The Most Common MBA in Real Estate Jobs Don't Involve Selling or Development
March 10, 2021
Some people associate real estate with construction. Others associate development with dollar signs. This latter group is most likely to choose an MBA over an MSRE. They wind up in the jobs described in this article.
The term real estate encompasses many industries. There are development and sales, as well as property appraisal and management. Real estate marketing is, in many ways, its own animal. The same might be said of real estate law, urban planning, and sustainable development. And then there's real estate finance, real estate investing, and real estate asset management.
It all adds up to big money (trillions of dollars, in fact). Not surprisingly, many people are trying to figure out how to get their piece of the action. Getting it can involve buying and flipping houses or becoming a real estate broker to managing commercial real estate properties or developing real estate-focused investment strategies. There are many different kinds of real estate jobs.
If you're looking to transition into this industry but playing with real estate dollars sounds more fun than becoming a developer, you should consider going back to school for an MBA in Real Estate. It's a versatile degree that prepares you to step into a variety of jobs in real estate—some of which you probably won't be able to get without an advanced degree.
In this article, we look at some of the most common MBA in Real Estate jobs and answer the following questions:
- What is an MBA in Real Estate, and how does it differ from a traditional MBA?
- What will my career look like after I graduate with a real estate MBA?
- How much do MBA in Real Estate jobs typically pay?
- Will I advance more quickly with an MBA in Real Estate from a top business school?
- Will I be qualified for the above jobs if I earn a Master's in Real Estate?
- Is an MBA in Real Estate worth it if I don't want to work in finance?
What is an MBA in Real Estate, and how does it differ from a traditional MBA?
Traditional Master of Business Administration programs, whether full-time or part-time, on-campus or online, typically focus on business and management fundamentals. In some, students don't even choose elective courses—the entire curriculum consists of core courses covering finance, accounting, statistics, business strategy, marketing, and leadership.
Like generalist MBA programs, MBA in Real Estate programs provide students a firm foundation in business. How much real estate MBA programs have in common with traditional and executive MBA programs varies from school to school.
At some colleges and universities, MBA programs for aspiring real estate developers, financiers, and entrepreneurs devote most of their credit hours to general business concepts; the real estate portion of the curriculum consists of just a handful of classes. At others, nearly all courses cover business topics through a real estate lens.
Most often, students in two-year real estate MBA programs spend the first year in business courses and the second year in real estate courses. In the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business' two-year program, for instance, students in year one take core courses, including:
- Data Analytics
- Financial Accounting
- Financial Markets and Monetary Policy
- Management Decision Analysis
- Managerial Accounting
- Managerial Economics
- Managerial Finance
- Marketing Management
- Operations Management
- Organizational Behavior
- Strategic Management
In year two, Cox MBA students take all of their concentration core courses and electives. Those pursuing real estate MBAs take classes like:
- Fixed Income Securities
- Forwards, Futures, and Swaps
- Portfolio Theory and Asset Pricing
- Quantitative Trading Strategies
- Real Estate Analysis and Strategy
- Real Estate Finance and Development
- Real Estate Investment
- Real Estate Transactions
- Valuation and Analysis
Coursework isn't the only thing that makes real estate MBA programs different from traditional MBA programs. The best MBA in Real Estate programs help students build their networks, gain real-world experience, and earn additional credentials to give them an advantage over the competition after graduation. At the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor's Stephen M. Ross School of Business, for instance, real estate MBA students make direct investments in real estate projects through the student-run Michigan Ross Real Estate Fund, mix and mingle with some of the biggest names in real estate at Michigan Real Estate Club networking and career development events, and consult with career-specific Functional Accountability Career Teams to land internships and jobs. Students at Ross also have the option of pursuing a graduate certificate in real estate development by completing an additional 17 credits through the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Rackham Graduate School while earning an MBA in Real Estate.
What will my career look like after I graduate with a real estate MBA?
When someone says they're "in real estate," that can mean almost anything. With a real estate MBA, you might work in finance, development, investment banking, acquisitions, or asset management. Your job might involve sitting in an office all day or going out into the field to look at construction sites and properties.
Career paths for real estate MBA graduates include:
- Acquisitions professional: In this role, you'll use your knowledge of real estate markets and capital markets to identify real estate opportunities and to purchase profitable real estate assets. You might start out as a real estate analyst before advancing into senior analyst, associate, senior associate, and directorship positions.
- Commercial real estate banker: You'll work closely with appraisers, developers, brokers, CFOs, environmental engineers, and other professionals when you work in commercial lending.
- __Corporate financier __: These finance professionals work for large firms that either hold a lot of real estate investments or own, develop, finance, or back property projects.
- Development manager: Some MBAs specialize in development. They thrive in roles where they oversee the creation of residential, retail, industrial, and other commercial properties from concept to completion.
- Investment sales broker: In this role, you'll help clients understand the value of real estate investments and how these assets differ from other commodities.
- Leasing brokerage agent: MBAs with a high risk tolerance can thrive in this position, which involves helping clients find commercial properties, negotiating the best terms, and managing the purchasing process.
- Mortgage loan buyer: These real estate bankers package commercial and residential mortgages into bonds commonly known as Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities. In this role, you'll work closely with mortgage loan originators as well as portfolio managers and other investment professionals.
- Portfolio manager__: Portfolio managers develop real-estate-focused investment strategies for pension funds and additional funds and identify appropriate investments (i.e., property assets, mortgages, REIT securities, etc.).
- Project manager: In this role, you might work for a city redevelopment agency helping to find financing for development in underfunded areas or for a hotel development firm overseeing massive commercial projects.
- Real estate consultant: As a consultant, you can work in appraisal and valuation, portfolio strategy, location footprint strategy, property analysis and acquisition, lending, or just about any other area of real estate finance.
- Real estate coverage associate: Some MBA in Real Estate graduates get their start in investment banking as part of teams that raise capital, assist with mergers, and manage real estate assets.
How much do MBA in Real Estate jobs typically pay?
How much you can earn with this degree depends on many factors. Your title is just one of them. Chances are you'll do well: the average salary associated with having a real estate MBA is $102,000—a figure that doesn't include bonuses, equity, commissions, and such. Salaries for real estate MBAs aren't typically as high as salaries for consulting MBAs or traditional MBAs, but including non-salary income the average MBA in Real Estate holder might actually earn closer to $210,000.
Your location, responsibilities, the size of the company you work for, and alma mater may all play a role in how much you earn after graduating from a real estate MBA program. The most important factor, however, may be how much experience you bring to the table. As one Reddit commenter put it in a thread about post-MBA careers in real estate, "The MBA will help a lot by giving you credibility, but counts for nothing without experience in the industry."
Will I advance more quickly with an MBA in Real Estate from a top business school?
Chances are good that you'll advance more quickly in your real estate career if you graduate from schools like University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, or University of California - Berkeley's Haas School of Business. The top on-campus and online MBA in Real Estate programs do a lot more to support student ambitions than those at second-tier schools for a variety of reasons. Students graduate with advantages their peers don't have.
The best real estate MBA programs have with top-tier real estate investment firms and can help students secure valuable internships and mentorships. Professors are industry experts, and guest lecturers come from high-profile investment firms and real estate companies. These programs host networking events and conferences. The alumni networks connected to these programs tend to be large and active, so graduates can tap into those connections throughout their careers. The end result is that graduates find jobs more quickly after graduation (if not before) and frequently earn more.
Will I be qualified for the above jobs if I earn a Master's in Real Estate?
The answer to this question largely depends on which school you choose, not which degree. It's true that, in general, the MBA is the better choice for people who want to work in real estate finance and a Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE) is the best degree for those who want to advance into senior roles in real estate development or management. Still, there can be quite a lot of overlap between real estate MBA and MSRE programs. Some real estate master's programs are very similar to real estate MBA programs and vice versa.
Additionally, there are so many opportunities in different areas of real estate and in industries related to real estate that it's hard to definitively say these are 'MBA jobs' and these are 'MSRE jobs.' Your degree is only one bullet point on your CV. Prospective employers will look at your degree, professional experience, the internships you've completed, and accomplishments. It's possible to transition into finance with an MSRE or to move into developer roles with an MBA, though it may take longer, and you may have to hustle harder to make it happen.
Is an MBA in Real Estate worth it if I don't want to work in finance?
The better question might be 'Is an MBA in Real Estate worth it at all?' Real estate isn't one of those fields like finance or business strategy, in which climbing the ladder without a Master of Business Administration is all but impossible. Plenty of real estate moguls got where they are today by working hard and building relationships after earning a bachelor's degree. A master's degree isn't a necessity in this field. You can learn what you need to know to work in residential and commercial real estate development firms, private equity and investment management firms, and banks without a graduate degree.
On the other hand, if you're aiming for director, vice president, or c-suite positions, chances are good you'll be competing for those roles with people who've been to business school. You may not technically need an MBA, but not having one will likely make your quest more challenging.
Here's the thing, though. The time and money you invest in a real estate MBA degree may only be worth it if you're accepted into a top-tier program like the ones described above. Students in high-profile MBA programs like those at Wharton or Columbia Business School are often recruited into some of the best real estate jobs before they even graduate. The same isn't necessarily true for less notable programs. In the Reddit thread linked above, another commenter pointed out that while "the [number] of candidates that go into real estate is growing, [and] programs [aren't] focused on it enough to bring employers to campus. Most real estate firms are recruiting undergrads and keeping them. Real estate starting salaries are also lower than average for MBA grads, which might be part of the reason schools have not focused on growing real estate recruiting, which could lower the average starting salary they can advertise."
At the end of the day, you probably won't learn everything you need to know to become a real estate investment analyst, acquisitions associate, or consultant in an MBA program. That knowledge will come from experience. And if you can't attend one of the best real estate MBA programs, your industry connections will come from experience as well. Think carefully before choosing this MBA concentration because there are other paths you can take—like getting a traditional MBA or an MSRE or just working your tail off—to land one of the jobs above.
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