Career Path to become a Real Estate Developer

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.

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Comments (34)

Jul 9, 2016 - 1:24pm

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.

  • 3
Jul 9, 2016 - 10:34pm

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.

Jul 10, 2016 - 10:24am
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.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

  • 3
Jul 10, 2016 - 10:25am

Breaking Into Development (non-target school, non-recent grad) (Originally Posted: 08/18/2016)

Apologies if this seems redundant considering my first post to the forums. My first post was more geared towards "what are my options?", whereas now I have narrowed down my selection to (hopefully) getting hired into a development role, so I am strategizing to make myself as attractive of a candidate as possible, and trying to determine which styles of firms are realistically likely to give me a shot.

My background:

--31 y/o

--B.S. Marketing from non-target - 3.67 GPA

--MBA from non-target - B to B+ GPA (transcript request processing)

--3.5 years Multifamily Sales at 2nd Tier investment sales firm - 20+ transactions, $20M+ sales volume

--Other resume experience is mostly internships in marketing capacities (graduated from undergrad in summer 2009 so it was tough getting my career started).

--Financial modeling skills are lacking, but plan to purchase either BIWS, REFM, or Khar and get skills up to snuff if it will help improve my candidacy

--Likely opportunity to intern for a top Midwest development shop (20MM sq ft industrial developed, 2k multfiamily units developed, $1.5B capital raised). However, I am not trying to stay in the Midwest long-term (so I'm not looking to parlay the internship into a career with that same company).

--Father owns small warehouses (around 80k sq ft across ten or so properties). Not tremendously involved personally, but can probably spin it that way if it helps my cause.

I should also mention that I do have a bit of coin saved up and am willing to start as an unpaid intern for up to a year for the right opportunity and assuming it's not in a city with an extreme cost of living (i.e. I could afford to float myself for a year or so if my share of rent with a roommate is less than $1k/month, but more than that would not be doable).

I am just trying get an idea of what else I can do to make a me a more attractive candidate (beyond networking), and make sure I'm targeting firms that are not going to immediately discard my resume due to my work history and schooling.

I was hoping somebody could go through the buckets of companies, and give me an idea of how likely or unlikely they would be consider me as a hire based on:
(A) my current resume
(B) my current resume plus improved modeling skills
(C) my current resume plus improved modeling skills plus a one-year internship with a solid development company.

(props to @Virginia Tech 4ever" as I'm stealing from his list)

Companies:
--REIT (Liberty Property Trust, Prologis, etc.)
--Full-Service/General RE Corporations (CBRE, JLL, etc.)
--Small Real Estate Shops
--Large/National/International Developers (Tishman Speyer, Related Companies, Hines, etc.)
--Mid-size/Regional Developers
--Other avenues I'm not aware of?

I know there is some overlap here, but again, I'm just trying to get a feel for which types of companies are likely to consider me, which types of companies are a long shot, and which types of companies I have no chance in hell with, so that I can target and network accordingly. Thanks!

Jul 10, 2016 - 10:26am

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 - 10:27am

Can the guys who have already broken into RE PE or Development comment on how exactly they did it? (Originally Posted: 09/29/2014)

I think this would be a good thread for us to build up, and keep running as many of us are trying to break-into RE PE and Development and would greatly value the stories, insights and strategies of other group members who have been successful in this.

Regards.

Jul 10, 2016 - 10:28am

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.

Jul 10, 2016 - 10:37am

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 - 10:38am

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 - 10:44am

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.

Jul 10, 2016 - 10:45am

How to get to a Real Estate Development Fund (Originally Posted: 09/14/2013)

Posting this on behalf of a friend. So be nice you filthy apes!!

Hello,

I am an architect in Denver and I want to eventually work at a Real Estate Development Fund. My functional architecture knowledge is great and I am close to getting licensed, but unfortunately I have never studied finance.

Can someone please recommend some books to read about real estate specific finance or anything else that I can do to get up to speed on how deals work real esate development? I understand accounting and how to read financial statements but have never modeled any deals. Any advice would be appreciated.

P.S. This is not something that I expect to be an expert on within a year, I am more looking for how to start on a 3-5 year plan to get up to enough financial knowledge to be able to be valuable to a fund in addition to my architecture functional and operational skills.

Jul 10, 2016 - 10:47am

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 - 10:48am

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 - 10:49am

+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

Fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds of run. - Kipling
Nov 22, 2021 - 1:05pm

Hi,

This might be a long shot, but your experience might help me alot.

I'm 25yo, majored in Architecture and minored in Real Estate Development. I currently work as an architect on the design/construction side of things and working towards my RA license. I'm planning on pursuing a MRED degree and my end goal is to be a developer in the future. Do i need a MRED degree?  where you able to break into the development side of things and how did you leverage your Design/Construction skills given finance was a weakness?

Sep 5, 2018 - 11:42pm

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 - 12:50pm
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.
Sep 10, 2018 - 1:54am

Prior experience is essential in the developer industry. You can get experience from internships or RE courses workout scripts. GREL offers 250+ real estate scripts which enable you to close more deals by mastering what to do and how to say it.

Oct 6, 2018 - 1:36am

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