JF2362: Cherry-Picking the Deals with Gary Spencer-Smith
Gary’s father’s death pushed him into the real estate investment path. In 2007, he emigrated to Canada from the UK, and that’s when he got serious about doing real estate full-time.
Utilizing his electrical engineering background, Gary became an owner and a contractor of several single-family properties. Through joint venturing, he managed to create a portfolio, eventually refinancing and moving on to a different phase of his life.
Gary Spencer-Smith Real Estate Background:
- A full-time investor for the past 8 years
- 20 years of investing experience
- The portfolio consists of 24 single-family homes, 5 cabin holiday resort, 110 person restaurant, houseboat, and converted a 24,000 sqft dealership into offices, storefronts, storages, and a warehouse,
- Based in British Columbia, Canada
- Say hi to him at: www.revnyou.com
- Best Ever Book: Sapiens
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Best Ever Tweet:
“I looked at what real estate could do for my life, and that was like a switch.” – Gary Spencer Smith.
Theo Hicks: Hello Best Ever listeners, and welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Theo Hicks, and today we’ll be speaking with Gary Spencer Smith. Gary, how are you doing today?
Gary Spencer Smith: I’m doing fantastic. Thank you very much for having me on. I appreciate your time and effort to put this together for everybody.
Theo Hicks: Thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. I’m looking forward to our conversation. Before we get to that conversation though, a little bit about Gary… He is a full-time real estate investor for the past eight years and has 20 years of investing experience in total. His portfolio consists of 24 single-family homes, a five-cabin holiday resort, a 110-person restaurant, a houseboat, and a converted 24,000 square foot dealership, converting that into offices, storefronts, storage, and a warehouse. He is based in British Columbia, Canada. You can say hi to him at his website, which is revnyou.com. So Gary, do you mind telling us some more about your background and what you’re focused on today?
Gary Spencer Smith: Sure. I guess people will hear the accent and think that doesn’t sound Canadian… So I was born in the UK. I grew up normal. I say normal upbringing – normal in these days, with divorced parents; single mom… Didn’t have that silver spoon start that a lot of people have. I got to 18, thought I don’t know what I want to do. Ended up going into the military, served 11 years in the Royal Navy, served in the Afghanistan conflict, Iraq conflict, Bosnia… I got to go to over 100 countries in the world. That gave me a real perspective on, I guess, life in general.
My father passed away when I was 21, which enabled me, but it kind of started me on the real estate path ahead of the curve then. I managed to purchase a house. I did 11 years in the Navy, got injured while I was in service, and in 2005 I was pensioned out of the military. In 2007, I immigrated over to Canada. A couple of years after that was when I really started investing seriously, following a plan, and had a goal in mind when I was doing it. So that’s kind of my life in a nutshell.
Fast-forward to now, I’m a full-time investor, and I guess all my income is generated around my real estate businesses. I kind of get to live the life that I planned when I was 16 years old. So I’m pretty lucky and grateful for where I’ve got to, and the challenges I’ve had along the way, and the lessons they’ve taught me.
Theo Hicks: So when you first started to invest – you kind of went over your portfolio – what was your original focus?
Gary Spencer Smith: I’ll take a quick jump back. My first investing [unintelligible [00:05:52].13] impressionable age, maybe I was 18 or 19. He said, “Oh, such and such has rentals, and he gets X amount of dollars per month.” And something just triggered in my head.
When I had my house, the first house I purchased after my father passed away, and my wife at the time, I was like, “Let’s just rent this out when we move” and she said “I don’t want to deal with rentals. Rentals are a headache. You’ve got to deal with tenants,” that story that people say. I listened to it and I didn’t do that.
Then when I left the military, I had a house down the South Coast of England, and I’m like, “You know what? I’m keeping this and I’m renting it out.” It was purely a mathematical choice. It was just, I figured out where I’m moving to and renting, and what I would get for rent there, and I was like 200 bucks a month better off. There was no plan around it. Subconsciously, I wanted to have about three houses over my working career. Retire at 60, I would have my military pension and three houses. That was kind of my goal. I don’t know where that came from or how that was planted in me.
Then I emigrated to Canada. I bought a single-family townhome, and that was for my kid’s college. That was the idea behind it. My kids end up not going to college, and we can get into that a bit deeper if we want. But I guess I was looking for a way to create income within houses. I didn’t want to do the job I was doing when I emigrated. I just used that to get to Canada, which was a life goal. Then I’m like, “I don’t want to do this till I’m 60.” So I kind of looked at real estate investing and how I could generate revenue.
We started doing single-family homes and from those single-family homes, we would actually go in, act as the general contractor… Now, a little caveat to that, I do have some skills. I’m a qualified electrical engineer, so I have an ability (I’m a certified electrician) that I brought to the table, so I utilized those. I didn’t have money so I started joint venturing really early on. Through joint venturing, that’s where I managed to create a portfolio. We were doing like two to three single-family homes, buying them, [unintelligible [00:07:50].11] in them, and then refinancing and moving on to the next. The BRRRR type strategy; it wasn’t exactly that, but it was a variation of that. That’s what got me to a point where I’m like, “Okay, I guess I’m full-time at this.”
Then in the last few years, again, you look at life, you get to each stage, and you get to each goal that you achieve. I was kind of like, rather than going out and looking for real estate, I looked at what I want real estate to do for my life. That was like a switch, and that’s how we ended up buying the resort that’s on the lake. Even though it’s a business, it was a real estate purchase, because the assets themselves, the land assets, the property assets are worth the same price as the business we were buying, effectively.
Now my focus looking forward is just to keep growing properties. But I have a different strategy. I’m not involved in the day-to-day real estate as much as just looking at the bigger picture stuff, and I guess cherry-picking the deals.
Theo Hicks: Thank you for sharing that. So after the single-family homes, the next non-single family home purchase was the holiday resort?
Gary Spencer Smith: No, it would have been the dealership. It was an old Ford dealership from the 50’s, so it had the car mechanic shop, the body shop, the paint shop, the warehouse, the showroom. The lady who owned that building… I was actually at a funeral and we’re sitting at the table, and I’m from a smallish town, people know everyone in it, 25,000 people in the town… And she said, “Oh, would you look at my property? I’ve been trying to sell it.” I was like, “Sure I’ll look at it.” Honestly, I was being polite. I was going to look at it, but I had no intention of buying it. I’m walking through the property and I’m just looking at the space going, “Well, this is a space that would rent individually. This is a space that would rent individually. I could put a mini storage here, here, and here.” So I’m just doing the math in my head is a walk around… And then we walked into this huge warehouse, like 3,000 square foot, 35-foot ceilings, and I was just like, “Wow.” I was blown away.
This building was made from all first-growth fir wood, so even if you knocked the building down, you could probably sell the wood and get back the money that we were paying for the building. And I was like, “Well, this makes sense.” So then I made a few phone calls to some investor friends I have, we each put in $100,000 and bought it for 500,000. So that was the next one after single-family homes.
Actually, when you deal with single-family homes, there’s a certain lifestyle that comes around that. Especially if you’re managing it, which we weren’t. We had a property management company, which looked after that, plus another 50 doors. The commercial real estate was just so much better. It seemed to be for me, for what I wanted to do for it to get some time back. The tenants are great, they’re all professional people in all the different spaces. We’ve got plumbers, electricians, roofers, they’ll rent different spaces within the building…
And the holiday resort, that came about a year after purchasing the commercial space. It was actually the local pub and restaurant on the lake where I was living anyway. It’s a houseboat marina, there are 12 houseboats that go out, there’s a marina… We knew the owner, we knew he wanted out, so we had a conversation, we looked at the books, and it made sense. It was like a switch, it’s like, “Okay.” Because we lived on the lake, but I didn’t enjoy the lake, because I was always doing something else, albeit real estate related… And I love what I do, by the way, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about anything I’ve done. But this gives me the chance to actually live and work in the location that I want to spend my life.
I was like, “Wow, this is just a slam dunk. So why would we not do this?” So we got creative, we raised some capital privately, we had some joint venture partners, we got a vendor takeback on the mortgage, you name it, the strategies were involved in the purchase of that property. So it wasn’t very straightforward, but it was everything I’d learned from the single-family homes, that skillset that I could transfer to enable us to buy that business.
Theo Hicks: Going back to the old Ford dealership… It sounds like a lot of work. How did you know that “Oh, this would be good for stores. Oh, I could put offices here. Oh, storefronts. Oh, the wood.” You saw the wood. How did you know all that?
Gary Spencer Smith: I seen her outside, she was having a smoke outside and I was driving past, and I remember thinking in my head, “Oh, I said I will go look. So I should.” Because that’s what I said I do. So I just did a U-turn and went back, and it looks like three little single-story storefronts from the road that you drive past every day. So I thought it [unintelligible [00:11:52].14] in a strip mall, it looked like that.
Then I go inside and I’m looking, and they’re each individually located. So where the garage used to be where they’d repair the cars, that had its own unit; it had three big garages, its own office, its own washroom. Then the showroom had its own office, its own area… Then there was a middle room that I guess would have been management, like the middle building, and the same thing, had its own office, all broken down already. Then she showed me the outside space; it was under the deck that was the body shop, and I’m like, “Wow, this could fit six vehicles in here, at least. Or someone could use this space.” It’s actually a fabric company that’s in there now. But it’s a good usable space, and had its own office. So everything was already compartmentalized.
But what she’d been doing was using the main showroom for herself, just for her little sewing business, and then she’d been renting the warehouse out to fisheries. That’s all she has done with the building. Everything else, she was like “Oh, I’ve got some stuff in there. I’ve got a friend that’s got some stuff.” Then she showed me the middle floor of this building [unintelligible [00:12:55].04] side on side, butted up against each other. I know it’s fair, you can tell, and the time it was built… ANd I was just looking at it going “You could park a tank on this roof.”
So then we got the drawings to the building and I’m like, “Wow, the amount of material that is in this to create the strength, what they used at the time – there is huge value in that.” So I was, “Well, it makes sense.” I did the math and the building itself [unintelligible [00:13:16].25] six and a half, but I think you’d be running between 10 and $12,000 based on market rents. For $500,000, that 1% rule, it absolutely crushes that. So I was like, “Well, why would we not do this?” So we moved our personal offices into this and we set up our studio for doing our YouTube channel stuff, and then we rented the rest of the space out in the building to cover costs and make a profit. I wish I could say it was an open space and I designed the idea, but it was already set up.
Theo Hicks: Okay. So you bought it for 500k… How much did you put into it to get it ready to go?
Gary Spencer Smith: $200,000.
Theo Hicks: 200K. Okay. Who did the work? Was it just your contractors you had met through the single-family business, or did you need to find someone new? How did you find the people that did that work?
Gary Spencer Smith: I’ve got a pretty good team from doing the single-family homes. We got to where we were doing three or four properties a year, plus all the odd jobs that come with managing 50 to 60 units. So I’ve got my backup plumber, electrician, backup electrician, framer, drywall – all those people were in place. We did do some of it ourselves, Chris and my business partner, when it came to our office space. And when we were looking through the building, the old big glass sliding doors that they would have had on the showroom, they were actually downstairs in the storage. So we just framed up a two by six wall and put the big glass sliding doors in, and that’s our office. It’s through all these big sliding doors at the back of the showroom, so we have our own sectioned-off space. That’s the only thing we did ourselves, was set that up. But for the most part, it was pretty much set up ready to go. A couple of partition walls, and an upgrade on the hydro, and some new lights and escape lights for the separate spaces. That was it. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that 200l – $70,000 of that was a new roof. It’s a huge space, and we did this silicone roof on it. It’s got a 50-year warranty. So that was a huge chunk of the money was that. And then hydro was probably about $30,000. So 100k just on those two things, and the rest $100,000 was pretty quick, once you do in flooring, and trim, and a little bit of work.
Theo Hicks: Got it. Very fascinating stuff. Alright, Gary, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?
Gary Spencer Smith: Actually, take steps and do it. Don’t sit and wait. Get some knowledge, which is free. You’ve got awesome podcasts like this that you can listen to. You don’t have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the knowledge. Get the knowledge that you can for free, pay a little bit of money to get some more refined knowledge, and then go take action. That’s it. Action will teach you more than any mentor or coach.
The second tip would be to find a good mentor. You don’t have to pay for that. That would be someone that’s done it, successful, who is willing to let you take them for dinner, take them for a coffee, bounce some ideas. If you can get a good mentor, you’re going to jump leaps and bounds ahead of everything else, and listen to what they say.
Theo Hicks: Alright, Gary. Are you ready for the Best Ever lightning round?
Gary Spencer Smith: Okay, let’s go.
Theo Hicks: Alrighty. First, a quick word from our sponsor.
Theo Hicks: Okay, Gary, what is the Best Ever book you’ve recently read?
Gary Spencer Smith: I so wanted to plug my own book right there, [unintelligible [00:16:51].05] which is about human evolution. I actually use that when I’m discussing with my JV partners, just about how we think; it’s a mindset. Because real estate managing, buying, it’s all about the mindset. I’ve actually used part of that book where he talked about human evolution to help people understand about where we’ve got to and why we do the things we do. People are like “Wow, that’s so good.” We didn’t even talk about real estate, but they became a joint venture partner through discussing that book Sapiens.
So it’s crazy – not a real estate book, but I think one of the best books is written by Julie Broad, called More Than Cash Flow. That book is fantastic. Because I think anybody who goes on their real estate journey, that is pretty much the journey that most people will go through. You read the books, you sign up for the courses, you pay some money, you make some mistakes, you keep going, you achieve success.
Theo Hicks: And that first book you said, I think I might have missed that. What was the first book?
Gary Spencer Smith: Sapiens.
Theo Hicks: Okay, Sapiens.
Gary Spencer Smith: By Harari. It’s actually about humanity and the evolution of us as a species. But I actually used parts of that book when I was discussing mindset with people who were looking to be joint venture partners. That conversation they even said to me, was a turning point for them, understanding their own belief systems.
Theo Hicks: Nice. If your business were to collapse today, what would you do next?
Gary Spencer Smith: You know what? To start with, I’d go get a job at McDonald’s, so I’ve got some money, and I can have a roof over my head and have some food. Somebody said to me once, if you lost everything, what would you do? Not that there’s anything wrong with working in McDonald’s, but I’m willing to go do anything to put a roof over my head and put food in my mouth, and for my family. So if I’m willing to do that, why would you not take the risks to go try something better, and even big? So I would go get a job first, then I would start looking for new joint venture partners, and I would move the business on and start again; you just keep going. If it fails, you start again and keep going. It’s like picking yourself up from walking, right? Like what would you do if you fell over? You pick up and you keep going.
Theo Hicks: What is the Best Ever deal you’ve done?
Gary Spencer Smith: It was probably my first joint venture. That was the house I bought when I came to Canada. I bought it individually. I put $6,000 down, then joint-ventured with my cousin a year later; he gave me $20,000. There’s a whole story behind this, but he gave me $20,000. He didn’t have to qualify, I managed the property. But I use that money to take my family for a trip back to the UK and have three and a half weeks over Christmas. And that one transaction made me look and go “Wow, I put $6,000 in, I got $20,000 back a year later, and I still own half the property. That’s a 333% ROI.” I didn’t really understand ROI, but this opened my eyes to the real percentages you can make using real estate, using joint ventures, and that was it.
I just said myself “How do I do that more?” And that was that one there, my first property in Canada, because that opened my eyes to ROI and huge returns, and it ignited the fire.
Theo Hicks: What is the Best Ever way you like to give back?
Gary Spencer Smith: I had a leadership company — well, I still have a leadership company that we do from time to time, and I work with a lot of youth at risk. So I help the youth at risk develop their leadership skills, just so they can do simple things like go get a job, go find a place to rent. A lot of them I’ll talk about getting their first place to rent, and how they should show up, and how they should answer people, communicate with people, shake their hands.
So I like working with the youth at risk, those 15 to 19-year-olds that are on the verge of going one way or the other. Hopefully, if you can give a tiny bit of guidance to even one person like that, you have no idea how far that ripple can go, where it can change someone’s life. I know that was done to me at an early age, and that’s why I like doing it.
Theo Hicks: And then lastly, what is the Best Ever place to reach you?
Gary Spencer Smith: I think if people email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with us on Facebook, it’d probably be best.
Theo Hicks: You said you have a YouTube channel, right?
Gary Spencer Smith: We do, yes. Same as well – Revnyou With Real Estate. I think we’re about 7,700 subscribers right now.
Theo Hicks: Nice, good stuff. Well, thanks, Gary, for joining me today and going over your background and your journey to how you got to where you are today from in the UK, in the military, to moving to Canada and becoming a full-time real estate investor.
We talked about how you got started in single-family homes through JVs, as well as doing some of the rehabs yourself as a GC, as well as eventually the management company, which made you realize that commercial real estate was a better play for you. So you did the old Ford dealership, which you found at a funeral, of all places. And you talked about how much it cost, how you analyzed the deal when you’re walking through it.
And then after that was the holiday resort, which again, you walked us through how you got that deal as well, and how that made you start to think about how to use real estate to get what you want out of life. I thought that that was solid advice.
And then your Best Ever advice was to really just take action. Don’t sit and wait. Get some knowledge that you can now get for free pretty easily online. The different websites, and YouTube channels, and blog posts, and podcasts. If you need to, maybe pay a little bit of money to get some more refined knowledge, and then start taking action… Because that action will teach you more than any mentor or coach will teach you. But you still also said that it makes sense to get a mentor, but you don’t necessarily have to pay a lot of money. Just find someone who’s done what you are trying to do, and then the goal would be to take them out for dinner or coffee to pick their brain and get some advice on how to end up where they’re at.
So thanks again, Gary, for taking the time out of your day to speak with us today. Best Ever listeners, as always, thank you for listening. Have a Best Ever day, and we’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Gary Spencer Smith: Thank you very much, Theo. Have a great day, and it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much.
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