Career Path to become a Real Estate Developer

civilengineer's picture
Rank: Chimp | banana points 14

I'm thinking about getting a Real Estate Development Certificate that my school offers. It's four extra classes and wouldn't delay my graduation. The only downside is I pay an extra $2000 for tuition, and it might hurt my already fragile GPA.

I'm also thinking about getting my MBA or MSRED if need be. I'm targeting Columbia, MIT, and my undergrad as a last choice.

Questions:

  1. Is there any way I can jump into real estate development with my civil engineering background and real estate development certificate straight out of undergrad?
  2. If not, what would be the best career path to take to get into real estate development or to get accepted into an MBA/MSRED program?
  3. As far as civil engineering careers, I've already ruled out transportation and structural engineering. Would being a project manager/engineer for a General Contractor be my best? What about land development for a civil firm?
  4. Overall, the end goal is being a developer. So what's the best career path I should take? I most likely would enjoy any of the possible paths.

How To Get Into Real Estate Development

When pursuing a career in real estate development, a strong understanding of finance is essential. Doing a Real Estate Development Certificate that provides this or other courses during your undergrad will be key to breaking into the industry. There is a lot of room for generalists in the development industry and you can play on these strengths.

Real Estate Developer Joe Armato, shares his perspective on how to break into the industry.

An MBA may be overkill in this case. It is common for people in their undergrad to feel like a master's program is required but for real estate development, a firm foundation in finance is sufficient. An MBA is extremely expensive and time-consuming. In this particular case, it won't do much to give you an edge. If down the line, your career path transitions or you feel you would benefit from more experience, you can always go back to school.

cpgame - Commercial Real Estate:

My background is not all too far from yours--I got my undergrad degree in architecture and opted to pursue construction management at a large GC/developer right out of school. This experience will give you a great perspective on development as you'll understand how projects are bid out, costs are managed, and buildings are delivered. You'll also be one of the few developers who has actually built a building. You'll be on the other side of the table as a developer but think about the questions you'll be able to ask your GC after getting 3-5 years of experience as a GC or developer? Working at a civil firm doing land development could be good too if you're working with developers and seeing the entitlement process through your work.

Experience always prevails in this industry--I work with quite a few undergrad interns who all seem to think that getting a master's degree is a golden ticket and I don't think this could be further from the truth. You can always go back to school to improve your business knowledge but if you have an opportunity to get experience in the field you want now, absolutely do it. Just think, if/when the cycle turns (many feel the next two years will bring this) you can go back to school and hopefully time it so you come out when the bottom has cleared out.

Getting Into Real Estate Development

Real Estate Developers come from a variety of backgrounds including engineering, design, construction, and finance. It is an industry where prior experience is essential. You will want exposure to the industry in some capacity. You can approach this from a variety of ways.

Watch the video below about how to become a real estate developer.

A popular way to get experience is through an internship, either paid or unpaid, before or after graduation. Working in construction is also very beneficial as it's great to have on-the-ground experience and understand the ins and outs prior to the development route. Even previous experience as a real estate agent has been known to help get your foot in the door for developing.

RE Dev - Commercial Real Estate Developer:

There's no set path. Everyone at my company has a unique path whether it was starting on the tenant side, working in brokerage, working in banking, engineering, and multiple others. The best way is to get exposure to the industry in some capacity, learn as much as you can so you know what you're talking about when you land the interviews, and most importantly, show your passion to work in the industry.

Read More About Real Estate Development On WSO

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Comments (33)

Jul 9, 2016

You ask good questions and cheers for having clearly thought this out. Yes, you can break in to development though many developers may not be hiring right now because we are nearing the peak of the cycle. If you can get in to a development or investment firm now, do it.

My advice to you would be this: learn basic finance while you are in undergrad--if a RED certificate gives you this, I don't see why you couldn't make this move. Investment shops will want to see this as will developers. You'll play the generalist card (I understand civil engineering and finance) which can be valuable for firms who need employees to wear multiple hats. My background is not all too far from yours--I got my undergrad degree in architecture and opted to pursue construction management at a large GC/developer right out of school. This experience will give you a great perspective on development as you'll understand how projects are bid out, costs are managed, and buildings are delivered. You'll also be one of the few developers who has actually built a building. You'll be on the other side of the table as a developer but think about the questions you'll be able to ask your GC after getting 3-5 years of experience at a GC or developer? Working at a civil firm doing land development could be good too if you're working with developers and seeing the entitlement process through your work.

I would get the certificate, because at cost of an MBA or MSRED will trump a $2000 price tag and you may find you don't even need it. You'll want to emphasize your finance experience/skills on your resume if you truly want to get away from engineering. Developers come from a variety of fields and there is not one perfect way to get there. Many of the top folks I've met started as brokers who felt understanding the leasing process was a great primer on development--after all, these leases and the demand for them translates into NOI and informs the success of your project. If you want to go buyside right away (brokerage is sales), you can try to get in with a sponsor/developer as an analyst. Join ULI, network hard, and tell people who you are and what you're interested in doing.

Experience always prevails in this industry--I work with quite a few undergrad interns who all seem to think getting a master's is a golden ticket and I don't think this could be further from the truth. You can always go back to school to improve your business knowledge but if you have an opportunity to get experience in the field you want now, absolutely do it. Just think, if/when the cycle turns (many feel the next two years will bring this) you can go back to school and hopefully time it so you come out when the bottom has cleared out.

Lastly, depending on your GPA (if you are at a 3.25 or above) I would 100% try to get an internship during your fall and spring semesters. Be willing to work unpaid in exchange for flexible working hours (around your class schedule) if you can't get a paid gig. This experience will place you exactly where you need to be upon graduating next May and will give you a head start from your peers also seeking a similar gig.

Jul 9, 2016

Yep absolutely. Thats the best thing about development, there is no one answer to get to your end goal. Some guys get into development from a finance background and dealmaking on the street, others come from the dirt or technical background such as engineering majors/design/construction then to RE. I think you should keep all options open so apply to jobs at large GC's, design firms and RE firms that do development. The basics of being able to transition to development is knowing the technical side coupled with some basic RE finance.

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Jul 10, 2016
civilengineer:

Is there anyway I can jump into real estate development with my civil engineering background and real estate development certificate straight out of undergrad?

Yes, almost certainly. I would caution against it though. Civil is something I wish I understood far better as a developer. If you worked for a Civil firm for a year or two before you transferred, that experience and resume point would be fantastic.

civilengineer:

If not, what would be the best career path to take to get into real estate development or to get accepted into a MBA/MSRED program? ...I'm also thinking about getting my MBA or MSRED if need be. I'm targeting Columbia, MIT, and my undergrad as a last choice.

Hah, Civil Engineering would be the best career path for you, personally. As far as schools, definitely put Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, NYC, and Cornell in there and take MIT off the list because they require 3 years of direct experience. As far as your undergrad, I'm assuming Florida, T A&M, Auburn, or Clemson. All of those MSRED programs would get you where you need to go.

civilengineer:

As far civil engineering careers, I've already ruled out transportation and structural engineering (although I enjoy it). Would being a project manager/engineer for a General Contractor be my best best? What about land development for a civil firm?

I would stick with a civil firm and try to get in with the biggest name you can. If you're not doing this long term and want to get into development, the goal is to learn and make connections.

civilengineer:

Overall, end goal is being a developer (either owner or VP of development). So what's the best career path I should take? I most likely would enjoy any of the possible paths.

Civil Engineer -> Development Analyst -> Development Associate -> Development Manager -> Etc.

Civil Engineer -> MSRED -> Development Associate -> Development Manager -> Etc.

Just comes down to if you can make the switch on your own or not.

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Jul 10, 2016

You're asking on a pretty broad scale. Do you know geographically where you want to be? That would narrow down the options considerably. As far as financial modeling is concerned, if you join any firm in a development role, it will likely be as a financial or research analyst.

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Jul 10, 2016

I had an interesting path. After law school I worked for the law firm of Herbert Kalmbach, Nixon's personal atty ... then worked in the Middle East ... I later was the Deputy Undersecretary of the dept of the interior ... went to work for the Bass family ... struck out on my own with money FROM the bass family ... Fast forward to today and I run a $25b portfolio. It took time but it's been an enjoyable ride.

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Jul 10, 2016

The Fort Worth, TX Bass family?

Jul 10, 2016

Good one Tom

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Jul 10, 2016
prospie:

I had an interesting path. After law school I worked for the law firm of Herbert Kalmbach, Nixon's personal atty ... then worked in the Middle East ... I later was the Deputy Undersecretary of the dept of the interior ... went to work for the Bass family ... struck out on my own with money FROM the bass family ... Fast forward to today and I run a $25b portfolio. It took time but it's been an enjoyable ride.

Tommy B what up

Robert Clayton Dean: What is happening?
Brill: I blew up the building.
Robert Clayton Dean: Why?
Brill: Because you made a phone call.

Jul 10, 2016

I did research and analysis for under two retail investment sales guys for about 2.5 years. I then got an acquisitions analyst job with a smaller REPE shop about 8 months ago through a third party recruiter. I did a lot of resume spraying and got lucky.

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Jul 10, 2016

Born into it

Jul 10, 2016

haha

Jul 10, 2016

Applied online. Landed offer. Now working on skyscrapers and master planned communities. To be honest I have no idea how I ended up in the position. Lol

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Jul 10, 2016

That sounds awesome, I'm an intern currently at a Development company & I'm wondering what you think the Pro's are of working at a development company vs a REPE company?

Jul 10, 2016

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that pewpew was being sarcastic. Very sarcastic. Apologies for not being to answer your question though.

Jul 10, 2016

landlord rep leasing ----> development

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Jul 10, 2016

Brokered mortgages and worked for a developer for free on the side.

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Jul 10, 2016

2 resume submissions to their ad's, 2-3 emails (directly to the Managing Partner and a director), 2-3 calls to follow up, 6 months later I got lucky and got a call back. Just stayed on them.

Jul 10, 2016

REJunk, Did you send the 2-3 emails to Managing Partner and Director concurrent with the resume submission?

AND were those emails to MP and D unsolicited and specific as in "Here is why I would be a great fit for the Linkedin posting for XYZ position:"?

Jul 10, 2016

Bump because im also interested

Jul 10, 2016

I spent three years working as a commercial real estate appraiser and then got recruited.

Jul 10, 2016

Majored in finance at non-target and got a certificate in real estate while there. Last semester took an unpaid internship for a small developer. Worked 2 years in commercial real estate lending at MM bank. Applied to 7 developers/REITs/REPE, got interviews at 5, chose my current company. There's no set path. Everyone at my company has a unique path whether it was starting on the tenant side, working in brokerage, working in banking, engineering, and multiple others. Best way is to get exposure to the industry in some capacity, learn as much as you can so you know what you're talking about when you land the interviews, and most importantly, show your passion to work in the industry.

Learn More

Side-by-side comparison of top modeling training courses + exclusive discount through WSO here.

Jul 10, 2016

i think there are plenty of threads already on how to get into REPE.

you said to be nice and i admit that's not the nicest reply, so i apologize for that.

Jul 10, 2016

Realistically, your friend is "overqualified" to be an analyst for a real estate group (overqualified in the sense that you're looking at a guy who probably has 5 years of college and knows physical real estate probably better than the principal of the firm) but under qualified to be anything higher than an analyst since real estate development, etc. is far more than functional knowledge of physical real estate.

I would think his best bet is, unfortunately, more school. Real estate masters programs. I think there is one at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Overall, there aren't many real estate masters programs in the Midwest, which is unfortunate. I'm in the D.C. area--we have Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Georgetown, George Mason and VCU. We have basically too many. Chicago has virtually none that I'm aware of that has national repute.

Jul 10, 2016

He should probably stick out however many years he needs to get licensed. Then, I think his best bet to transition to real estate investment would be a project management role with a developer. I agree with DC that he's going to be overqualified and not an ideal hire for a junior analyst position, and more school may be necessary for re-branding, unless he can get in front of a developer and pitch himself well.

I know a couple guys that work for developers who are trained architects, so the switch isn't impossible. A smaller shop where employees need to "wear multiple hats," to use a stupid cliche, might be the type of place where he could fill a niche.

Jul 10, 2016

+1 to what Slothrop said. A small shop would be the best place to have an impact. There's too much division of labor at larger funds

Sep 5, 2018

Hi guys,
I'm interested in making a switch into development (preferably multifamily). I'm 28 years old and have been working as a visual arts high school teacher for the last 3 years. I studied visual arts and teaching, so completely unrelated to real estate or development. I do love reading about real estate and following the market though. I'm also a personal finance nerd and love efficiency and household finance. I've recently relocated to Dallas on a green card from Australia to get into development. Besides networking, what should my next move be? I'd rather not go back to school to "retrain" unless it's 100% necessary, I'd rather just get experience in the industry and go from there (even an unpaid internship to start). What should I do?

Most Helpful
Sep 7, 2018
Form_of_the_Orca:

Hi guys,
I'm interested in making a switch into development (preferably multifamily). I'm 28 years old and have been working as a visual arts high school teacher for the last 3 years. I studied visual arts and teaching, so completely unrelated to real estate or development. I do love reading about real estate and following the market though. I'm also a personal finance nerd and love efficiency and household finance. I've recently relocated to Dallas on a green card from Australia to get into development. Besides networking, what should my next move be? I'd rather not go back to school to "retrain" unless it's 100% necessary, I'd rather just get experience in the industry and go from there (even an unpaid internship to start). What should I do?

Highlighting your visual arts background, you may be able to serve in a similar capacity with a local real estate developer or architect firm. This would be a step in the right direction on your path to becoming a developer.

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Sep 10, 2018

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Oct 6, 2018
Oct 10, 2018