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Do I Need a Degree to Work in Real Estate? 

What can you do to create a successful career in real estate?



Most of the people I know who work in real estate grew organically into their positions, or joined existing family businesses. They know the right people and invested well. None went to college. Is there a reason to get a degree in the field or can I just follow their lead?


If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they wanted to “go into real estate,” I’d be a wealthy real estate investor. It’s fairly common to dream of earning a fabulous living “doing real estate.” Maybe you know someone who never seems to be at work and still seems to be well-off. What do they do? Real estate, of course.

But kidding aside, what do all these people actually do? What’s the secret to getting started? And most of all, what can you do to create a successful career in real estate?

Let’s begin by clarifying the difference between a career and an investment. Are you actually interested in the work itself, or are you hoping that you can invest in real estate and eventually create a passive income stream through your investments? It’s important to resolve that before starting your career. If your goal is really investment, it makes sense to choose another career path that’s suited to your abilities, interests, and talents, and then to eventually invest accumulated savings into real estate.

But if you’ve determined that you are actually interested in the field, what are the realistic options? Is there any reason to get a degree? Since I’m far from being a real estate pro, I posed this question to my network of real estate professionals actually in the field, many in the position of hiring.

I’ve summarized their responses here, and I hope this can give you the insight you need to make this decision.

  • Becoming a residential agent or broker is a common way to start in real estate. Those signs you see on the lawns of homes in your neighborhood? They’ve got the names of residential agents on them. All you need to get started is to pass a licensing exam, join a team, and you’re in! But… it’s a commission-only role, so don’t expect to see a dime for the first six months to a year. Training is mostly on the job, and I highly recommend working for an experienced agent in the beginning, who can show you the ropes and provide hands-on instruction. Many successful agents work with a coach for accountability and to hone their skills as they progress.
  • To work as a commercial agent, you’d also need to pass an exam and get licensed. As opposed to residential agents, here the focus is on brokering larger deals rather than working on behalf of homeowners and buyers. Negotiating, networking, and managing complex deals are part of the process. Most agents agree that a degree is unnecessary, although it can be useful, especially when it comes to overseeing the underwriting process.
  • Property management is another interesting route to a successful career in the field. Finding an entry-level position as an assistant property manager is the best way to get started. If you’re handy and ready to roll up your sleeves and work hard, this is a great way to learn from the ground up. Ideally, your plan would be to move up to property manager, then become an asset manager for an owner, and eventually go on to purchasing and managing your own properties. Here, too, you’ll learn skills on the job you wouldn’t learn in any school!
  • What about raising money for real estate or becoming a venture capitalist? In those areas, what people are looking for is a successful portfolio, not a degree. Once you’ve built up a reputation and track record, you’ve got what counts.

So when is a degree actually important? In most cases, only if you are looking to work in the corporate world. Becoming an acquisitions analyst, for example (which is great background to eventually purchase real estate on your own), would require a degree. Same if you would want to work in institutional capital. If you’re hoping to work for a private equity firm or institutional investor, start with a college degree. Any degree in real estate provides enough training to get a first job, and then you can work your way up in the roles. NYU offers an excellent selection of online real estate certificates and degrees that I recommend looking into if you are considering a degree in the field.

According to the Gemara, the best financial portfolio is made up of real estate, business, and liquid cash, with a third of your assets in each. For those who aim to invest in real estate, a background in accounting or finance is a solid foundation to getting started. Taking a few business courses can help you run the numbers and make smart investment decisions.

Of course, this is a simple review of a very complex field. In general though, the advice I got was to get started, ask a lot of questions to those in the field, and learn by doing!

Wishing you hatzlachah in your decision.


Thank you to the professional advice from many wonderful LinkedIn connections in preparing this response, including Uri Jaskiel, Sol Barrish, Ira Zlotowitz, Eli Fried, Jeff McDermott, Miriam Aron, Chaya Klein, Simcha Davidman, Esq., & Julie Elkon.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 867)

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