Looking for a high achiever in the millennial generation? Meet Yamal Yidios. Since founding Ytech International 10 years ago, he has invested in, developed and redeveloped over 7,000 housing units in the southeastern United States – an effort involving $1 billion in capital. Over time, Ytech has evolved into a fully integrated real estate and investment company with 150 staff members and a $300 million portfolio of assets.
Ytech’s roots and headquarters are in Miami, but it owns a diverse real estate portfolio of over 3,000 apartments, including 1,800 in South Florida and 1,300 in Houston. The company also has an ownership interest with a joint venture partner in 2.24 acres at 201 SE Second Avenue in downtown Miami, with entitlements for 2.15 million square feet of mixed-used development with up to 1,120 residential units. The land was purchased for $21 million from Florida Power & Light in January.
Ytech describes its approach as disciplined and value-oriented with a focus on risk and cash flow rather than real estate appreciation.
Yidios was the top Miami-Dade real estate honoree in SFBW’s 2015 Up & Comers. He was interviewed by SFBW Editor-in-Chief Kevin Gale at the company’s penthouse headquarters in downtown Miami.
The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Cartagena, Colombia, where I attended an American, English-speaking school. I attended the first two years of my undergraduate studies under a full academic scholarship at Stetson University in Florida, where I also had the opportunity to play NCAA tennis. I later transferred to the University of Florida, where I graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and continued on to get my master’s degree in engineering and real estate development.
What attracted you to the field of engineering?
My father instilled a strong work ethic in me from an early age (he was also a real estate developer) and made it a point to take me to his construction projects every afternoon after school and on weekends. So, I was exposed to this industry from early on and developed a passion for real estate development.
I had a big advantage in that I knew what I wanted to do from early on in life; I was able to relentlessly invest all my time and energy into the vision that I had for myself and for my company.
What did you do to receive the UF Engineer Scholar of the Year recognition?
I believe my advantage proved to be the fact that by the time I graduated, I already had four years of experience working on large-scale development projects with multinational engineering firms such as Kimley-Horn and Associates.
I struggled to balance a full-time work schedule with a full-time class schedule. It was a 24/7 commitment, as most days involved having to get up at 5 a.m. to make the long drive to the engineering firm, followed by a full day of classes. I averaged three hours of sleep for four years.
Why did you decide to start your career in Miami?
Miami was a no-brainer given that the city is so vibrant and culturally diverse. It is also experiencing tremendous growth in the real estate sector. I have always been attracted to Miami’s entrepreneurial spirit and its tropical landscape, which is why I knew it was the perfect fit for me.
How did you manage to do your first deal – a four-unit apartment complex in Miami Beach?
All of my college savings went into the purchase of this project. From the day that I closed on this building until the day the last condo unit sold, I did not take a single day off. I poured my heart and soul into making sure that this project would be a success.
What have been the keys to success for growing Ytech?
The key to our success involves focusing on value and executing with skill and urgency. We have a long-term, risk-conscious approach to investment, and we are disciplined in everything we do; but above all, we promote teamwork, loyalty and morale.
We definitely have a long-term institutional approach. We are certainly trying to take advantage of the cash flows of the properties, improve them over time, and to be able to extract intrinsic value and control the value-creation process through redevelopment, stabilization and repositioning.
We have sold some smaller-scale projects. After 2012, we decided to focus on the institutional-grade properties – 100 to 500 units per project – and also portfolios.
I believe we are at the midpoint of the economic cycle. We are focused on protecting our downside by investing in income-producing properties in geographically privileged areas where there is a very strong rental demand driven by economic and demographic fundamentals. For example, we just acquired a large assemblage of rental apartments in Miami Beach. It is exceptionally rare to be able to acquire 180 apartments and almost 5 acres of land four blocks from the ocean and with over 1,000 linear feet frontage on the Tatum Waterway, especially in such a fragmented submarket like Miami Beach.
In near term, we would like to redevelop the 22 buildings in order to be able to increase rents and maximize NOI (net operating income), which translates into a higher value for the property, while we explore the possibilities of ground-up development in that area.
What sort of philosophies do you have to attract and retain talent?
We have succeeded as a team because we are disciplined, work well together, execute consistently, have a passion to succeed and, most importantly, share a common goal and vision.
How did you come to know John Breistol, the president of the company, and Carlos Serrano, vice president and construction officer?
John Breistol is a well-known industry leader with over 25 years of experience in construction and development. I have always been impressed by his successful track record of leading organizations and delivering profitable and quality projects such as 600 Brickell at Brickell World Plaza, Fontainebleau II Hotel and Condominium in Miami Beach and Sunrise Harbor in Fort Lauderdale. I met Carlos Serrano over 10 years ago and have always admired his strong work ethic and high level of technical expertise. I immediately seized on the opportunity to have him join our team.
Are there challenges being a younger person and having people with so many years of experience working with you?
I believe that the only way to compensate for being a young leader is to have strength of character, as well as integrity with regards to the company’s vision.
Does being a millennial give you a competitive advantage in some aspects of this business?
Technology plays a key part in how we run our business. Through financial modeling and in-depth market analysis, we are able to grow our business organically by making value-oriented, risk-conscious investments. As a result, technology enables us to become more sophisticated investors.
How does it feel to be so successful at such an early age?
I would not be where I am today without the hard work and dedication of my staff. I am so grateful to have such talented individuals on my team, and it truly has been a team effort. It has been an exceptional 10 years for me personally, and it’s been an honor to work with all of Ytech’s team members. The company is well-positioned for growth, and we will continue to build upon a rapidly growing and fully integrated real estate investment and development platform.
Who has been important as mentors or people of inspiration?
I enjoy reading historical biographies, especially those of entrepreneurs such as John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie – people who started from scratch and went on to build great companies. I have always been an admirer of an individual’s resolve and resilience in the face of challenges and in the pursuit of opportunities.
Tell us about your activities in professional and civic organizations.
I consider myself to be an active member of our community and am involved in a variety of professional and charitable organizations. I am a member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the Greater Miami and Miami Beach chambers of commerce, the Latin Builders Association, the University of Florida Alumni Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers, to name a few.
Tell us about your charitable activities.
I have implemented several charitable initiatives at Ytech, among them is a program I initiated in 2013 whereby three underserved, deserving families at each of our South Florida and Houston multifamily properties are given free rent for a period of one year. In addition, my passion for the arts led me to become a board member for the Coral Gables Museum. As a director, I promote the civic arts of architecture and urban and environmental design, which involves fostering an appreciation for the history and cultural landscape of Coral Gables.?
Two notable Ytech International properties
Grand Beach Apartments
Location: 7745-7790 Tatum Waterway Drive and 700 & 715 78th Street, Miami Beach – four blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and North Shore Open Space Park.
Description: 180 garden-style apartments in 22 buildings with 170,384 square feet of net rentable space on 4 acres along the saltwater Tatum Waterway.
Why Ytech Invested: The submarket has a high demand for quality multifamily housing and the surrounding area has a strong job market. “The neighborhood is unique in that its pristine parks and beaches cater to families while its vibrant atmosphere and distinct architecture also attract young professionals,” says CEO Yamal Yidios. “The rental market in Miami Beach is very fragmented with most properties being significantly smaller. Thus, this portfolio is truly a rare find given its size and proximity to the ocean.”
Crystal Lake Apartments
Address: 2601 NW 207 Street, Miami Gardens (between Sun Life Stadium and Calder Casino)
Description: 491 units in 24 buildings on 23 acres with lake frontage and 389,445 square feet of net rentable area
Why Ytech Invested: Location near the county line that’s close to major employment centers. The submarket also has strong economic fundamentals and a historical occupancy of over 97 percent. However, at the time of purchase for $14.35 million in November 2012, over 480 of Crystal Lake’s units were unlivable. The company spent more than $20 million on renovations and redevelopment. In October 2014, Ytech was able to refinance the property with a commercial mortgaged backed security (CMBS) loan after stabilizing occupancy.