Advice for making a mid-career change into CRE

Thanks in advance to any CRE professionals who read this and can share wisdom. As my forum title said, I'm looking for advice on how to make a mid-career switch into CRE. I'm at a crossroads and thought this might be a good place to come for insight.

I spent the past 10 years working in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) analytics and research, supporting the large manufacturers that everyone is familiar with. My work was consultative, strategic, & analytical in nature, but what I was measuring (sales metrics, price elasticity, correlations, consumer behavior, etc) was much different than typical financial measures (Cap Rate, DCF, NPV, etc).That wasn't my first job, so obviously I'm not a fresh undergrad, and I know that my options are more limited at this point. Plus, the closest financial experience I have is from taking MIT"s commercial real estate finance & investment short course. 

About 5 years ago, I had opportunities with JLL in their HQ but passed because my wife was getting recruited for an out-of-state job. Given that I was comfortable with numbers & research, they thought Capital Markets could be a good fit which I was interested in. Our new city was a top 10 metro area and JLL didn't have the same breadth of opportunities there, so I stayed in my industry. A while later, I was introduced to a few guys at HFF who could get me an interview if I was interested. But at that point, my wife had been promoted to a C-level job, she had a crazy schedule, was the breadwinner, plus we had a one-year old. Being realistic, pursuing a job in Capital Markets wasn't going to mesh with my family life.  

My family has since relocated to Orange County California and the kids are a bit older, so I started exploring CRE again. Honestly, my wife has a great job and I don't need to work, but I want a life outside of home and genuinely liked real estate since I was a kid. I haven't had much luck generating interest over the past 1.5 years though: I've gotten no traction with research-related roles. Capital Markets always piqued my interest from being close to deals, but the reputable shops seem to require logging considerable hours. I'm not allergic to hard work, but have to be realistic about balancing family commitments (ie I can't be at the office from 7-7+ because of daycare drop offs & pick ups). Brokerage seems like it has a relatively low point of entry, but I get the sense that it's more critical to join a strong team (and landing in those positions can be difficult). I also toyed with the idea of finding smaller/ mid-size developers, say that I want to learn the industry and will work for free for a bit (since my family is in a fine financial position, and having any type of experience in CRE seems to be very important).

At this point, it seems like Brokerage and the development strategy I mentioned might be my best options to make a transition. Based on my experience, are there other areas of CRE that I might want to consider? You only know what you know, and I'd love some other points of view

Thanks

Comments (17)

 
Feb 17, 2021 - 7:06pm

Seeing that your wife is currently bringing home enough to support your family/lifestyle, I would definitely go the brokerage route and try to pick up some "low hanging fruit" type value add deals in your market after you have seen a few transactions go full cycle. I don't think there is a wrong answer here but I have heard of more success stories from guys making a career change and jumping into brokerage than any other.

 
Feb 18, 2021 - 1:46pm

I genuinely appreciate your response REDev. Based off what I could gather from your profile, it seems like you're on the development side, so you might not be the best person to ask: if I go the brokerage route, should I even consider exploring the bigger shops (CB, JLL, etc)? Do they usually follow a specific process (ie, hire someone straight from college into a training program)?  Or would it be a smarter play to find a smaller/ boutique shop?

 
Feb 18, 2021 - 9:31am

So you would be about as "non-standard" of a recruit as they come, nothing wrong with this, but don't be surprised if people looking for entry level people pass you over. A lot firms really just need the excel monkey who is willing to work 80+ hours in exchange for decent pay and chance to "make it bit" later on. 

Since you really don't want to do that, nor should you, apply for those roles is probably a waste of time. You do have legit corporate experience, that can be valuable, but not sure how/where to make fit (that's what you may want to figure out). 

If you really want to go into CRE in some path, brokerage is not a crazy idea (yes, you can get hired somewhere), but that is not an easy path. Again, if you don't really care or need to make a ton of money right way, then not a crazy place to learn/start.

At this point, I would look into joining some of the local/national real estate organizations and network internally, the more you learn about the business and industry the easier it will be to see a fit if one exists. I'd recommend NAIOP, ULI, and CCIM. There may be others worthwhile in the OC, but I am not there so cannot tell.  

 
Feb 18, 2021 - 3:00pm

Thanks for taking the time to give your POV. Honestly it's real helpful to have someone confirm that some roles won't materialize and just aren't an option. Not the worse thing as you said, I just need to be a bit more pointed with the paths I go down. Figuring out the right place has always been the tricky part. Even when I spoke with JLL a few years back- the H.R. BP's liked me a lot and thought I'd be a great fit with the firm, they just didn't know where

Career paths & opportunities were pretty linear in my previous role. However from some folks I've spoken with, I get the sense that CRE is the opposite, and you need experience to see what's out there. If I want to gain the most experience, what would you say? Try to hook up with a developer? In my research, I found an old Linkedin thread, where a guy said an option is to reach out to small/mid-sized developers, and say you'll work for free to learn. Since G&A costs are always a concern for them, making that type of proposal would get their attention. The guy who said that actually lives relatively close, and has a small family shop that focuses on urban infill MF projects. He's taken people under his wing and I'll likely reach out. Do you have any thoughts on that type of strategy? Honestly it's not like I'm doing shit anyways

I appreciate the real estate organizations you listed, I'll explore them too.

Thanks again

 
Feb 18, 2021 - 4:12pm

I guess the question I would pose back to you is.... "how do you add value to a real estate organization" (whatever kind you are looking at)

If you can answer that based on your corp experience and prior training, you have your answer. I suspect the more you talk/network with people in the industry, the easier it will be to find that answer. I can't really speculate if its more likely with a "small" firm or a large one. I guess you could go back and get a MSRE/D, and reset yourself that way. But, I wouldn't even consider venturing that path until you are really sure what it is you want to do and how you add value.

If you don't want to be a sales person (the ultimate role of a broker), don't do it just because it has a low barrier to entry. That usually does not end well. If it does align with your skills/background/desires, then by all means go for it. 

 
Feb 18, 2021 - 11:41am

If you don't need to work why don't you just buy a small property? I'd suggest a small 2-10 unit multifamily asset.

You'll accelerate up the learning curve 2-3x faster than working for someone else. If you don't make any money, it won't matter, from a career standpoint, as now you'll be very employable across the industry.

Ain't rocket science, folks!

 
Feb 18, 2021 - 2:07pm

Good point and that's something I've considered. My wife and I have been looking for a local investment property, and we toyed with the idea of me starting a small RE company with a few units. We're in Irvine and attractive properties get scooped up quick, plus Orange County is pretty expensive (generally speaking). I think that's where I'm hesitant- putting a few hundred thousand dollars of our own money into a MF, vs giving that money to our financial advisor who's gotten us ~10% return YOY. Opportunity costs though- the MF option could get me experience which would be helpful in the long run... plus I'm not acquiring debt by going back to school

 
Feb 19, 2021 - 3:18am

Try a local bank or IB firm in your area as a development/construction analyst and get some time in to see the whole development and underwriting cycle from a safe learning on the job space. Then you'll have some idea what it's all about, type of real estate you like best and what the risk patterns are for each asset class. Lots of CRE shops in OC.

 
Feb 22, 2021 - 12:39pm

That's an interesting option and I really like that idea, thanks. I hadn't considered it, simply because banks (and probably IB firms more so) seem to be specific about the analysts they bring in (ie fresh out of undergrad, someone with a couple of years in a dedicated financial reporting role, etc). I have an analytic background but wasn't measuring performance with standard financial metrics... combine that with my age, and I didn't gain much traction when exploring various real estate analyst roles. I completed a CRE analysis & investment short course, so it's not like I have zero familiarity with core metrics though. I'd have no problem taking additional coursework (RE financial modeling courses, etc) if it would help get my foot in the door

I'll explore development analyst roles as you suggested and see where it leads. I don't want to discount potential opportunities, but also need to be realistic about what I'm best suited for given that I'm pushing 40. If you have any other thoughts to share, I'd love to hear them

 
Feb 23, 2021 - 2:52am
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