by Brian DeChesare Comments (99)

How to Break Into Commercial Real Estate and Build an Empire

Commercial Real Estate Groups

This is a guest post from Mike Moran, CFA, a portfolio manager at a long-only asset management firm. He started Life on the Buy Side to teach you what it’s like working in asset management, hedge funds, and more.

When it comes to commercial real estate, you’ve got two choices: do something extremely risky, or do something boring and conservative.

OK, you could also pick something middle of the spectrum – but what fun is that?

If you have your sights set on building a real estate empire, you’re going to have to take the leap and embrace the risk with open arms.

Here’s how to do it:

Risk, Reward, and Reality

With commercial real estate, it’s easiest to think of investment opportunities from least risky to most risky and then analyze the players in each category:

  • Least Risky: Core Real Estate – Acquire and Operate Existing Properties
  • More Risky: Value-Added and Opportunistic Strategies – Improve Existing Properties
  • Most Risky: Real Estate Development – Build Completely New Properties

Core Investing is all about stability and getting high single-digit returns by operating existing assets. There’s little risk when a building is already operational and generating rental income – think of the GM Building in New York or a class-A regional mall as example investments.

Since these are stable assets that provide a steady income stream to the owners, pension funds are the main investors in core funds – firms that specialize in acquiring and operating existing properties.

You also see Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) – both publicly traded REITs and private REITs – in this space, as well as core real estate funds run by real estate investment managers such as AEW and RREEF.

REITs are like private equity firms but for buildings rather than companies – they acquire, operate, (possibly) improve, and then sell properties to earn high returns.

Getting Riskier…

After you leave this Core Investing space, you get into Value-Add and Opportunistic Strategies – this is where the investors try to make substantial improvements and renovations to existing properties rather than just acquiring and operating them, usually based on real estate market analysis that tells them the region is a good one.

Returns are typically in the 15 – 20% range, but may go higher depending on how risky the strategy is. Some REITs and core funds managers dabble in this space, but you mostly see private equity shops like Blackstone here – a high single-digit return is horrible for PE, so it makes more sense for them to focus on riskier strategies.

At the riskiest end of the spectrum is real estate development, and the players there are all over the map.

Some REITs have large development pipelines and invest significant resources into constructing new properties – examples are AvalonBay [AVB] (apartments) and Prologis [PLD] (industrial), which often have multi-billion-dollar pipelines.

Private equity can sometimes be active in development, but usually only as the capital partner to developers.

There are also large private companies like Opus that focus on real estate development without the pressures that come from being publicly traded.

Risk = Reward?

Based on the descriptions above, you might think that real estate development offers the highest potential returns and the highest pay since it’s also the riskiest.

But you’d be wrong: It’s a boom-and-bust business, and developers are also the first people to get fired in a downturn.

While Prologis had a $4B development pipeline at the market peak, it dwindled down to less than $500MM after the market collapsed; three of Opus’ five major subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in the past downturn.

This is not to say that real estate development is “bad” – it’s just that you shouldn’t jump into it expecting to make bank right away.

It’s great if you’re into the brick-and-mortars side of real estate, but if you’re not, think about the other options above.

There are also asset management firms and hedge funds that specialize in real estate securities, and even shops that invest in REITs – if you want to blend real estate and the public markets, both of these can be good options.

How to Break Into Commercial Real Estate

As with everything else in finance, at the entry-level you’re just a high-paid spreadsheet monkey who works on deals all day – whether that’s at the core funds or at private development companies.

A typical “path” for breaking in is to go to a target school and then get into real estate investment banking – that’s what many of the top people at the biggest real estate firms and REITs have done.

Mike Fascitelli, CEO of Vornado [VNO], is an example of a real estate big shot that followed this path. He went to Harvard for his MBA, started at McKinsey, and then went to Goldman as a real estate investment banker. After several years at Goldman, Steve Roth lured Fascitelli away from banking to work at VNO.

But you don’t have to follow that path to break in – and an MBA isn’t even a prerequisite.

The best example is Jonathan Gray, the co-head of Blackstone’s real estate group – Gray started at Blackstone with just an undergraduate degree from Wharton and worked his way up to become co-head of the entire real estate group by age 35. At age 37, he was busy pulling off the $36 billion Equity Office Properties acquisition, the biggest private equity buyout ever (at the time)!

Yes, Wharton is a target school and it also happens to be one of the top undergraduate schools for real estate – but more importantly, it has a great real estate alumni network.

Just like everything else in finance, leveraging your alumni network is essential to breaking in: I wouldn’t be surprised if Gray tapped his network to land his gig at Blackstone right out of school.

Other top undergraduate schools for real estate in the US include UC Berkeley, USC, and Wisconsin – these are well-known institutions, but they’re not the Ivy League and they’re not the ones that immediately come to mind when you think of a “target school.”

Real estate is very much a “who you know” business and having a well-connected alumni base is critical – if you’re at a school without much of a presence in real estate, your next best option is to get an MBA at a school with a strong real estate program.

If you’re already out of school and working, you could get involved in trade groups like ICSC, ULI, or YREP if there’s one in your area.

Whatever you decide to do, networking is even more important in real estate than in other industries so start pounding the pavement as soon as possible.

Got Real Estate Development?

While many top real estate jobs required work experience and/or more than an undergraduate degree, development is one area where undergrads from all different backgrounds can get in right out of school.

So if you’re in this boat and you’re interested in real estate, you’re better off using your career center and alumni network to break in and focusing on development rather than PE, REITs, or anything else.

Q: Do I need investment banking experience to break into development?

A: No, no, and no. In fact, you might have too much experience if you actually do real estate IB and want to break in afterward – an entry-level development role would be a step backward.

Development is significantly different from real estate IB or PE, and they shouldn’t even be in the same category.

Q: Wait, but what should I do with my life if I don’t do investment banking first?! Otherwise everything is meaningless!

A: Pick a major that lends itself to real estate development. Example majors: Real estate, civil engineering, architecture, or construction management.

Since development is much more bricks-and-mortar than other RE-associated industries, knowing these subjects is valuable for breaking in – and you’ll get the alumni network to help you land a development job.

If you don’t know what major and/or school is good for getting into RE development, just ask around and see what types of jobs most graduates get – if “real estate” is a common answer, you’ve found a good match.

Breaking Into REITs

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are investment vehicles that are exempt from corporate income taxes as long as certain criteria are met; the main one is that REITs must pay out 90% of their taxable income as dividends, which means they have little cash on hand and are constantly issuing debt and equity to fund their operations.

Historically, REITs were passive vehicles that focused on owning properties and escalating rents over time, but today they’re more dynamic, and many REITs buy, sell, develop, and manage properties and 3rd party joint ventures all the time.

A few of the larger REITs in different segments include the Simon Property Group [SPG] (shopping malls), Boston Properties [BXP] (offices), AvalonBay [AVB] (apartments), and Prologis [PLD] (industrial).

Since REITs use so many different investment strategies, there are all sorts of different job opportunities there.

On the operations side are developers, property managers, and acquisition people that deal directly with properties.

On the capital markets side, you’ll find finance people that work on equity and debt deals to fund the REIT’s operations.

If you want to get into the operations side of a REIT, it’s similar to what you need to break into RE development: Get a real estate-related undergraduate degree and network with alumni.

But if you’re interested in capital markets, you need real estate investment banking experience – REITs are one of the main exit opportunities for RE bankers since you advise REITs all the time as a banker.

Bottom-line: if you’re more interested in finance, go the banking route and look for REIT exit opportunities; if you’re more interested in the bricks-and-sticks aspect of real estate, skip banking and go straight into development or acquisitions.

Compensation: What Compensation?

Unfortunately, there are few good data sources on real estate compensation – but pay tends to be commensurate with risk and expected returns, at least in buy-side roles.

The main exception is development – it’s the riskiest investment class and yet the pay is also the worst.

The real money in development accrues to those that put their money at risk in the developments.

To complete construction of a new property, the developer itself only puts down a very small portion of the total equity – maybe 5% or less.

Many times, the developer simply contributes their land basis as the only equity in the project and then uses debt and mezzanine financing to fund the entire construction cost.

Most of the returns will go to the 3rd party investors that come up with the rest of the funds – and to make things even worse, there’s no cash flow from properties that are under development until tenants move in and rental income starts flowing.

Even the fees the developers charge are not great compared to the overhead, so there isn’t much money left to pay salaries to employees.

So, do not get into development if money is your main goal – only do it if you’re interested in building and construction side of real estate.

You will not make it big until you have enough money to invest in development projects yourself.

For core funds and REITs, pay is consistent with base salaries for recent graduates elsewhere in finance in areas such as corporate development careers – the main difference is that you won’t receive Wall Street-like bonuses in these jobs because the fees and returns are lower than in PE, for example.

On the private equity, hedge fund, and asset management side, compensation is similar to what you would earn at non-real estate funds. So real estate PE is similar to normal PE, real estate HFs are similar to normal HFs, and REIT-focused asset management is similar to normal asset management.

And on the investment banking side, you don’t see much of a difference at the junior levels between real estate banking and other groups.

Exit Opportunities

As with other buy-side jobs, the buy-side itself is the end-game. Once you get there, it’s just a matter of working your way up until you become the next Jonathan Gray.

Be careful of getting pigeonholed: If you get into real estate and don’t like it, move on as quickly as possible or it will become more and more difficult to find a non-real-estate job.

In addition to moving up the ladder, investing in real estate yourself is another possibility: A number of friends have amassed nice little portfolios of multi-family assets.

And unlike buying entire companies, the capital requirements for real estate are far lower and you don’t need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars just to buy a house.

Raising a small fund of your own is also possible, but just as with starting a hedge fund you need to raise some seed money to get started – you would go to friends and family first, show solid performance, and then approach a broader set of investors once you can point to results.

Whither Real Estate?

It’s a great field, but keep your expectations in check.

Until you have enough cash to fund massive real estate developments by yourself, you won’t see your name on any buildings.

And if you want to become as famous as a certain real estate developer – and maybe even become President of the United States as well – it might just be easier to get your own reality TV series instead.

Even More on Real Estate

If you want to learn more about the modeling and valuation side of real estate, check out the BIWS Real Estate Financial Modeling Course, which covers both individual properties and REITs via case studies of an apartment complex, an office development and sale, a hotel acquisition and renovation, and Avalon Bay, a leading apartment REIT.

There are also real estate private equity case studies based on stabilized multifamily, value-added office, and pre-sold condo development deals.

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys lifting weights, running, traveling, obsessively watching TV shows, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Hi. It was my understanding that real estate development actually made lots of money, even when you are an employee, at the higher levels (director, vp) when you start getting equity compensation (promote). Is this not true? Won’t compensation equal high 6 figures to low 7 figures a year just from that? Otherwise, why would anyone go into it and stay as an employee when it requires such an advanced skillset and knowledge of the industry, compared to something like valuation & advisory, which Colliers advertised makes an average net compensation of $382k in 2021 in Canada, and is not very competitive and has a good WLB. Or even acquisitions or IB which I assume makes even more.

    1. I can’t say for sure because this is an older article in need of an update (coming soon), but I think the basic issue with development is that many development deals get delayed, have cost overruns, etc., so in practice, you are not necessarily going to earn the promote in many cases. The comment about lower compensation in development came from the guest author who wrote this. But like I said, this one is in need of an update and some new compensation figures.

  2. Hi Brian,

    I really do like the articles that you have written with regard to Real Estate, especially the range of topics, from brokerage to Real Estate Private Equity.

    I appreciate that you may not have all the answers, but from your own knowledge and experience I hope you can help me.

    I recently spoke to an MD of Real Estate at a very large and well known Real Estate Private Equity firm, where my friend works in another department, so my eyes have been opened up somewhat, along with your previous interview you conducted with the person who was involved in Real Estate Private Equity in London.

    I went to a Russell Group University in the UK, got a good 2.1 BSc. Since then, I have done a fair few sales related roles (and done well) and have now moved into training to become a Chartered Surveyor (MRICS), with a broad range of experience and expertise, from brokerage/agency, consulting, modelling, valuation etc. I will also have an MSc in Real Estate shortly as well.

    As it stands, I am looking to go down three potential routes:

    – Commercial Brokerage
    – Development
    – Real Estate Private Equity

    Unashamedly, and this is the main thrust of the question, I want to make as much money as (realistically) possible within a 5-10 year time frame, to invest in my own real estate portfolio.

    Bearing in mind I am based in the UK, and some of the options (such as brokerage) are not as lucrative in the UK due to the corporate structure compared to say the USA, what would you feel is the most effective route to go down to achieve this?

    My instinct says Real Estate Private Equity due to potential for remuneration, especially in an Acquisitions role, and knowledge gained in portfolio management and asset management.

    However I would appreciate your thinking on this matter, along with anything additional you think I’ve missed, or other advice.

    Thank you in advance.

    1. If wealth is your goal, then RE PE is definitely the best option out of those. Development and brokerage both pay less than RE PE in the U.S., so they almost certainly pay less in the U.K. as well, especially since there probably aren’t as many development opportunities (smaller country, longer population history, etc.).

      1. Brian, thank you for your reply!

  3. Are here any good excel courses/training to prepare to break into a cre lending position?

  4. What do you suggest for guys like me, 50 yrs old and cannot get into a target school?

    1. Do your own real estate investing on the side, start your own side business, or do something else where you do not need a certain degree and experience to succeed.

  5. Hi! I am interested in real estates development and this article did clear things up but I am still a bit fuzzy. I intend to start where I know by getting a degree in construction management (possibly even arch or civ engineering if I get accepted) and get a bit of work experience but switching from that to actually becoming a developer is the difficult part. (Work for a developer as a construction manager???) My ultimate goal would be building apartment buildings and renting em out. I already own property which I can build an appartment building on should I have the funds or find an investor(s) but just the whole transition from the major to actually owning a RED firm is what I’m still fuzzy about even after reading this. Can anyone clear this up for me??

    1. Before you can develop your own buildings / rent them out, you need solid experience in the industry first… so you will probably have to work at a developer for several years, at least. We don’t specialize in those roles, so we’re not sure of the requirements, but other readers may be able to help.

  6. Hi Mike,
    This is a ton of good information. I am already into a non-real estate investment MBA program. Are their courses on line that you would recommend?

    1. Well, we recommend our own Real Estate course of course (obviously not an unbiased recommendation), but outside of that, also take a look at the free RE PE cases we’ve made available and this book: (see the 3 case studies there)

  7. Hello!

    I have 3 years of experience in Corporate Finance (non real estate related projects) and in one month i am switching to a investment fund specilized in the acquisition and quick exit of shopping centers.

    Beside your Real Estate Modelling course (which i think i am going to do), can you recommend me any book or something that could also help me get all the basic sector know-how??

    Thanks a lot!

  8. Hello, I am interested not so much in becoming a real estate developer as finding a deal I could get in on.

    I have a large, very well-placed piece of land that could potentially be suitable for a large corporate office or hotel.

    By itself the land is worth perhaps $3-$5 million as the base for a $20 million condo development, but rather than just sell it for such a use, I would like to find a partner that would be interested in doing a much larger project, like a $250 million corporate center or hotel.

    Since my business is not real estate I have no contacts. According to books I have read, sometimes the property owner becomes sort of partner as part of the development team.

    How can I find the contacts to work a deal like this and get the best value for my land?

    1. Join local real estate industry groups… meet RE brokers… ask around and see who’s interested.

  9. sorry…of course I’m referring to a career change here! Thank you

  10. Hi There,
    I am a 50 year old man who has had a successful career in sales and marketing up to Director level.
    I am a little disillusioned with my industry which is Customer Communications/Direct Marketing and would appreciate your candid thoughts as to whether this is either sensible and feasible?
    Much obliged,

    1. What are you asking about specifically? Are you asking about a change to real estate? It’s theoretically possible but you’d have to start over at the bottom, which I’m not sure you’d want at this stage.

  11. Jason Chang

    Thank you for this article. I am also considering my career path. I am now a financial analyst in a residential construction firm in Virginia. Do you think I can do investment such as PE/HF after a few years at my position. I have a master in finance and on my way finishing CFA level 3 exam and CPA exams.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      While your Masters in finance and CFA credentials may help, having relevant IB experience is best.

  12. I work for a mid-size RE PE shop based out of Texas. I have noticed people keep asking, how do I break in? First of all, get aggressive. You have to understand that to make money in real estate, the key is finding deals that are off market, so relationship building is hugely important. Don’t be afraid to pick the phone and start calling a companies VP of Acquisitions or Development. These guys are generally “go-getters” and respect who have the drive/balls to try less traditional means. I personally walked into an office un-announced on four occasions before I scored my position. I didn’t attend a target school, however I did have relevant experience and I can talk the lingo.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Thanks for your input!

  13. M&I,

    I’ve recently accepted a position as a part of a program in real estate at a large (if not the largest) domestic commercial bank. I will be working on financing solutions for larger commercial RE deals, and was wondering if breaking into PE/IB is unobtainable after completion of my program. If PE/IB is my target end game, what steps would need to be taken to ensure that I am on the right path to breaking in?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d make sure you start building contacts with real estate funds so it would be an easier transition. I wouldn’t say it is unobtainable since what you do may be relevant. If after building contacts for 1-2 years and interviewing with firms with no avail, I’d consider top b-school especially since PE firms like people with pedigree

  14. ya,it is possible. Gathering experience is must in real estate field.

  15. Hi

    I broke into finance on the asset management side of the business before/during the start of the recession. I recently went back to undergrad in NYC and finished up may ’13(out of the business for 3 years). Their are not a lot of jobs out there for a 29 year old graduate who has had some solid finance experience but one job that I was looking at is commercial mortgage broker. Seeing as interviews are limited despite all my networking is it possible to break into CRE on the investment side after a couple years? Are there any exit opps for a commercial mortgage broker. Thank you very much for your answer.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes I think it is possible; you’ll need to build up your experience in real estate. You may find useful. Re. exit opps, perhaps you can work for a property development firm or start your own firm after.

  16. Hi,

    I’m soon to be joining a top tier Property Services company (think Jones Lang LaSalle, CBRE) and am wondering what kind opportunities I can expect to come out of a position in the Capital Markets/Corporate Finance positions (I am required to take the CFA).

    Exit opps / MBA encouragement / natural career progression? At the moment the ideal situation would be to build up a solid foundation in this area and hopefully progress to buy-side; REPEs, REITs etc. Is this possible coming from my background? I came from a top 5 world ranking university undergraduate degree in Economics and speak two languages.

    Your help would be very much appreciated!


    1. M&I - Nicole

      Perhaps you can look at commercial real estate brokerage roles Otherwise, your capital markets and real estate experience may be useful for real estate IB roles. You could position yourself as an “industry expert” in real estate who wants to combine your expertise with finance. It’s likely to be easier to target IB first, and then PE.

  17. Hello,

    I was wondering what you think the exit ops would be for a recent college graduate working as an analyst in the asset management division of a GSE (Freddie/Fannie). Would this type of job have the possibility of maybe REIB/REPE down the road? What about MBA first? Thanks for your help.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I am not 100% sure, I think the best way for you to break into REIB/REPE is to gain relevant real estate deal experience, which I think can be challenging in your current role. I’d try networking and see if you can switch industries. Otherwise, an MBA will help you retool yourself, and may increase your chances of breaking into your desired field:

  18. I recently began working at a global Commercial Real Estate Brokerage firm in Australia. I am hoping to work on the ‘Sell Side’ of the transactions space here before moving into perhaps a REIT or PE firm later in my career. Would you consider sitting my CFA a significant advantage? And if not would sitting the CPV (Certified Practicing Valuer) accreditation assist me? (This is Australia’s highest Real Estate valuation accreditation). Any comments on the path I have taken would be appreciated.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I think the CPV may be more relevant, though I am not 100% sure. Readers may have more to add here.

  19. Hey there,

    I’m wondering if you can help me assess best future paths. I’m starting at Citi this summer doing private banking. I also have my real estate license and some experience in commercial brokerage. I’m wondering what the best paths might be to go after my 2 year program at Citi. What would pay the most? Would an MBA still be required/recommended given my experience in RE? Thanks!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      An MBA is not required though it may be useful since pedigree is important in PWM. I think a CFA is probably more useful in your case though because you’ll be involved in the process of making investment decisions for private wealth clients.

      1. Thank you. Do you mind answering the question more oriented towards RE? I’m wondering if private banking will enable me to move into real estate private equity, RE IB or how I would be able to do that through or after Citi.

        1. M&I - Nicole

          Unless you are focused on the real estate investment class in PWM, I think it is harder to switch to RE PE after PB. PE guys still prefer someone with IB/deal experience (IB work experience). If you want to break into RE PE, you can (1) obtain an MBA from a target school and break in (2) network a lot through PWM and try to meet HNW individuals who may be interested in opening a RE fund and help them in their efforts/speak to investors in RE funds and sniff for opportunities there. (2) depends a lot on your luck and networking efforts.

          1. Hi, Nicole,

            As hard work and luck had it, I was able to move into REPE! I want to stay doing this for my career but am wondering if a CFA or MBA will be necessary to grow into a senior role. I’ve heard mixed things. Any thoughts?


          2. Congrats! No, probably not. The CFA is borderline useless for REPE since everything is based on cash flow, not GAAP/IFRS, and the MBA might be marginally useful but it still not that great a use of time.

  20. Hi,
    I have an offer to work as an intern at a RE investment manager, so its more on the asset management side. However, it interacts with different departments, including corporate finance.. do you think its possible to move to IBD afterwards as that is my ultimate goal?

    1. Potentially, yes, but it will be somewhat difficult due to lack of exposure to merger models / LBO models and traditional IB work.

  21. Hey,

    I’m a third year student at an Columbia law school and I’ve come to realize that I absolutely hate law, and that I’d really like to break into CRE- specifically interested in opportunistic aquisitions, and development- much more the bricks & mortar/understanding the market v. the financing.

    I was a history major in undergrad, and have taken extensive classes in real estate in the law school and ColumbiaBusiness School, but don’t have a lot of quantitative/financial modeling skills etc.

    Any suggestions on what my first step should be as far as looking for a job? I’m willing to work hard, and am prepared to not make a lot of money early on but I really want this, I just have no idea where to reach out to.

    Any help would much appreciated. Thanks.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Try your network in Columbia & network with alums in the industry. Figure out people in the industry who were also in law; they may be able to help too

  22. O Donald Trump! He’s an icon to me. With an innate eye for business, Trump knew that whatever he did with his life, it would be big. Like what he has stated in this interview I’ve read over a magazine, “Always do something that you like, always do something that you enjoy doing, or you will never be successful. You will never be good at it.” Those words had become my motivation for the past years.

  23. Hi,

    I got an offer from a commercial RE firm as a Corp Fin Analyst. My ultimate goal is going into IB. Do you think its possible to transition into IB after taking this position? Some of the responsibilities include building 3 statement of the company and looking at different exit strategy from its current owner(which is blackstone) such as IPO, M&A, and divestiture.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes. Do you have contacts in IB? I’d start networking now and see how that goes.

  24. Hey Brain,

    Currently got an offer lined up at a bb re pe fund and was wondering if I should pick it. The other option would to join a MBB. I’m not looking to stay in RE in the long run but would like to go in to something such as hard asset financing, for example commodities pe or commodities trading. any inputs?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      What will you be doing at the MBB?

      I think RE is not too relevant to commodities. However, given the two choices (assuming the one at MBB is not in commodities), I might pick the BB RE PE fund if I were in your shoes.

      You can still move out of RE after 1-2 years though there’s still a risk that people will pigeon-hole you as the RE guy. If you really want commodities, I’d suggest you to start in commodities. The question you may want to ask yourself is: Do I really want commodities? Or can I give RE a shot because I might enjoy it too?

      A commodities trading firm you might be interested in

  25. How would one break into REPE or RE Investment Management from RE research? I have a general knowledge on DCF and can make a basic one.I also have light ARGUS experience.

    The good RE Inv Mgmt jobs require 2 – 3 years of CRE experience. I am closing in on one year.

    1. How would I break in ?
    2. Do firms teach you “their way” of modeling (similar to IB training programs) or do they expect you to know everything coming in as an analyst
    **Jobs I am looking for are REPE/RE Inv. Analyst and they still require CRE experience

    1. M&I - Nicole

      1. Network a lot with people in the sector
      2. Yes sometimes they do but do not rely on them to teach you. Know the basics before you apply etc

  26. I’ve been interested in this field but my school has a really bad alumni network for this. I have some RE-related experience and will likely be interning with a CRE company in the spring, and will probably cold-call to find an internship with a boutique REIB or REPE firm his summer. Would there be any master’s programs that would be applicable for my situation? I would likely need more of a network to break in. I don’t have enough WE for some of the top MSRE schools or an MBA.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Not quite sure which masters wld help but has an interesting program though I think its an MBA

      1. Check out MIT, NYU, Columbia, and Wharton for east coast MBA. USC, Berkeley, and maybe UCLA for west coast MBA. Also there are some MSRE or MRED programs offered–I know USC and NYU have programs like this.

        1. PetricMoore

          I agree. Anecdotally – I have 2 friends that had liberal BA’s (Stanford/Tufts) and did the Columbia MSRED/NYU MSRE Finance programs, respectively, and both landed very good jobs in CRE. One development and the other RE PE. So, these very specialized and focused Master’s in RE open doors (although are expensive at $5,200 (all in) per class.

          1. M&I - Nicole

            Thanks for your input!

  27. One more thing. How would you catalogue Johns Lang La Salle? Real Estate Investment Banking? Will a internship there help me land another one in a BB Bank?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I wouldn’t classify it as real estate IB. It depends on which division you are in over there

      1. what groups within JOnes Lang LaSalle would provide good experience, network, and exit opps? What about their Strategic Consulting team? This group basically helps large corporates plan their transactions and also space utilization among other “consulting” topics.

        1. M&I - Nicole

          I’m not quite sure re structure of Jones Lang LaSalle; readers may be able to offer you better opinions

  28. Somewhere in this website I read that REITS are basically real estate focussed PEs, but here you seem to differentiate between them. Can you clarify the difference between REITs and real estate focused PE firms?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      REIT – – REITs are listed on open exchange. PE is not publicly traded on a stock exchange

  29. Cameron D.

    Cameron D.:

    Hello my name is Cameron D. I was wondering if anyone could help break into the Land Developing? I do not have RE experince or do I have my degree in this industry. I do have an eye for sites and locations for Gas Stations and and the new mini shopping centers. I have 2 investors but have to get my business plan togther for them to actually sit down and take time out to see if they will invest into my dream. I have tried to contact RE companies with my locations and ideas, no sucess in that. So if anyone could give me alead down the right path that would be great for someone like myself!!! Thanks to who ever RESPONDS

  30. nyc development alum


    Love your site – thanks for putting all of this out there. My question is are there any decent exit strategies for a RE development background that don’t include an MBA repositioning? I went to a target school, got caught up in the times and was with a luxury retail/condo developer (who actually got trained by Trump) in NYC for four years. I switched over to a small family investment office in Dallas working with companies they own and some RE about a year ago to get out of that scene. Can I break into real estate investment management or some other area of finance/business or do I pretty much have to do a top MBA at this point to advance? I really enjoyed working that job but developments are scarce now and I want to save what little capital I have rather than try to start my own portfolio in a largely overpriced market with little debt. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes, I don’t think you need an MBA. I’d try to network w peeps in the real estate investment m’gmt business and convince them to hire me.

  31. Hey M&I, quick question here:
    Would you say the way to go for somebody with a foreign undergrad degree looking to break into RE investment banking is to get into a top U.S. MBA program and get in as an associate or is there any other path? Thanks

    1. Depends on your previous experience. If < 3 years, MBA program, otherwise consider Master's in Finance program and see if you can find one with a RE focus.

  32. Brian,

    As pointed out, real estate is very different, and its difficult to transition out of at a later stage. I would assume its difficult to transition into as well. Is that true?

    Also, lets say you start in IB and want to transfer to the real estate group, or you start in the real estate group and want to transfer to another group, is it possible? Are banks receptive to analysts wanting to change groups after a year, if at all?

    1. Yes I would say that’s generally true. It’s possible to change groups in IB, but as always, the sooner you do it the easier, so ideally ask after 1 year.

      1. How would one go about changing their group, especially if you want to switch in a year?

        Is it best to talk to HR to transfer you to another group in the bank? Or to network with the MDs of another group, or to talk to your own MD and ask him to transfer you?

        Also when can we even start to talk about transfers? I mean it would be awkward to start talking about it a few months in, especially if we were told that it would be ‘appreciated’ if we could stay for 2 years.

        Any tips on what kind of strategy to use in this grand endeavor?

        1. M&I - Nicole

          No, I don’t think HR should be in the discussion until you have reached the final stages. Yes, network w MDs of the group you want to transfer to, and try to have an honest conversation with your own MD too (depending on how close your relationship is w him/her)

          If your MD doesn’t want you to move, then I’d suggest you keep things quiet and speak to the MD of the group you want to transfer to first and see if he has any openings. If he does, interview with him and see how it goes. Better yet, make him like you much that he creates an opening for you.

          Yes it can be awkward to talk about transfers in only a few months but hey, time’s short and you’ve got to what you got to do.

          Network like a ninja. Articulate why you want to transfer. Pitch your story.

  33. Hi Brian,

    I am going to graduate next year from my master in real estate economics from a target school and am currently intern-ing at a BB bank. Hours in IB is too long for me so I think real estate research or real estate investment management will suit me more. Are there any other typical paths for graduates to break into this industry (with decent pay and reasonable hours)?

    1. one more question: how difficult is it to break into REITs or real estate investment manager with a background like mine?


    2. Yeah for either of those starting in IB would actually be helpful and moving in from RE development would be tough. I would say to go normal equity research or investment management (another recent article was on asset management) somewhere else and then maybe move into RE from there.

      REITs would be tough on the capital markets side, investment management would be a bit easier since you could do it without IB experience first.

  34. coming from australia, I notice that alot of the REITs we have are currently trading significantly lower than NTA.. (sometimes as much as 25%).. this has caused such a stir that Blackstone and other buyside guys have come in and swooped on the portfolios of some of these guys.

    I guess my question is, how does one treat the NTA figure? With relative skepticism?

    1. I wouldn’t place too much stock in NTA for REITs – A-REITs are a bit different but NAV is much more important because there you’re actually assigning a cap rate (or “yield” in some countries) to the NOI and using that to estimate the value of the RE assets as opposed to just taking Total Assets – Goodwill/Intangibles – Liabilities.

      NTA is actually more relevant for commercial banks and mortgage REITs than it is for equity REITs.

      I can see how PE might get excited, but I don’t think it necessarily means too much.

      1. Hi Brian,

        Would like to ask a question if you don’t mind, I’m currently looking into a career in the principal investment area of real estate (e.g. property funds). I’m looking at what is involved breaking in these types of roles and often i come across the term ‘underwriting’ in job descriptions of roles advertised for real estate analysts. E.g. “assist in underwriting potential real estate acquisitions …” I thought that was more for lenders and insurers. Do you have any idea what this term means for principal investors like Blackstone’s real estate arm?



  35. I work for a major Real estate asset manager, which does both core and opportunistic investments. In general, it’s a lot more interesting than IB – much more modelling if that’s your thing, but still plenty of formatting documents for investment committees and investors.

    As for hours, they are a lot better in general. They’re very relaxed in the mornings – some people come in at 10am, and the nights vary. A few nights a week it can get late (ie around midnight) but mostly the office is empty by 8.

    if you’re considering it, bear in mind that for core investments you just won’t get paid – you need to be on the opportunistic side, where if you play your cards right you’ll end up with PE-style returns.

  36. I am currently working at a top REIB group. I was wondering, is the comp generally higher at top REPE firms than REIB as you get more senior? W

    In addition, you mentioned networking was important. What if some of these professionals worked at the same I-Bank as I did? Can that be sufficient grounds for networking when compared to schools? I went to a good school, but none of the ones you mentioned.

    Thanks again Brian.

    1. At the highest levels (Founding Partner at a huge firm), yes it can be significantly bigger. For everything in between, not so much – just like the PE vs. IB pay difference is exaggerated and not that different if you look at the real numbers.

      Yes, people working at the same bank as you should be fine. The more the better, but anything you have in common is fine.

  37. Build an Empire, Launch Your Own Reality TV Series,
    and run for president!

    1. The last one somehow seemed less impressive than the first two, so I forgot to mention it…

  38. How about an article on becoming a agent like Ari Gold? Any investment banker do that?

    1. Well, I’m currently trying to get into Hollywood as a writer/producer if this web series goes well. Does that count? Maybe I will chronicle the story here…

  39. I’m a 2nd year analyst in REITS industry. My advice? Get a job in RE only if you like the field, because it gets really difficult to escape from it. I’m seeking a job in banking/PE/Corporate finance, because I’ve started to hate all the RE environment, but once you have a RE experience on your resume, it seems that the recruiters think you’re not able to do anything else, or at least this is my experience so far..

    To Brian, do you think I’ve to rebrand myself by getting an MBA? Any chances to get a job in banking without it?


    1. Yeah at this stage an MBA would be most helpful. You might be able to transition without it, but you would probably have to downgrade and go to a smaller boutique bank or smaller company or something like that.

    2. Luke,
      Could you possibly tell me why you “started to hate all the RE environment”? I am currently working in a M&A group. However, I want to specialize in a particular sector and real estate is a great interest to me.

  40. The real estate game is a challenging and rewarding one for sure. I have found that the value-add scenario really provides the thrill-of-the-deal that we enjoy, yet limits risk. Typically the building (of whatever type we may be attempting to reposition) is in decent condition and is a tangible asset that is easier to show, discuss, understand, and most of all, finance. With the increasing momentum that we are experiencing in certain segments of the commercial real estate arena (office, retail, etc), value-add deals are getting easier to do. They require vision and creativity, which is half the fun. The downside of this increased momentum is competition from other bidders, which is starting to increase pricing for certain assets. However, value is created by gaps in information and understanding. This is where real deals can be made by being innovative, creative, and diligent with the details of complicated assets. We have found success in dealing with complex properties that others may have overlooked or passed due to their lack of motivation and understanding. Nothing in commercial real estate is easy, but for those that desire to roll up their sleeves and get a little dirty, there are diamonds in the dirt. You just gotta know how to dig for them!

    1. Thanks for adding that, great to have contributions from someone working in the field.

    2. Cameron D.

      Hello my name is Cameron D. I was wondering if anyone could help break into the Land Developing? I do not have RE experince or do I have my degree in this industry. I do have an eye for sites and locations for Gas Stations and and the new mini shopping centers. I have 2 investors but have to get my business plan togther for them to actually sit down and take time out to see if they will invest into my dream. I have tried to contact RE companies with my locations and ideas, no sucess in that. So if anyone could give me alead down the right path that would be great for someone like myself!!! Thanks to who ever RESPONDS

  41. Hi Brian,

    I want to do investment banking for 5 years (I’m not in the US so direct promotion is possible) and then go to business school to get MBA. I want to stay in banking long run. Do you think I’ll have to start as junior associate (like all over again) after MBA, or can I start on a more senior level?


    1. Depends on the bank but they will probably knock you back a few years because banks enjoy putting you down and making you suffer (I am actually not joking about this, seen it happen with other more senior people as well).

    2. They will likely discount you by a year or two so maybe 2nd year associate

  42. Pretty unrelated question, but through networking/trying to get informational interviews I connected with a woman who is in charge of Investor relations and business development at an extremely high level PE firm (Thinks Blackstone/KKR). I’m a little bit embarassed but I’m not entirely sure what individuals in IR/BD actually do. I’m most interested in IB but thought I would reach out because she is an alumni. Was hoping you could shed some light.

    1. IR means investor relationship, aka setting up the investor conference, play DJ to the quarterly earnings and year end conference call. They also handle press releases. Not sure if approaching a fund’s IR will be any help getting in.

    2. What Mike said – IR people handle press releases, promote the fund, answer questions from new investors, etc. Probably not the best way to get into real PE but maybe worth looking into.

  43. Real Estate is really a good exit opportunity. I heard that the working hours is basically within the human range and people in it can often have good boast stuff.

    1. Hours are more intensive in RE IB/PE but in other fields yeah it’s slightly better.

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