Real Estate Career Advice By Stephen Duffy

Where Are the Careers in Real Estate?

Stan Ross and James Carberry interview Stephen J. Duffy, managing director of Moss Adams Capital LLC in Irvine, California.

What skills are currently in demand in real estate?

It could be several years before commercial property markets fully recover. Everyone is assuming that the investment hold periods for real estate assets will lengthen in line with the extended economic recovery. Current underwriting is not assuming high leverage and extraordinary cap rate compression to drive returns. It is very much back to basics on real estate fundamentals. Accordingly, the property operating skills of marketing, leasing, property management, and asset management will be even more critical over the next phase of the cycle.

What do you look for in hiring graduates?

When I first came into real estate, firms would bring in junior people to spend a couple of years learning the business while doing basic market and asset data collection and organization work. There was a definite need for an “organization leverage” model. Now, technology and web-based information provide enormous amounts of relevant market data in highly organized form. The financial modeling tools are also far superior today. As a result, the standard for entry-level professionals has risen. We are looking for people who have the skills and experience to anayze data, build and run financial models, recognize patterns and issues, and assist in presentation preparations. This is far advanced from the past “data grubbing” work. We look for some interesting forms of real estate experience even for undergraduates, whether it summer intern work and/or family real estate experience.

How can young professionals acquire the experience you’re looking for?

One way is to enroll in a real estate program such as that offered by the University of Southern California that provides practical knowledge in all aspects of real estate— finance, asset management, development, and so on. The emphasis is on practical. Get an internship with a real estate company. We hire some of the best and the brightest as interns and give them a high level of on-the-job experience. A third way is to get an entry-level job in brokerage, market research, or property management that provides an opportunity to start at the bottom to gather basic skills. These jobs may not pay a lot, but they provide a solid foundation for a career. Yet another choice is to enroll in a quality graduate business program or law school after working in real estate for a few years. This alternative can increase financial, critical-thinking, teamwork, research, and communications skills.

What qualities must young professionals have to advance in their careers?

One of the most important characterisitics for successful professionals in real estate is that they genuinely like people. It may not be described this way, but real estate is one continuous sales cycle. In real estate, sales occur everywhere, all the time, and at all levels. We are an industry where we are continually convincing others to sell assets, pitch capital, originate debt, sign tenants, sell land, sell assets, sells entities, etc. To be effective at sales, you have to like people. Intelligent and hard-working people can master the technical aspects, but to progress as real estate operators, developers, investors, lenders, service providers, owners, etc., you have to work well with people at multiple levels, continuously. With some exceptions, the giants in this industry have very strong people skills. The ideal balance for young professionals is analytical excellence that masters all the numbers, combined with a people-oriented personality that communicates well.

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