Architect looking to become RE Developer

Cadmonkey117's picture
Rank: Baboon | 129

Hi WSO, been lurking on these forums for some time and have just made this account to ask for help.

25 yr old, graduated 2015 from an architecture program in Florida and immediately realized I wanted to get to development instead. I want to decide what gets built and why, raise the funds, pitch the ideas to investors, and hire a team to make it happen - as an architect all I can do is decide what a building looks like, and even that isn't always in my hands. I am about 6 months to a year from finishing my architect license and other credentials before the career switch and in that time period I would like to come up with a game plan of how to tackle the change.

Unfortunately I have taken close to no finance / economics in my undergrad degree so I am thinking I should get a Masters in Real Estate Development while working part-time or find some other way to develop those skills and work for a developer. The issue with getting a masters is that with reputable degrees costing anywhere between $60,000 - $150,000, I cannot foot all of that student debt only to wind up with an analyst position when I already make $52,000 as an architect. My savings are rather meager and I can't really go flipping homes in the super competitive and over-gentrified Miami market I find myself in. I have picked the brains of some of the developers I've met at work / Urban Land Institute events and their answers to this question vary from "get a brokers license" to "just go and do it" to "get an MBA" and frankly the more I ask the more confused I get.

Goal: Real Estate Development Manager position at a medium - large firm, preferably on the West Coast
Skills: Some project management, mostly construction related and permitting. Understanding of construction materials and process, contracts etc, as well as what a property needs to be / look like to be usable, comfortable and conforming to zoning & other codes.

TL,DR: young and ambitious but cash-strapped and in the wrong field

Comments (9)

Apr 18, 2017

Project Management/ Construction side all the way. I would stick with the architect gig for now and after a couple years you could easily lateral over, I know of a lot of architects who moved into development.

    • 1
Apr 18, 2017

Thanks for the quick reply. That answer surprises me - I thought that by following that path I would be basically in the same pickle, I.E. figuring out how to build someone else's idea, except that as the architect I decide what goes where, as the Project Manager / Construction / Contracting I figure out how it gets built. Could you elaborate in more detail on how I could lateral over? Should I get a GC license? Or sign up for a Construction Management Masters and work as a project manager in a big company till I move up the totem pole to Development Manager?

Sorry for the newbie questions, I have much to learn.

Apr 20, 2017

I'm pretty young so most of the people whom I know that are/were architects that now work in development are a good bit older than me but they probably went in as an in house architect type person first or after a couple years of architecture, moved into project management.

Apr 19, 2017

My background is architecture so I feel your pain. The difference is I never went to work for an architecture company. I went straight to a large brokerage out of undergrad. Think CBRE, JLL, Cushman. They are often times willing to hire Assistant Project Managers to their team with an architecture background.

I knew I wanted to eventually get into Development, but as you are likely seeing without some finance experience it's pretty hard. Most Development Companies are extremely small or extremely competitive to get in to. I got my Masters in Real Estate Development while working, if you're dedicated you can get this done while staying at work. After finishing my Master's I networked my way into a small development team, most of what I'm doing has been learned on the job so don't be intimidated by an analyst position. Get in and prove your worth.

Keep in contact with all of the Developer's you've been talking too, you never know one day they may be your next boss. NETWORK...NETWORK....NETWORK...show your dedication to learning the industry. Read all that you can about finance and how deals are structured and think about how combining that with your architecture/construction/project management background can give you a competitive advantage over other candidates. Not everyone can take a deal from start to finish...

Most of all hang in there...keep at it and eventually a door will open if this is what you want. Took me four years to make the switch and rebrand myself from "Architect" but it was worth the wait.

    • 2
Apr 19, 2017
REDevJunkie:

My background is architecture so I feel your pain. The difference is I never went to work for an architecture company. I went straight to a large brokerage out of undergrad. Think CBRE, JLL, Cushman. They are often times willing to hire Assistant Project Managers to their team with an architecture background.

I knew I wanted to eventually get into Development, but as you are likely seeing without some finance experience it's pretty hard. Most Development Companies are extremely small or extremely competitive to get in to. I got my Masters in Real Estate Development while working, if you're dedicated you can get this done while staying at work. After finishing my Master's I networked my way into a small development team, most of what I'm doing has been learned on the job so don't be intimidated by an analyst position. Get in and prove your worth.

Keep in contact with all of the Developer's you've been talking too, you never know one day they may be your next boss. NETWORK...NETWORK....NETWORK...show your dedication to learning the industry. Read all that you can about finance and how deals are structured and think about how combining that with your architecture/construction/project management background can give you a competitive advantage over other candidates. Not everyone can take a deal from start to finish...

Most of all hang in there...keep at it and eventually a door will open if this is what you want. Took me four years to make the switch and rebrand myself from "Architect" but it was worth the wait.

Thanks for your comment. So would you think that based on my situation and your personal experience a good plan for the next 5 yrs or so would be to:

  1. Stick around architecture long enough to grasp project management a little better, finish my license, get LEED AP etc.
  2. Learn Argus and Pro Formas on the side while stepping up my attendance to ULI and AIA networking events and lectures
  3. Apply as assistant project manager to a firm like CBRE in a city I want to go to, leveraging any connections I have if possible
  4. Work my way to project manager while getting MRED degree part-time
  5. Graduate and network into a development manager position
Apr 19, 2017
Apr 20, 2017

Thanks! I'm quite familiar with him and his work, but I wouldn't know how to approach him given that there are people who pay him hundreds just to watch his videos. I would love to approach him but I think I would be either ignored or redirected to his online lectures.

Best Response
Apr 20, 2017

Your background, financial situation, and rationale for wanting to work in development, was identical to mine 4 years ago. What have you been doing since you got your architecture degree? Sounds like you aren't licensed but are maybe in construction? I spent 3.5 years in design-build construction management before pursuing a T20 full-time MBA at a strong real estate school. I had no business background either and hence felt an MBA (but a RE focused program) would help shore up my deficiencies in accounting/finance/economics/private equity etc..Interned 2/4 semesters at local developers while in school and summered at an institutional RE investment shop. None of these doors would have opened had I not gone back. It's very easy for people to say network hard but the job market is saturated with high quality candidates and understanding finance/business is essentially as I'm sure you know. Grad degrees are almost required these days at any of the top tier firms. Any medium/large firm you want to go to will want to see a strong MBA degree (can't comment on MRED--you might ask others who went that route from architecture) if you didn't start in business in undergrad. For MBAs, I would stick to Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley, or UT for West Coast placement. These schools all have strong RE offerings. For MRED, you can't go wrong with USC.

If you want to work for a large developer in the capacity you mention, a grad degree will help you tremendously. It might even be a requirement (i.e. Hines, Related, etc..) It will cost money upfront but your earning power goes up right out of school and whats $100K today when hit the 3rd promote bucket on a deal 10 years down the road and make $1M+..try to join the best name construction firm (or developer with an in-house GC) and get that on your resume before going to grad school. This helps with your story and admissions at top programs.

If you want to do your own thing, now is the time to try. You can always go back to school, but you are only young once. Now is the time to fail if you do elect to teach yourself and try to put a deal together. If you go this route, try to partner with a broker/money guy and you can oversee/hire the GC and design work. Most guys never try (I'm included). It's by far the path of most resistance relative to the top tier MBA (regardless of how hard the GMAT might be for you) but it's an option nonetheless.

Apr 21, 2017
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