How do I become a real estate developer/which degree is best?

9 Replies

Hello BP Users,

It is my career goal to become a Real Estate Developer. I know this question has been asked a lot on this forum. I would really appreciate some insight from real estate developers. I am an architecture student from NYC with 2 years under my belt. I went into architecture with the intention of being a real estate developer as well as my own architect. Meanwhile construction, design, utilization of the space are fundamental in real estate development, none of that is possible without capital. Finding investors and structuring deals isn't something I'm going to learn in architecture school. I am currently making the switch to Construction Management, could someone tell me if that is a good degree to help me break into Real Estate Development. And if so which focus? cost, time, quality management, etc. I'm assuming it would be cost?

I know developers come from different disciplines and different walks of life so there's not just one correct answer. Is Construction Management the best route to go? I've read online that Finance is another good degree to pursue for becoming a developer. There is also Baruch and they offer a degree in Real Estate  (there are no colleges offering real estate development courses by me).


In the meantime I've been reading lots of articles and lurking on these BP forums for too long haha. I also recently picked up the book "Real Estate Development: Principles and Process". Anyone recommend any other good books on RED?

I would say the primary value in your degree is more about the job opportunities it leads to and less about technical knowledge learned.  I can only speak to our local market here in the southwest, but the job market is much better for construction managers than in architecture.  So a CM degree may give you more job opportunities and a better chance to find an opening with a developer.  There you can gain technical knowledge and contacts, eventually venturing out on your own (assuming that's your ultimate goal).  I received a CM degree from Arizona State and my first job out of school was with a multifamily developer, working under a site superintendent and then moving into the office in a project manager role after about a year.

That being said, I have a close friend who worked as an architect for years, received a masters in real estate development and now works on the development team at M A Mortenson.  

 Being from NYC you may want to check out the The Autobiography of William Zeckendorf.  It provides an interesting historical perspective on the nuts and bolts of RE development.  Good luck!

@Account Closed As an architect myself I feel my innate skills are invaluable in thinking about real estate. You are right though in that you will not learn much about business and financing acquisitions. This you may have to bone up outside college (part time working in real estate industry possibly) or enroll in some real estate courses as electives or online (even if outside your school).  

Why not a BS in Architectural Technology with a minor in Construction management? However, be mindful, if you do not get a BArch degree, it will be a little more difficult to get licensed as an Architect in the future.  

@Pedro Tavares It was very interesting to read about how you got started as well as the ins and outs of your first development. I enjoyed reading about how architecture came in handy for you. Prefab houses have always intrigued me due to them being both time and cost effective! I'm also glad your Airbnb business is working out. There's a huge market for this in my country, Montenegro. People build big houses for the sole purpose of renting them to tourists and make a killing over the summer haha.

@Michael Hacker Yes I agree! If I was going to stay in architecture, I would like to work for a developer's in house design team and could eventually branch out like you said. I'm 23 at the moment and striving to be developing by 30. I think getting my associates in CM first would be more beneficial for me as I will get some work experience while finishing up my bachelors. By the time I'm done, I could be working for a seasoned developer hopefully. I believe the job market in regards to that is the same here, I don't know that for 100%, but anecdotal evidence by me checking job listings for both architects and construction managers. As well as allow me to get in sooner and earn more now while working towards my career goal. Thank you for the reassurance that this is the right path for me to take, I appreciate that!

And thank you for the book recommendation, I will check that out!

@Jared W Smith I agree about the Architecture skills being invaluable. I unfortunately didn't do much research prior to enrolling, I didn't know the difference of Arch Tech vs B Arch. Then get my M Arch in order to lower the hour requirements and then still 3-5 years work experience plus AREs as you know. I also read online that with an accredited degree in Construction Management (none available near me unfortunately) you can take the exams for licensure. So if I were ever change my mind I'd always have that to fall back on.

Thank you all for your in-depth insights, I really appreciate it, as I make the necessary changes in my education on my path to becoming a developer.  

@Account Closed I doubt if anyone will ask what your major in college was, GPA, or what school you went to.  What matters, at least to me, is what you have done. How many homes have you built? How many and what size developments have you worked on. If I were in your shoes, I would go to work for a successful developer and learn from someone that is actually in the business instead of a career professor who probably can't use a tape measure. Especially if you are using student loans for school. We are in the biggest construction boom in a decade. Don't waste 2 years in school and miss out. In 2008, a lot of home builders started doing bathroom remodels because nobody was building anything. 

@Account Closed - I recommend the book "How Real Estate Developers Think" by Peter Hindee Brown. Excellent read on the topic and available on Audible. Brown discusses many of the paths that some prominent developers in American history have taken.  

Hey @Account Closed - I wrote an article that may be useful in your process:

https://www.biggerpockets.com/blogs/9960/63926-6-w...

The main question about switching to CM from Arch: how long do you have left to complete Arch? Does switching to CM delay your entry into the intern/job market for development? If I was hiring, I would value Arch, more than CM, just my own observation.

As well, in my article, I am against going into const. as a career start to then move into development later. CM is diff, as it is truly management, but still const. oriented. You can get boxed into const. if you ultimately want to move to RED.

Because you have no development experience, you're going to need to go the intern route, to get some experience built. I would start looking for the internship right now, do it while your in school. Ask your school if they can help you with this, do they have internship programs? If not, need to make it happen yourself. I would offer your help FOR FREE,  in trade for 10-20 hours per week of learning/training/experience. Mind you: you will get all the **** work, but so be it, it's experience and you can tell people you have worked for a development company. It gets your foot in the door. 

Find a mentor at the same time, make them the same offer, free help for what they need help with. Too many people make mentor requests and forget that the person on the receiving end of their weak request needs help too. 

Finally, some on BP will say: go do a deal yourself. This is fine as long as it doesn't take too long or cost too much to do it this way. Working for others will give you exposure to their deal inventory, which will likely expose you to more TOTAL deals, which is the best way to learn. One deal at a time, your own, is a slow learning process.

~ Scott

No matter what background, experience is key. Get an intern ship or something while you’re at school, work for a design build contractor. Arch tend to only be thinking about the design, and contractor build the design from paper and provide cost associated. Find a position that gives you insight on both.

@Scott Choppin Thank you for your feedback!

As I've been lurking on BP long before joining I've read your articles and great advice you've given to others. Thank you for spreading tons of knowledge on RED.

I would say it won't delay me at all, maybe even put me on the fast track. My school isn't accredited for architecture so I'd have to do more schooling and get my hours in prior to taking the state exams for licensure. CM I feel like I can knock out in 2 years or less and from there find a rookie job under a developer hopefully. By the time I complete my bachelors, I'll already have 2 years work experience under a developer.

What advice would you give to me to break away from construction early and get on the development side?

I've been looking at many administrative assistant and intern positions for developers for some time now, its been rough but I'll keep looking.

Thanks again Scott!