Becoming a Real Estate Developer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out what real estate developers do for a living, how to get into the career, what education you need, and what you could begin working in the property industry. Schools offering Real Estate degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career at a Glance

Real estate developers create residential and commercial buildings and sites from scratch - with vision, creativity, resourcefulness and an ability to supervise and work with many different agencies and professionals. If you like taking risks, love teamwork and want to nurture your passion for creating spaces for people and businesses, this might be just the career for you. Check out the following table for a quick glimpse into the requirements, salary, and outlook for this career.

Degree required At least high school diploma, bachelor's is beneficial
Educational field Real estate, business, law, architecture, urban planning, marketing
Key Skills Creativity, patience, team working, organized, analytical, research, networking, resourcefulness, communication, risk tolerance, vision
Job Growth (2016-2026) 11% (Construction Managers)*
Average Annual Salary (2019) $91,565** (Real Estate Development Manager)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

What Do Real Estate Developers Do?

Real estate developers turn land into living or working spaces, or even entire industrial complexes. They envision the best use of a space and make this vision a reality. Developers buy suitable land, search for and hire professionals such as architects, engineers, and building contractors, organize financing, negotiate building and other permits with government officials, and oversee the construction and later sale of properties.

What Do Real Estate Developers Earn?

Real estate developers face great risks and opportunities. As the U.S. housing crisis showed, the price for real estate can rise and decline rapidly and is not always predictable. If you make smart decisions regarding location and type of development, and luck is on your side, you can make a lot of money. However, if the market faces a downturn during the construction phase, or you cannot find enough buyers or investors, you could also end up with huge losses. PayScale reports an average salary of $91,565 for real estate development managers as of 2019. Of course, this figure can vary widely, depending on what kind of projects you work on.

What Education Do I Need to Become a Real Estate Developer?

You need no formal education to become a real estate developer, but it helps. Tailored undergraduate and post-graduate programs teach specific subjects related to real estate, which can give you an edge in the field. There are courses available in topics such as real estate economics, real estate development products, real estate development building systems, and entrepreneurship in construction and real estate development.

How Do I Start My Career?

Your success as a real estate developer depends greatly on your experience. People in the field hail from all sorts of backgrounds, from real estate agents to architects and house flippers, but they know their industry.

A way to get a foot in the door and gain experience is to join a real estate development, construction or other type of business in the industry as an intern or in an entry-level position. You could also work in a related profession, such as construction or property management to learn more about your chosen field.

What Skills Do I Need to Develop?

Real estate developers need to liaise and negotiate with a wide range of people from government officials and financiers to utility companies and skilled trades-persons. Good team working abilities, communication skills and patience are therefore vital to the role.

In addition, real estate developers need creativity and vision, and a tolerance for risk. They have to research and decide which areas have potential, what developments would be best suited, and then ride out the ups and downs of the market during lengthy projects to hopefully make a profit.

They also need sound financial knowledge to secure funding and be analytical as well as resourceful to deal with the various unplanned challenges along the way.

What Areas Can I Work in?

The main two areas real estate developers work in is commercial and residential.

While residential property development focuses on creating homes and living spaces, commercial real estate development centers on office buildings, industrial complexes and other commercial structures. Commercial real estate development tends to be larger and more complex than the residential side of the business.

If you are working for a land development firm or as part of a larger development team, you might also pick a specialty such as acquisition and negotiation, or the sales aspect after completion of projects.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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