Mastering Your Future
Commercial real estate pros weigh in on the value of advanced degrees versus experience.
Do your clients care what diplomas hang on your office walls?
not, say most commercial real estate professionals who responded to an
e-mail survey on graduate degrees. "An advanced degree means little to
a client except as a door opener," says Ernest G. Condra, CCIM, of
Cohen & Malad in Indianapolis. "The only thing that matters is a
person's personal attributes and what they do that day."
agree that experience is more valuable. "You're only as good as your
last deal," says Paul Blum, CCIM, of Re/Max Commercial Investment in
Of course, it should
be mentioned that Condra holds a master of business administration from
Indiana University and Blum has a doctor of law degree from New York
Law School. They are representative of survey respondents - most hold
advanced academic degrees but value commercial real estate industry
Of CCIMs and other
commercial real estate professionals who responded to the survey, 60
percent hold MBAs, 12 percent have master's degrees in real estate, 12
percent have master's or doctorate degrees in tangential or unrelated
fields, almost 7 percent hold law degrees, and 9 percent have no
the anecdotal survey indicates a depth of education among commercial
real estate professionals. On a broader scale, a 2002 CCIM Institute
survey revealed that almost 24 percent of CCIMs have advanced degrees,
more than 20 percent have some post-graduate study, and nearly 40
percent have undergraduate degrees.
Professionalizing the Industry
While seasoned practitioners might be surprised at the number of
graduate degrees among their colleagues, those in education are not.
Wall Street beginning to recognize real estate as an asset class,
brokers need the skills to converse with [professionals who have] MBAs,
and they need to know how to play with the big money," says Elaine
Worzala, director of a new real estate master's program at the
University of San Diego.
percent of the Chicago School of Real Estate graduate students already
are employed in real estate, says Jon B. DeVries, who heads the
two-year-old program at Roosevelt University in Chicago. "These
students are in a far more competitive and corporate world; they find
additional training a valuable asset."
only need a state real estate license to set up shop; however, most
acknowledge that an undergraduate degree now is a minimum requirement.
Along with a bachelor's degree, many companies want professionals who
have commercial real estate experience, which can be hard to come by in
a slow economy. In lieu of work, a graduate degree can make a
"I researched prospective
jobs for real estate majors and discovered that most jobs require three
to five years of experience or a graduate degree," says Brooke Tallman,
who has an undergraduate degree in real estate and is a first-year law
student at the University of Denver.
on the hiring side agree. "With youth, the degree is important,
especially in years one through four [of a career]," says Craig C.
Evans, CCIM, senior managing director of Colliers ABR in New York.
I was in charge of hiring for KPMG's Honolulu office, I would not
interview employment candidates without an advanced degree,? says Scot
J. Voronaeff, CCIM, MAI, who now owns Premiere Properties in Honolulu. "Currently I would not consider it a necessity but certainly value it
as a great asset."
Today's students are
well aware of the many high-paying careers in the $5 trillion
commercial real estate industry. USD's inaugural class had twice the
number of applicants it expected, and Roosevelt's program currently has
more than 100 students.
today come to us with much more education and direction," says Mark Lee
Levine, CCIM, CIPS, CRE, director of the University of Denver's Burns
School of Real Estate and Construction Management, which also has seen
an upsurge in students. "[They] realize that formal education in real
estate is very important."
Experience Counts - Up to a Point
Industry insiders acknowledge that graduate degrees only take you so
far. "Both my MBA and CCIM [designation] were very instrumental in my
getting hired," says Christian J. Johannsen, CCIM, managing director of
the Aztec Group in Miami. "After that, experience and production carry
much more weight."
Yet as the industry consolidates, others realize that experience isn't enough, especially in corporate environments.
have to meet certain academic requirements before you are considered
for some positions," says Pamela A. Dudash, CCIM, vice president of MB
Real Estate in Chicago. "Even with experience you are limited in how
far you can climb before the lack of education stops your career."
she just had been named vice president at Coldwell Banker, Letty M.
Bierschenk, CCIM, currently with the Bierschenk Group in Bell Canyon,
Calif., felt the pressure to get a degree to maintain her status. "Many
of the new people being hired at that time had MBAs, and it became
evident that an advanced degree would be helpful if not essential," she
says. She obtained a master's in federal taxation, "to offer something
Changing Career Paths
Others seek advanced degrees to take a new direction. Prior to getting
a master's in real estate, Richard Button, CCIM, was "substantially
locked into a brokerage career path." Graduate education allowed him to "pursue real estate as an investment/asset class," he says. "It
provided me the fundamentals to confidently engage in acquisition,
financing, and development activities." Along with owning investment
real estate, Button now runs the asset and property management division
of Granite Realty in State College, Pa.
J. Latina, CCIM, moved in the opposite direction. After six years of
local development in Milwaukee, he wanted a better understanding of the
big picture - how capital markets fund urban redevelopment projects. He
attended Columbia University's interdisciplinary master's of real
estate development program. Today, as a vice president for San
Francisco-based A.F. Evans Development, Latina develops mixed-use urban
infill projects. "The degree pushed me to the top of my compensation
range and definitely opened doors in management positions that were not
open to those with more experience," he says.
Advanced degrees also help transaction brokers move into consulting or jump up to bigger, more lucrative deals.
get more brokerage business because of my degrees," says Tom Whatley,
CCIM, who owns Whatley Realty Services in Atlanta and holds an MBA and
a master's in real estate from Georgia State University. "I am
beginning to do some consulting that would have been impossible without
an advanced degree."
brokers speculate that advanced degrees have little effect on salaries
and commissions, others report a 20 percent salary hike due to graduate
degrees, more negotiating power for bonuses and commissions, and the
ability to win high-commission transactions.
has given me more credibility and opened the door to large national
deals,' says Hal Hanstein, CCIM, GRI, of Cardinal Realty Group in St.
Peters, Mo., who has a master's in real estate management.
is a side benefit that many discovered while in school. "I probably
learned just as much from the experienced people who took the classes
with me," says Dee C. Metz, CCIM, president of Metz & Associates in
Bethesda, Md., who received a master's in real estate from Johns
Hopkins University. "Learning from their real-life experiences and now
having those contacts to call is invaluable. My earnings also
increased because of the extra business I've done with classmates and
Looking to the Future
About 80 percent of real estate new hires come from competitors within
the in dustry, according to real estate consultants CEL &
Associates. That high entry barrier could spell disaster in the near
future. By 2010 experts predict 10 million more jobs nationwide than
qualified people to fill them. Coupling that fact with the average age
of today's real estate professional - 45 - means the industry needs new
ways to identify qualified new hires.
educators and commercial real professionals tread lightly when it comes
to instituting an industry-wide degree requirement for brokers.
don't think advanced degrees are ever going to be required, but there's
certainly a difference in the quality of service [brokers with degrees]
can offer, their extensive awareness of issues, and [their ability to]
look out for clients," Worzala says.
Groppenbacher, CCIM, CIPS, associate broker with Re/Max Commercial
Investment in Scottsdale, thinks requiring more education isn't the
answer. "Real estate is one of the few business areas where a person
without higher degrees can put forth honest work, provide a great
service, and be very well compensated."
commercial real estate is a very competitive field," Metz adds. "People
who think they can go out and get a degree and become successful before
learning the business and the market through experience are usually
disappointed. But if you have the experience, the degree shortens your
learning curve and opens up more opportunities for greater success."