Steve Shah, RPBG Vice President

It’s only been a few months since Steve agreed to be the new RPBG Vice President, but he has already made his mark on the organization. Working with Giselle Hennings, the Housing Director at Northside Community Resources, Steve has assembled a comprehensive Landlord Tenant Resource Guide that provides information on a wide range of resources for property owners and their tenants. And if it isn’t already there when you read this article, the Resource Guide will soon be included as a link on the Rogers Park website.

This very useful guide provides names, numbers and websites for a cross-section of non-profits, faith groups and government agencies that all offer services and programs for tenants who may have fallen on hard times or property owners who are constantly dealing with new problems and challenges.

In addition to being a great resource, the Guide also tells you a lot about Steve. It is clear after a quick review of what’s in it that the Guide took a lot of work and research to assemble. This is a credit to both Steve and Giselle who devoted considerable time and energy to this project. It is also something that is really useful to small property owners who do not generally have the time, resources or contacts to put together such a comprehensive list of community resources.

Like a lot of our members, Steve has an interesting story about how he became a property owner. But, unlike most of our members, Steve’s story did not begin in this country. Steve was born in Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat state in the northwest of India. In the early 1970’s, when Steve was still young, his father emigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago. A year later, Steve’s father brought his wife and two young children to join him in America which would become their permanent home.

Steve’s story of emigration to America is a little different than some of our other members. Steve says that, in India, his family lived in a modern subdivision that looked and felt more like a typical American suburb. Ironically, when Steve came to this county, his first home in Chicago was in a small apartment in what was then a pretty rough neighborhood on the far North Side. Steve said his life in India was more comfortable and probably safer than his new life in Chicago, at least during that first decade.

The Shah family prospered in their new country, and Steve quickly learned the language and integrated into his new life in America. Steve says his family was part of a second wave of Indian immigration to the US. It was helpful to have the guidance and social connections from other Indian immigrants who had preceded them. The Indian community in Chicago is large, vibrant and prosperous, making the transition of new arrivals at least a little easier than it might otherwise be.

In India, Steve’s father was highly educated and an engineer by trade. In the US, Steve’s parents worked hard as a quality control inspector and as a machine operator in factories, earning modest incomes. But their work ethic made it possible for Steve’s father to buy a 19-unit apartment building in Lincoln Square in the early 80s. This proved to be an astute investment. Within a decade, the senior Mr. Shah had grown his portfolio to about 50 units. It took quite a few years but these properties began to produce enough revenues to allow the senior Mr. Shah to retire from his job and become a full-time owner-investor.

Steve said he was raised in the property management business, always aware of management issues and how his father made investment decisions. After high school, Steve went on to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He later became a certified 6Sigma Blackbelt, Project Management Professional (PMP) and licensed realtor. Steve worked in corporate America for about 27 years at several companies including Caterpillar, allowing him to travel widely and work closely with people in many countries.

Throughout this time, Steve always maintained an interest in real estate. Steve also successfully completed a few condo conversions and started a highway guardrail factory in the mid 2000’s.

Sadly, Steve’s dad passed away about seven years ago, followed by his mother just ten months later. The loss of two parents in such a short period of time was both devastating and life-changing. The portfolio of properties Steve’s father had amassed was divided between the two surviving siblings. Steve inherited two properties with 16 and 20 units.

Since this initial inheritance, Steve has now expanded his portfolio to 63 units, mostly on the North Side as well as some single family and condo units in the suburbs and downtown Chicago. Steve envisions maxing out at about 200 units as an ideal portfolio size.

Like his father, Steve’s portfolio of real estate properties has made it possible for him to retire from his engineering career to focus his full-time energies on his portfolio of rental properties. It was this huge upheaval in his life with the passing of both parents that first lead Steve to the Rogers Park Builders Group.

Steve says that, after his father passed away and he was suddenly responsible for the two rental properties he inherited, he felt inadequately prepared for all that the job required. His first instinct was to find a property owner’s group where he could network with other owners and get more information about owning and managing rental properties. Since his properties were concentrated in the greater Rogers Park area, RPBG was a natural fit.

Almost immediately after joining the group six year ago, Steve saw the benefits of membership and began to form friendships with other RBPG members. Steve loved the meetings and their educational component, and quickly came to the conclusion that a lot of us share – that there are a lot of terrific people in the organization who are well worth getting to know.

But, from Steve’s perspective, there was one big problem. Steve said he felt like a free-loader (his word, not mine!), getting all the benefits of the education and networking that RPBG offers, but giving little in return. It is a reflection of Steve’s can-do approach to life that he wanted to give back to the group, not just take from it. In 2019, Steve became a RPBG Director. In October 2020, Steve agreed to serve as Vice President, replacing Sarah Lisy who stepped down after four years as VP.

Looking ahead, Steve would like to apply some of his engineering skills to the real estate business to make life easier for small property owners. In particular, Steve would like to see if he can figure out a way to use existing technologies to help property owners better manage the increasing cost of utilities, especially water.

Steve lives in Lincolnwood with his wife and has two grown children who are both in college. His son is a junior at the University of Illinois. Like his father and grandfather, he is pursuing a STEM degree, majoring in Bio-Engineering. Steve’s daughter is a freshman at Indiana University studying Kinesiology and wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps into a career as an occupational or physical therapist.

Steve and his wife still love to travel, although the pandemic has put a big damper on this activity for the time being. As a full-time property owner, Steve is no longer traveling for work. But this has not lessened his enthusiasm for exploring the world. Steve and his wife – also originally from India – have been back to their native country many times. These trips are both an opportunity to see family and to explore the amazing diversity and rich cultures of this fascinating land. Steve and his family have also traveled extensively to Europe and Mexico. They are looking forward to the end of the pandemic so that they can start planning trips to Southeast Asia and Cuba which are next up on their bucket list.

Steve thinks of himself as a “low-key” guy, comfortable in small groups but less confident in larger settings. But don’t let Steve’s modesty keep you from seeking him out when we are all able to get back together again after the pandemic. Steve is committed to RPBG and is full of ideas about how to make it better. We are fortunate to have him as part of our organization.