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How to Get into Commercial Real Estate: Side Doors, Front Doors, Steppingstones, and Career Paths

While many people are focused on investment banking and private equity, commercial real estate (CRE) offers a wealth of opportunities that often go unnoticed. Getting into commercial real estate is actually much easier for many...

While many people are focused on investment banking and private equity, commercial real estate (CRE) offers a wealth of opportunities that often go unnoticed. Getting into commercial real estate is actually much easier for many people compared to breaking into investment banking. The industry offers numerous pathways, doesn't necessarily require an Ivy League degree or high GPA, allows for easy movement between different CRE jobs, and offers competitive salaries. However, it's important to note that the industry is highly cyclical, and transitioning to another industry after spending years in real estate can be challenging.

How to Get into Commercial Real Estate: Which Sector Do You Target?

Commercial real estate is often divided into two main sectors: fee for service and investing roles. Fee for service roles involve providing services or executing deals by connecting buyers and sellers, while investing roles involve making investment decisions and profiting based on capital and deal performance. In general, it's easier to find fee for service roles directly out of university, making them a better option for students looking for internships and entry-level positions. However, it's important to keep in mind that there are exceptions to this rule.

How to Get into Commercial Real Estate: Initial Roles

If you're interested in moving up to bigger and better CRE roles, there are several options to consider. The most recommended ones are appraisal/valuation and brokerage roles.

Leasing/Property Management

In these roles, you work at a local property management firm and handle tenant-related issues for different property types. Tasks include lease renewals, negotiating new terms, handling repairs and maintenance, and managing renovations. While the job can be stressful, especially when dealing with residential properties, it provides valuable experience in leases, property budgets, and management. However, it can be difficult to transition from these roles to investment/deal-related positions, as some CRE investors look down on property management.


Real estate appraisal involves valuing properties for sale or refinancing purposes. It's considered one of the best "initial jobs" in CRE because it provides the opportunity to gain real estate financial analysis and valuation skills, network with brokers and investors, and offers good exit opportunities. The downside is that obtaining the required licensing can be time-consuming. However, the pay and career growth prospects are promising.


In brokerage roles, you connect buyers and sellers of properties and earn commissions based on the deal's value. While breaking into brokerage is relatively easy, succeeding on the job can be challenging, especially in the first few months. The compensation is often commission-based, so you may not earn anything until you close a deal. However, experienced brokers can earn substantial incomes, especially if they have a strong network and sell high-priced properties.


These roles can potentially lead to real estate development positions. While they offer opportunities to learn about the physical side of real estate, they require significant education and may not be relevant for finance and investment roles.

How to Get into Commercial Real Estate: Intermediate Roles

Intermediate roles usually require some work experience, such as internships in investment banking, private equity, or real estate. These roles include asset management, real estate private equity at smaller firms, real estate lending, and real estate investment banking.

Asset Management

Asset management involves optimizing properties after they are acquired and overseeing various aspects such as tenant management, property appraisals, renovations, and budgeting. While the compensation tends to be lower compared to acquisition roles, asset management offers good exit opportunities.

Real Estate Private Equity (Smaller Firms)

Real estate private equity (REPE) firms acquire and sell properties. Entry-level roles typically involve financial modeling, due diligence, and meetings. REPE offers a wider variety of backgrounds for entry, making it a feasible option for those without traditional investment banking experience.

Real Estate Lending

In commercial real estate lending, you review deals and make decisions on funding loans for property acquisitions and development. It offers a wide range of entry paths and exposure to various deals. The role provides good exit opportunities and is considered a steppingstone to other roles in real estate.

Real Estate Investment Banking

Real estate investment banking involves advising companies in the real estate sector. It is similar to traditional investment banking roles and requires strong academic and professional credentials. Breaking into real estate investment banking can be challenging, and the skill set may not transfer well from other CRE roles.

How to Get into Commercial Real Estate: Endgame Roles

Endgame roles are considered permanent roles in CRE. These roles include real estate private equity (larger firms), real estate debt funds, real estate development, and real estate investment trusts (REITs).

Real Estate Private Equity (Larger Firms)

Real estate private equity at larger firms offers advancement opportunities and is considered an endgame goal for many. Working at established firms such as Blackstone or Brookfield provides a clear hierarchy and potential for career growth.

Real Estate Debt Funds

Real estate debt funds operate independently and fund a wider variety of debt issuances. Breaking into RE debt funds is challenging and usually requires several years of full-time experience.

Real Estate Development

Real estate development involves dealing with various issues related to property development, such as budgeting, construction, and government approvals. Breaking into development can be done through finance/deals or construction/architecture/engineering roles.

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

REITs are long-term holding companies that acquire, develop, and hold properties. REITs require some work experience and offer good exit opportunities. Salaries in REITs are competitive but generally lower than in private equity.

How to Get into Commercial Real Estate: Final Thoughts

Commercial real estate is a rewarding career choice for those who are willing to network aggressively, have good execution skills, and do not necessarily have great "on paper" credentials. The best way to get into commercial real estate depends on your current position, whether you're a university student or have already graduated. Pursuing internships and entry-level positions in fee for service roles, such as brokerage or appraisal, is a great starting point for students. Graduates can consider roles in lending, brokerage, or asset management. Overall, commercial real estate offers a wide range of opportunities tailored to different preferences and skill sets.