Breaking into commercial development

Rex Grossman's picture
Rank: Monkey | banana points 39

Hey guys,

I have about 2 years exp. out of a top tier UG in the Arch/Eng/Construction industry (mech. eng), and am starting a MSRE at Georgetown next semester. Is it likely that the route I am taking to get a MS in Real Estate will help me break into an associate/asst. pm position at commercial developer say, JBG, Hines, or Trammel Crow?

Has anyone taken a similar path to get into Real Estate development that can offer any advice, or advice on how to network into one of those positions?

-Rex

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Comments (18)

Dec 28, 2017

Are you hoping to stay in DC after school? My response will depend on this.

But generally, the answer to your question is 'yes, you're doing fine.' Appropriate bachelor degree, a little work experience, and a good quality MSRE from a university in the MSA. While there's no defined path to get into development, you're on basically the most typical trajectory toward a development associate role.

The only downside is that there will be lots of people like you, so hopefully you can bring something more to the table, in addition to what you've described. Do you have leadership experience, entrepreneurial experience, management experience, or a history of success in ambiguous, unpredictable environments? Are you highly emotionally intelligent? Or do you have a critical/complex framework for making investment decisions? Do you read a lot? Do you have a wide variety of non-real estate interests? Any of these things would help round you out as a candidate, because the best developers tend to the jack-of-all-trades/renaissance-man type of person.

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Dec 29, 2017

Yes the plan is to stay in the DC metro area after school, since this market is great for what I want to do. Aside from knowing what I want to do in life, I do agree it's important to be conscious of your story. I have had quite an interesting trip to get to where I am now and believe that I can sell that story very well. I'm a southerner, so I gravitate towards things outdoors; fishing, swimming, triathlons, and recently picked up BJJ.

Would you say that I should wait until I am further along in the program to try and transition to one of these roles, or wait out my current position (at a very well respected Architecture firm, (Gensler, AECOM, Perkins + Will) and network through our clients? A mix of both? What skills would you say are most valuable to someone to succeed in the development industry?

Dec 28, 2017

I wouldn't wait to go after the development job - the sooner you can start, the better!

Start networking with your clients now. This is a much easier path than cold-calling firms or networking through ULI (though you should definitely join ULI and be active), because presumably you already have a relationship with these firms. You can also reach out to other consultants that you've worked with (MEP designers, landscape, contractors, etc) to find out which clients they think are the best to work for.

I've been on the receiving end of plenty of cold-calls/emails, and I am usually happy to help out, meet up, and give advice. But I'd caution you against being too aggressive. You're asking someone for a piece of their most valuable resource (time), so be respectful. If they don't respond right away I don't recommend 'checking in' on a regular basis. It's pretty annoying, and it makes people remember you - in a bad way. Follow up once a couple of weeks later, then let it go.

@jtl1002 had a good point about how development roles can vary a lot between firms. What kind of shop are you interested in?

To answer your question about skills... Younger RE/Dev professionals tend to focus too much on technical skills, and not enough on soft skills/leadership traits. Anyone can learn how to build a proforma in excel. It's not rocket science. And you will learn hard skills faster while on the job than you can in a classroom or self-taught way. So here are some skills and traits that I think are important to be 'the best' in development. Plenty of people make do without these, but this is how you stand out:

  • Since you will eventually be the leader of the project team, self-awareness is key. You will be working with lots of different types of people, for example some who make $500k+ per year, and people that make $8/hr. Investors, community activists, neighbors, contractors, laborers, vendors, city officials, and so on. You need to be able to relate to these people equally well, which means you need to be very aware of how you come across to different people. This trait will serve you better than any single skill, and you can train yourself to be more self-aware over time.
  • Learn to be an clear and efficient communicator. You have the advantage of being in a very visual discipline, so you can supplement your communication with drawings, which is a HUGE help when dealing with consultants. Now, if you send 500+ word emails, you're probably doing it wrong. At the end of writing an email, or at the end of a meeting, ask yourself if your team would be able to verbally summarize their action items. It's the developer's responsibility to keep everyone focused on moving the ball down the field.
  • Be an exceptional listener. Once you are in charge, it's easy to feel like others should be listening to what you have to say, but it actually works the other way around. You are the decision maker, and you need your team of pro's to give you all of the tools you need to make the decision. That means that you should be listening far more than you're speaking. This is doubly important because not everyone is a strong communicator (see above) and you sometimes need to really drill down to better understand where someone is coming from.

You already probably know CAD and Revit, which will be big benefits for your team. You also have an insider's view on how the design process works, and how much time is needed for certain tasks (so you'll know when someone is padding their schedule).

I would focus on improving your knowledge of contracts and construction, if you aren't excellent in these areas. Ask to sit in on negotiating AIA contracts. Consider asking for a CA assignment, if you don't have this experience yet.

Good luck!

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Dec 29, 2017

I think you're set up great to land with a developer with your background + an MSRE, however, it depends entirely on what you want to do with a developer.

A Development Associate at one Developer can be entirely different than at another.

For example, A Development Analyst/Associate at a Hines/Related type shop, is a heavy finance role with many coming from MBAs, IB, Funds, etc. whereas at a smaller shop, it can be the complete opposite and be heavy project management focused.

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Feb 14, 2018

start with the search function.

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Feb 14, 2018

Ya, I've taken a cursory look over the options, and I'm thinking REIT operations side is the best fit, as acquisitions and development really interest me in both the commercial and multifamily space (do I have to choose?). You have any advice of how to break into this sector? Any top companies to reach out to?

Feb 14, 2018

I'm not really understanding this post.

Use the search bar, as was said above. You need to get a better handle on how the industry works. There are tons of resources out there. Do some homework and then come back.

Feb 14, 2018

My old neighbor is a pretty successful developer. I asked him how do you get started? He answered, put the money together and start.

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Feb 14, 2018
5ways2doit:

My old neighbor is a pretty successful developer. I asked him how do you get started? He answered, put the money together and start.

exactly. Just raise millions of dollars, ya dummy!

Feb 14, 2018
5ways2doit:

My old neighbor is a pretty successful developer. I asked him how do you get started? He answered, put the money together and start.

If you can find dumb money go for it.. i know guys that I consider to be shitty developers/investors.. still get stuff done because they're backed by the right people

Feb 14, 2018

Work for a developer.. skip the brokerage crap.. work for free if you have to.. development shops are lean.. only one way to learn

Feb 14, 2018

exactly. Just raise millions of dollars, ya dummy!

[/quote] @"prospie"

If you can find dumb money go for it.. i know guys that I consider to be shitty developers/investors.. still get stuff done because they're backed by the right people

[/quote]
@"scott hartnell"

Finding the money is the trick. You can use a small amount and invest with a developer on a larger project. A developer will be more willing to show you the ropes if you have skin in the game.

I am no developer just know a couple. One is even a high school dropout. He worked two full time jobs for three years saving his money, then finally invested in a large project along with an established developer. 10 years later he is building condominiums on South Beach!

Best Response
Dec 30, 2017

Just my two cents, but networking aggressively is going to be the difference maker that will ultimately land you a development job if you are trying to make a lateral transition from the A/E consultant side of the business. There are hundreds of similar Georgetown MS grads jockeying for these types of jobs, in addition to MBAs targeting DC for post-grad employment. Many of them have underwriting experience or a slightly more direct value add proposition to a development firm than you do. That is not mentioned to discourage you, but rather encourage you to think carefully of how to frame your story of what you can offer a developer. Can you help negotiate better terms in an AIA contract with consultants? Understand design phasing/construction scheduling better? Leverage your existing relationships with subcontractors to get better terms at a new shop?

I would recommend starting to cold call every development shop in town to meet with their development team staff as a coffee introduction, and simply stay on their radar by checking in every few weeks. This is how I got both of my development jobs--it is honestly a mix of aggressive networking, timing and luck.

FYI--just keep in mind the shops you mentioned will be tough to enter with your profile (but go for it, you have nothing to lose). Hines rarely hires outside of MBA track for dev team positions. Pre-merger, JBG would typically hire directly out of undergrad, and encourage a 2-3 year work cycle before pushing their junior employees to get MBA (limited growth track). I'm not sure how that has shifted post-REIT listing.

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