#280 From Music to Rentals with Steve Fox

He wrote the hit “Daddy Won’t Sell The Farm” for Montgomery Gentry

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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Some of Steve’s music:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIWW22ov27w

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRzBWkAxIIw

The music he wrote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tb1ngTYl60

Show Transcription:

Voice Over: (00:04)
Welcome to the RentPrep for Landlords podcast. And now your hosts, Steven White and Eric Worall.

Eric Worral: (00:10)
Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of RentPrep for Landlords. We’ve got a special episode today is we have a guest in the office on episode number 280. How are you doing Steve? Good. Or are you good? Good. And I don’t want to say, how are you doing Steve? People might be thinking Steve White, but this is Steve Fox. So Steve, how did we get introduced? Was it a friend of yours? Correct.

Steve Fox: (00:29)
Yeah, my friend Lindsay in Nashville was listening to the podcast and I actually was too. And he asked me if I knew about it. I said, yeah, I’ve checked it out. And he said, you should be a guest on that. And I was like, yeah, sure. Okay.

Eric Worral: (00:45)
Yeah. It’s funny how that works out. Yeah. Well, you actually own property. How far would you say it’s from here? Over the border.

Steve Fox: (00:51)
Oh, we have a place in crystal beach, Ontario. Yeah, it’s a, it’s actually, well from where we are now, it’s a little more, but from downtown Buffalo, it’s 12 miles. Yeah. Yeah. Really close.

Eric Worral: (01:02)
Yeah. So yeah, you did some international travel today to be on the podcast, right? I did. That technically counts, so that’s pretty cool. But I just getting to know you from talking on the phone before and we had a conversation, a really interesting backstory. I’m sure a lot of our listeners will find it interesting. Oh, you have a pretty unique path into real estate and getting into our real estate investing. So your upbringing and where you’ve gone in life from your Wikipedia page, cause you, you’re enough of a celebrity that you have a Wikipedia page. I do not. Where you grew up in Canada. They’re right in Vancouver. Vancouver coast. Yep. Okay. And then why did you move out? You went to Toronto. Why’d you headed out to Toronto?

Steve Fox: (01:42)
You know, all through high school. This is going, we’re starting way back down, but I’m an older gentleman, but we, you know, it was in Canada. Toronto was really the New York of, of Canada. And if you’re sort of artistically bent in any way, you know, it, Toronto was the place to be in all through high school. I was just, just couldn’t wait to graduate and get out to Toronto and, and do art of some kind. I still paint. I paint pictures and sell paintings, but it was really music and I started a music career pretty right out of the gate.

Eric Worral: (02:14)
And with that music career did, would you say that that kind of blossomed when you moved from Toronto to Nashville or like

Steve Fox: (02:20)
What’s that look like? Well, I had, I, you know, I moved to Nashville when I was 32 and so I gave it a really good run in Canada and kind of, you know, went through a couple of, of a major label record deals that kinda didn’t go anywhere and kind of found myself back in the bars. And I had great years through my twenties in Toronto. It was a vibrant town, really lively, a live music scene there. And I did, well, you know, I had bought a house in Toronto at the time, but it was, I could see the end coming and though the whole live music thing was dying and people were telling, you know, I was writing a lot of songs that were just kind of pouring out of me in different styles and, and people were telling me, well, Nashville’s kind of the place where you can get an actual like job writing songs for a publisher. And so I started making trips down there and pecking away at that and co-writing with people and took me a couple of years of trips back and forth. And then when I did move there with my brand new wife at the time I had a publishing deal to go to. Yeah.

Eric  Worral: (03:31)
We’re a publishing deal. Like is that something where you get a year, or like we did a contract or…?

Steve Fox: (03:34)
Yeah. Yeah, it’s really a, I mean they’re a little bit like snowflakes the deals, but there’s sort of a template and that is a, it’s a staff writing song, writing job. And you know, they gave me an office and, and a guy that I worked with, it was a song plugger and he would kind of help me with my calendar because I didn’t really know a lot of people and he would sort of set me up with people to co-write with. And you’re, you’re on a salary but it’s not called a salary. It’s a little bit complicated, but it’s called a draw and you’re good for a year and then you revisit it and each year after that is called an option. And that option is not yours. It’s theirs to renew. You are not. Yeah.

Eric Worral: (04:13)
Aye. Any particular artists or songs that are, your listeners might be familiar with that you’ve written?

Steve Fox: (04:18)
Oh, well I’ve had, I’ve had quite a few interesting things as a singer and a performer and a producer. I would lots of producing and recording engineering and stuff. But as a writer, I guess a group called Montgomery Gentry, I did well with the song. I have a single on them early on called Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm. Yeah. And that’s, that’s on YouTube. And I have lots of videos, of me on YouTube, not that I want to direct people to those. I certainly look better in them than I do know.

Eric Worral: (04:49)
I was checking out the Montgomery Gentry song before you got here and I found into the comments and it’s pretty interesting reading ’em because really I’ve never really thought of it this way. Cause usually when you’re watching an artist on YouTube or something like that, you’re paying attention to the artist, not necessarily the lyrics and the person behind them now obviously because I knew you were coming to the office today asking the lyric and that everyone’s, you know, quoting the lyrics from the songs in the comments, which is kinda neat. But it was also one of those things where you could definitely tell that it was a very identity-based song where the people that we’re quoting at were probably, you know, either were from farms or grew up in that kind of area because they were like, this is our country. This is our type of place. Right. You can tell they really connected with the lyrics, which is pretty,

Steve Fox: (05:34)
You know what’s interesting is that, I grew up, I did not grow up on a farm or anywhere near a farm. I was going to ask but I did draw from, you know and the many times that I’ve been asked where I drew the, you know, the lyric from for the soul and that that is, that is a real estate story. Come to think of it in my years in Toronto, it’s a short one. I’ll tell you and you can use it or not. But in my years in Toronto when I was playing and all that through my twenties in the young and Eglinton young and EG area and in Toronto there was a famous house. I mean there were people walking around with tee shirts with this house on there and it was just out of a, you could not create that for a movie set. It was crooked. It was an old rotten clapboard. It was gray. It was a two-story house that, and you look at it and you can see the whole story because there was a parking lot on one side and skier and huge buildings. It was downtown. This is clearly some old old geezer who does not want to sell this house. And so it was like this kind of almost tiny house with these brand new builds, buy it and just the one guy kind of who didn’t want to sell the farm, so to speak. And I was going to a dentist appointment sometime in my twenties and I parked my car right by it, old rickety picket fence and he came out and chopped wood as I was getting out of my car. I never said anything to him, but he was 15 feet away from me, chopping wood. He looked like he was a hundred years old and this guy had just held out and held out so long that he became kind of an urban legend only. It was all real. It was just amazing. It’s gone now, but his name was Cromwell. There were people walking around with t-shirts, a prom will house in this cartoony.

Eric Worral: (07:22)
Yeah. Was kind of like almost one of those insides, not jokes, but just like things that only you knew about if you were a neighborhood kind of thing. Yeah, that’s really, that’s sort of drew from that when I was writing Daddy.

Eric Worral: (07:54)
That’s really interesting. We’ve we don’t have a ton of guests that come into the office, but one of the different guests that came in… His name’s dr Roger Firestein. He’s a creativity professor in Buffalo and he talks about how you kind of can draw from these different experiences where in your case, you know, you probably weren’t thinking you’re going to write a country song about sauna farm from observing that, but you’re able to drawback to it, which is pretty cool. Absolutely. So you’re doing well in Nashville, you’re writing, you’re producing, you’re singing doing all this. What point do you decide to get into real estate and how did that kind of start off?

Steve Fox: (08:30)
Oh yeah. Well, I was really lucky to have a few years where we, all of a sudden my income was like, it’s where did this extra zero come from? And my wife and I are not, we’re not, you know, we liked our house and we’re not gee, we don’t buy jet-skis and toys, and we were a little bit like you know, what do we do with this money? So we a lifestyle creep, right? And, and so we started buying houses with the money I was making in those years. And I knew that those years were not going to last. And they didn’t, you know, and that’s cool. I had a good time. And but we literally were buying, we bought, I think our first nine with the money I was making. And now that’s not to say the houses in Nashville were cheap. And you know, we’ve been there 22 years now and I can safely say the first 14 years, there was like no appreciation to speak of at all. It’s just not what we were doing. We were buying them to rent them out. And IX incredibly cheap, especially when the downturn hit and we bought a bunch more and we thought we were done at like nine houses and then we bought a bunch more on the downturn. And now all of that is over. It’s really good. Really gone up quite a bit. We’re sort of, we look at stuff and I don’t know how people can make the numbers crunch at all, you know, buying them and paying your, your payment, your whatever payment you have, property tax, insurance and maintenance and then rent them out and there’s just nothing left.

Eric Worral: (10:08)
What’s your, like if you’re looking at your typical rental house that you maybe we’d be looking at in a different market and actually you’re putting an offer in Buffalo today, right? Yes, we are. Yeah. So you’re looking at, Oh, did you say it was around 200,000 and it’s, so why 2,500 square feet or something?

Steve Fox: (10:22)
It’s 2300 square feet and our offer today is two 10. Yeah.

Eric Worral: (10:26)
Yeah. So something like that that you’re looking at in Nashville, what are you look,

Steve Fox: (10:30)
Well, of course, again it’s area-specific. Not nearly as much as Buffalo. I’m really noticing Buffalo Eagle a few blocks over there. You can buy a house for $40,000. You know that doesn’t happen in Nashville, but we got an offer for two ten in Nashville in an area like that or like a really nice area. Near Elmwood village is where it is comparatively would be like East Nashville and it would be probably three times that and maybe, maybe five and a half. Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Worral: (11:01)
So w at what point, like did you hit a point where you, I’m assuming you’re still involved with music,

Steve Fox: (11:08)
Right? I’m actually really kind of ramped out of it in the last few years. Yeah. And we’ve got, you know, we’re, we’re up to 18 properties right now and like I say, we’re just probably going to buy maybe by the one more. We always say that. But yeah, that’s what we’re doing here in Buffalo, which is new for us. We don’t own anything else in Buffalo. Actually. Interestingly, we found a little niche in our own area in Nashville and when I walk out my door within a mile, I can go to 12 of my houses. They’re all just in the same little village called Old Hickory village. And so that’s kind of like our wheelhouse.

Eric Worral: (11:47)
When you started investing, it was kind of more so like, what do we do with this extra cash? Then you start getting into it and I’m assuming it and really liking this as an investment tool. Did you have that point where you started thinking, you know what, if I want to leave music at least professionally I can do this now. I mean, w when did that conversation at least start internally or you know, when did those conversations start?

Steve Fox: (12:09)
Yeah, that’s, I mean, that’s pretty accurate, those kind of a dovetail, you know, a whole bunch of years where I was really doing both. I was still really busy producing and traveling and singing and writing songs and all of that. And we had bought a bunch of houses and we also have three boys that are growing up. Almost gone now. But and those were some busy years, you know, and we, some of those houses, we got it right to the studs and that was a learning curve for me. I was kind of handy. I’m more handy now. There’s an awful lot of people out there that are a lot more handy than me. You know, there were some very, very busy years. And then as the, I just kinda got burned out on the music thing and really enjoying the real estate more and more. So as we bought more houses, I was kind of doing less music and probably within the last five to seven years I’ve ramped right out. I’m actually out there playing bars again a little bit because it’s incredibly fun. And

Eric Worral: (13:09)
Well that must be like such a change of pace from like, when you think back to your years when maybe you were, you know, 20s playing in bars and you’re trying to figure it all out and what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go and now you’re just kind of doing it cause it’s fun. Right?

Steve Fox: (13:20)
Absolutely. Incredibly. The difference between being in your 20s and playing and not knowing your future and really everything, just being a question and to, to where I am now, what was a total grind at one time is now like some of the most fun I have. I don’t do it a lot, but mostly in the summer around crystal beach and you know, when family and friends are up here, I do it a little bit in Nashville but not much.

Eric Worral: (13:50)
Yeah. Yeah. So then I’m curious as far as like, I think you brought this up before and I know it doesn’t have a lot to do with real estate, but personally I’m curious, you said that you come up to crystal beach every year and is that kinda like your, your time to get away and just kind of reset kind of thing? Oh yeah. And I guess when you told me that, I thought maybe it was kind of more for like a creative process kind of thing, or do you just kind of use it just to kind of have downtime?

Steve Fox: (14:13)
It’s funny you mentioned that because I mentioned that two year earlier that I paint the pictures. Yeah. And I did that as a child. I was really into that and thought, you know, art, art, art in that way, you know, painting. And I didn’t really do it again until about maybe seven years ago. We’ve had our cottage for 14 years in crystal beach and we spent all summer there. We just like literally relocate for the whole summer. And I have a little shed and a paint and I do art shows and I sell them and it’s just, I mean, I, I love it. I just, it do you, do you, so it is a creative outlet. I mean, it’s not a big moneymaker. It’s, it’s an awful lot of fun. Yes.

Eric Worral: (14:59)
Do you happen to know a Terry Cruises? He, the, he used to do these old spice commercials, a really big guy and he likes kind of make his like packs jump and he does a whole bunch of, yeah, America’s Got Talent. If you’ve ever watched that, he’s the host of it. I’m trying to think. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a show that he’s on. Oh, anyhoo I’ve got to give you a podcast that he’s, I did on a Tim Ferriss show if you’re familiar with him, but this guy ended up making the NFL and then doing an acting career and all these crazy things. Art was always his thing through. So this person that everybody knows is being this huge, I mean defensive lineman, like just absolutely huge guy. He actually got out of Flint, Michigan on an art scholarship. And like, it’s just a really interesting story out of that.

Steve Fox: (15:42)
No, it’s just like, you know, I’m not really, and when you see my paintings, some of them look like a little old lady painting them. You know, it’s, it’s a very strange thing, but I just really enjoy it.

Eric Worral: (15:53)
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think it’s cool for our listeners because I’m sure some of them are either, you know, just getting started or maybe in the middle of their journey with real estate and to listen to somebody who’s kind of gotten to a place where you can enjoy things like sitting and painting in the summers, you know, and you’re not necessarily bound to trying to make money with your different forms of art. We’re doing it because it’s a passion and something you want to do is awesome.

Steve Fox: (16:17)
Oh, I’ve been really lucky. I mean, even the music, I would like to tell you a story of lean years where I didn’t know where that my next dollar was going to come from, but I really never went through that because you know, I just was, like I said before, I’m not into crazy toys and, you know, I never needed a great big, you know square footage house to, of, or a card, a sort of like remind me of how amazing I am or any of that stuff. And I think I just had my head screwed on right from an early age and I always made money. I always made a good living in music, you know. And so yeah, everybody’s story is completely different and how they arrive at the real estate thing, it really is amazing.

Eric Worral: (17:05)
Yeah. If, if you had a piece of advice either for yourself, if you were starting over, but knowing what you know now or somebody who’s getting started themselves, I mean, from your experience of going through your real estate journey, what would you tell someone?

Steve Fox: (17:18)
Oh, well, having three boys. I’m used to giving advice like that, and that’s just whatever it is that you do. And I’m repeating an old adage, we all know it, but if you find something that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. There’s nothing more pertinent to someone’s life and happiness and their trajectory than that saying, you know, and I’ve, I’ve just been so lucky to have that ratio of my job that I despise being very small all my life, you know? And not having to go to a job that I 80% cat stand, you know?

Eric Worral: (17:55)
Yeah. It’s interesting listening to your story because I feel like probably a lot of our listeners and people who do real estate investing might be in that job they can’t stand and they’re hoping that this is going to be that vehicle that gets them out of it. Right. Where you kind of just went like, Oh, like why don’t I try this? And then all of a sudden you got out of it, but it wasn’t because you hated what you were doing. You’re just transitioning and changing. Yeah. Very true. Yeah.

Steve Fox: (18:16)
Yeah. But I, I think you know, from what I’ve seen, the people who do the best at it, it seemed to find an area or a niche that they learn really well. You know, like our situation, we own a, a condo in, in Florida, you know, stuff like there’s little stuff like our co cottage in Canada, but for the most part, everything we’re doing is in Nashville and more specifically in our area and we really have come to know that area. And w you know, I think there’s something to be said for finding a little pocket of real estate where you really learned to understand it and you can really do well.

Eric Worral: (18:53)
Yeah, yeah. I’m sure you can walk into a house in that little area in Nashville and you know, within five minutes whether or not it makes sense or not. Yeah,

Steve Fox: (19:01)
There’s a guy in Crystal Beach named Phil Smith who’s a, a real estate agent. He was the youngest. He now he’s in his early forties. He was the youngest real estate agent in Ontario at 19 years old. And now he’s just the man in the D and his specializes in crystal beach. I mean Ridgeway too, but really he was there when the town was really, you know, struggling and when now it’s rebounded incredibly on. The houses are really way too expensive. But all these little cottages, he was grabbing up for, you know, $30,000 and, and fixing them up and now he owns restaurants and he owns the main strip. You know, he’s just, the guy is a great guy and he just, it’s a quintessential example of that, a dude that found that one, you know, area and specialized in it and did really well.

Eric Worral: (19:53)
Yeah. All right. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for stopping in. I’ll find candidates. It was interesting hearing your story and yeah. Thank you for traveling from another country to be here today.

Steve Fox: (20:04)
Thank you. Really appreciate it.

Eric Worral: (20:05)
Thanks, Steve.