Over the phone, nobody would know Oliver Swan is 29. Neither his position as chief investment officer for student housing owner and operator Campus Habitat nor the fact that his apartment overlooks New York's Central Park give away his age.

It could be argued that the executive's success in the student housing sector is the product of old-fashioned ideals. For instance, in Indiana, Campus Habitat's lender resides in a branch office. “I'll go down there every now and again and sit over a pork chop with him and discuss the local economy,” says Swan.

The approach works. Since Swan joined Campus Habitat in 2007, the privately owned firm has grown from three properties in two states to 12 properties in seven states. Campus Habitat specializes in renovating properties.

“We're an opportunistic buyer, so we have built the infrastructure that enables us to pick up an asset in Alaska as easily as we can pick up an asset in Pennsylvania,” says Swan. The average occupancy across the portfolio is 96%.

Swan first gained attention in the industry for his business savvy in buying a distressed student housing project in Laramie, Wyo., in 2008 for approximately 50 cents on the dollar. The transaction involved the assumption of a commercial mortgage-backed securities loan, which Swan closed in 30 days.

“That was probably the first distressed REMIC (real estate mortgage investment conduit) deal that traded in the student housing world,” he says.

These days, Swan is positioning Campus Habitat — with its stellar track record — with the largest special servicers to acquire “mini portfolios.” Buying about five distressed properties at a time rather than single properties is a more efficient process, he says.

Campus Habitat has the war chest to take down mini-portfolios given its new partnership with an equity investor based in Greenwich, Conn. Campus Habitat has received a mandate to deploy approximately $100 million in 2010 with increasing sums in each subsequent year of the partnership.

In spite of the newfound capital source, Swan takes nothing for granted.

“I didn't grow up in an environment where lenders were a dime a dozen,” he explains. “We've grown the company in the hardest, the most difficult and most challenging real estate market in probably a century.”