.
Ted, for example paid less than $40,000 for two condos near downtown Charlotte. The first, a one-bedroom, was just $17,000. He rents it for $500 a month and values the property at $35,000 today.
The second is a two-bedroom, one-bath, 900-square-foot he closed on last December. One of the reasons it interested him is that the condo board was spending to improve the property.
"There's an undesirable neighborhood next to the condos and it's keeping the property values down," says Ted. "But the board was talking of a special assessment to pay for a fence to block it off from the bad area."
He felt that with such steps the apartment would be worth much more than the $22,000 he paid. Ted wants to sell this apartment and has put it on the market for $44,500, which would mean a profit of $20,000.
Although he has proceeded cautiously, Ted envisions expanding more rapidly. Right now, he wants to do more low-risk deals until he learns the real estate business inside and out.
Ultimately, he would like to involve his two other brothers in it as well.
"When you're working with your brother, you know you're going to get a straight deal," he says.