Switching Careers to Break Into CRE

I'm currently in Commercial Banking (Lending Analyst) in Chicago and looking to make an industry switch into Real Estate. I graduated last spring so I'm planning on leaving after my bonus hits in May. 

What's a good entry level role I should be aiming for? I've heard suggestions to join the research department at one of the big 4 firms (CBRE is big in Chicago) but I don't want to leave my job (which is front office but not paid like it) for a back/middle office role. The departments I'm most interested in are Acquisitions, Capital Markets, or Asset Management, from what I've read on this sub-forum. 

For context, my goal is to make my way up the CRE ladder and become a broker. Once I have enough capital, partner up and become a developer. Roast me if you want but I find it helpful to know what someone's long-term goals are when giving advice for the short-term.

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Comments (8)

Apr 7, 2021 - 12:50pm

They hire analysts, but you'll generally deal with clients more than a traditional IBD analyst would (a little vs none). Like IB, most analysts have aspirations beyond the brokerage side of the business, but if your goal is actually brokerage, you'll have better shot at landing a role. If your goal is to do brokerage and then become a developer, you should seek out a land sales team in a hot market like Austin, Nashville, Denver, Seattle, etc, as those places provide the best opportunity to break into the space. You will have the opportunity to get on the deal side and making real money quickly and you will work with all the developers in your market which makes for an easy transition to the development game since you will already work with everyone needed to make a deal happen. 

Apr 6, 2021 - 8:51am

Jho Low

I've heard suggestions to join the research department at one of the big 4 firms (CBRE is big in Chicago) but I don't want to leave my job (which is front office but not paid like it) for a back/middle office role.

As FYI, research (or research/strategy if buyside) is a front office role in real estate, it is core component of the business. At at lot of the brokerages, the research associates will move to production roles in-house (on some teams, this is a pre-planned transition route). If not "production" oriented (i.e. don't want to be a sales person), research associates can move to buyside research/strategy, consulting/valuation, or just about anything else really (like acq/am). 

So, getting any client facing (or pathway to client facing role) should be your goal if you really want to do the switch and have a pathway to broker. Analyst or research associate roles are common entry level pathways at brokerage shops. (FYI, you say your goal is being a broker... .yet you list buyside roles in acq, cap mrk and AM, not is sure if you realize you are mixing buyside and sellside phraseology or not)

Caveat... be sure to read the details of the role, the team, etc. Not all things are equal, and titles/phrases get used VERY loosely in the real estate world (ah em... CBRE is maybe the worst offender).

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Apr 7, 2021 - 2:49am

Thanks for the detailed response. ig the reason I listed those divisions were that a lot of people on this sub seem to be buyside. From what I've picked up recently on this forum, getting an analyst position in investment sales is tougher than an analyst position in research. If I can't land a position in investment sales I will definitely look for research positions as it seems interesting to me, although I was afraid it was a step backwards, which is not to the case. 

Regarding CBRE, that's funny you point that out. I have never been more confused trying to figure out the org chart of a company. For IB, it's clear that there is sales/trading, corporate finance, mergers, equity/debt research, capital markets, etc., however for CRE shops, I have no clue how it is split up. Research, brokerage, asset management, capital markets, and acquisitions?

For IB, a lot of students seek M&A. I'm curious, is there a division in CRE which is highly sought after by graduates?

Most Helpful
Apr 7, 2021 - 8:50am

Jho LowFrom what I've picked up recently on this forum

Be super cautious with what you can "pick up" on this forum.. a lot of very powerful, forceful statements are made with 100% confidence they are true and correct by people who are prospects and interns. In fairness, many of those types are great contributors, very helpful, and knowledgeable.... but stuff comes to treated as fact that is only sometimes true.

Getting an entry level role in investment sales is a prime example.... What people are likely (or often) referring to is how hard it is to get an analyst/entry level position on one of the "top" big name investment sales teams in the major markets (I.e Darcy Stacom's team in CBRE NYC). Those positions are probably as hard, if not harder than getting analyst roles at BB i-banks (I mean, they hire from i-banks so...). This sentiment is not universally true for all of IS brokerage, or brokerage in general. 

Still, the harder it is to get the gig, the better it is of course! Thus, I generally recommend people wide cast their applications if they are serious about jobs in this field. The truth is you just need to get "in", what/where exactly less important, you will move around and figure it out. Unlike the banking world, where you start matters a whole lot less in real estate (doesn't mean a top spot day one can't be valuable, it can, but just tons more pathways people follow). So, getting a legit job is the goal. And as I often say... the best job offer is the one you get.

other points/answers to your Qs...

- CBRE org chart is basically a blender of people where practically everyone is a VP of some sort, they give the title "Chairman" to sales people, and they have many business units seemingly doing the same thing - They are not unique in this, JLL is starting to look the same way (too many acquisitions of firms) (the most important breakaway is the legit buyside investment mngt companies, like CBRE GI and LaSalle, they very much not part of CBRE brokerage and JLL respectively) 

- CRE is inherently an asset based business, thus I find it helpful to divide the world in to "sellside" (making fees for services) and "buyside" (profiting on the ownership of assets and providing investment mngt services to investors) - This generally makes it easy to see who does what (note, firms can be on "both" sides in various divisions)

- Trying to find an organizing principal that most "CRE shops" are setup by will leave you confused, it doesn't exist. I'll try some high level....

- Sellside - Brokers (three big categories here - Investment Sales, Debt/Equity Placement, Leasing aka Landlord/Tenant Rep), Appraisers, Consultants, Prop Mngt, and other service providers (there are tons)

- Buyside - Owners/Developers (sometimes called Sponsors or GPs), equity investors/fund (sometimes call LPs or allocators), debt investors/funds aka lenders

- Buyside divisions (front office) - Acquisitions, Asset Management, Capital Markets/IR, Research/Strategy (you can then add all the standard back office functions like accounting, HR, etc.)

Final note, trying to fit individual firms (especially big ones) into boxes or categories (a WSO fav thing to do, followed by ranking them...) is a fool's errand. There is often used term, "REPE", which is comically meaningless in the real world/industry but often cited on WSO all the time. LifeCo is another horribly abused term on this forum. Would take too long to even try to explain why, but people generally get the concept of business mode/strategy mixed up with fund/structure with firm type all the time. (prime examples are PGIM, Hines, Related, and Prologis - people mis-state the nature of these firms and their businesses all the time.... spoiler alert, they are diversified real estate firms doing many thing). 

i.e. PGIM get's called a "LifeCo" yet ranks 14th on the PERE 100 list for its private equity strategy fundraising 

Hines is known as a "developer" yet has a huge investment fund business and does 3rd party services (i.e sellside)

Related is known as an "owner operator" yet runs its own equity funds 

Prologis is known as "REIT" yet about 50% of its AUM is from private fund management from 3rd party investors (i.e. just like an "REPE" firm).

So, just apply for jobs and figure it out, don't trust WSO lore, this business does not organize itself to be understood!

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