By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Drew Zaruba is just 21 years old, and that surprises a lot of people.
They don’t expect a college student to be a major player in the local real estate scene.
“There’s definitely a shock factor when people meet me for the first time,” Zaruba says with a smile.
Don’t let his age fool you, though. With a real estate portfolio totaling $1.3 million, the University of Nebraska at Kearney senior is quickly building a reputation in the business.
Zaruba already owns four rental properties in the Kearney area and he’s always looking for the next investment opportunity.
“I hate sitting around,” he said. “I want to be working and I want to be building something. I’m constantly trying to do more deals and make new connections.”
That drive, according to Zaruba, is what makes him successful.
Back in his hometown of Columbus, the Scotus Central Catholic graduate stocked meat and cheese at the local Hy-Vee to earn money, which he wisely stashed in a savings account.
After enrolling at UNK, where he’s studying business administration with a finance emphasis, Zaruba decided to start investing that cash. When the stock market crashed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, he saw an opportunity to capitalize on the low prices.
“As long as you could walk in a straight line, you could make money,” said Zaruba, who also invested in Bitcoin and began trading options.
Meanwhile, he continued to research other investment strategies, which led to his aha moment.
“We were renting a house my sophomore year and I thought to myself, ‘You know, I could probably just go buy a house,’” he explained. “It’s called house hacking when you live with roommates and they rent bedrooms from you.”
He started his property search with a Facebook post that drew a response from Brandon Benitz, a real estate agent at Century 21 Midlands in Kearney with multiple connections to UNK.
“I sat down with him and he gave me a bunch of books to read and other resources to look at, then we started walking properties together,” Zaruba said.
They checked out nearly 20 properties before finding one that matched Zaruba’s buying criteria. He closed on the property – a stacked duplex with three bedrooms in each unit – in September 2021. Zaruba has purchased two more duplexes since then, including a four-bedroom property where his former roommates live.
1 Million in Real Estate!
Closed on my third duplex today bringing my total rental portfolio up to 1 million dollars. pic.twitter.com/cikumWMPBj
— dREw (@Co11egeLandlord) June 1, 2022
He likes to remodel or renovate the properties himself, then rent them to fellow Lopers.
“I think I have 20 students on campus who call me their landlord,” he said with a laugh.
That strategy works surprisingly well.
“I haven’t had any problems,” Zaruba said. “They’re all super easy to deal with and I’m happy to have them as tenants.”
“I definitely could have outsourced this to a property manager, but the returns are bigger if I do it myself, and nobody cares about your property like you do,” he added.
Zaruba spends most of his time at the “barndominium,” a 3-acre property just west of Kearney that he purchased in October. Inside the 3,600-square-foot pole barn, there’s an 1,100-square-foot apartment with one bedroom, a bathroom, kitchen, living room, dining area and laundry.
He transformed the shop space into an event venue featuring three televisions and a large bar that seats 25-30 people. That space is available for rent – it hosted a Century 21 holiday party and a UNK student’s graduation party in December – and Zaruba plans to make the apartment available through Airbnb.
“It’s pretty nice,” he said. “I’m really happy with it.”
In addition to managing his own properties, Zaruba works as a commercial and investment real estate agent at Century 21 Midlands. He earned his license in June 2021 and joined the local agency a year ago.
He also founded Antler Capital, a real estate syndication company that acquires and manages multifamily properties for investors.
“At some point in time I’d like to focus on that, but that’s not where I’m at right now,” said Zaruba, who visited Scotus Central Catholic and Axtell Community School last fall to talk to students about entrepreneurship and personal finance. He also spoke last summer at an event hosted by UNK’s Center for Economic Education.
“Speaking to the students at Scotus was kind of surreal, because some of them went to school with me,” said Zaruba, whose younger sister attends the 7-12 school in Columbus.
A dean’s list student, Honors Program member and recipient of the prestigious Board of Regents Scholarship, Zaruba will graduate from UNK in May, then he plans to continue working and investing in the Kearney real estate market.
His goal is to close on another rental property the day he receives his degree.