Neal Smith, the former drummer for the rock band Alice Cooper, flipped his first house in the early ’70s. The band’s 1972 mega-hit, “School’s Out,” had just been released, and its members were flush with cash, says Smith, now 65. So he used some of the proceeds to buy property in Phoenix. Two years later he sold it, tripling his investment.
Smith had caught the real estate bug, but he wouldn’t pursue it as a career for more than a decade. Smith had joined Alice Cooper in 1967, a year after he met Alice (Vincent Furnier) and the other band members at a community college in Arizona. They moved to Los Angeles and came out with two albums, neither of which was successful. Then, in 1971, the band broke through with its single “I’m Eighteen.”
Alice Cooper was known for its stage antics and its use of props such as decapitated dolls and electric chairs. The band wanted to live in Westchester County, N.Y., but their accountant told them to move to Connecticut for the lower taxes. They ended up in a mansion in Greenwich, where they “used to do full-blown shows in the ballroom,” recalls Smith. He loved the area. “I could drive down Greenwich in my Rolls and nobody cared, because their Rolls-Royces were bigger and newer,” he says. When Alice Cooper broke up in the mid-’70s, Smith decided to stay in Connecticut. In 1985 his then girlfriend suggested that he enroll in a real estate course with her. As soon as he procured his license, his girlfriend’s mom, a local realtor, offered him a job. He sold his first property in less than two weeks.
Smith started driving around Fairfield County, scouting out listings every day. Sales came naturally to him. “It’s like the music business — you learn the rudiments, but when you start going on the road, it has to come from inside of you,” he says. At first Smith was reluctant to tout his rock-and-roll pedigree. But in the 1990s a friend persuaded him to market himself online using the name Rock n’ Realtor. Since then a few fans have sought him out — but most clients don’t know his past. Today Smith works for William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty selling high-end properties in Connecticut (his biggest transaction involved a $5 million home). He hasn’t given up on music. Smith reunited with Alice Cooper last year for the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; he also has a solo act called KillSmith. Like Alice Cooper, KillSmith is a “dark, sinister character,” says Smith. He just happens to sell houses on the side.
Advice for career changers
Follow your passion. “A lot of people just suffer and go from one career to another,” says Smith. “Find something that you’re interested in and learn about it before you venture out.”
Be patient. “When you get into business, don’t necessarily think you’re going to make money in the first year. You’re building your sphere of influence.”
Play the long game. “In real estate the only thing someone can’t take away from you is your reputation. You have to be graceful, and you have to be honest.”
This story is from the October 29, 2012 issue of Fortune.