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Studying to become a real estate developer

Earlier this week I received a message from an undergraduate architecture student interested in moving into real estate development after school. That was his 10 year plan. And he had clearly read my blog post, “Transitioning from architecture to development.”

In his message, he asked me if there were any books I would recommend he read to improve his real estate and finance knowledge, and, if I could have a “redo”, if I would still do a M.Arch (Master of Architecture) or just go straight to the MBA?

After responding to his message, I thought: “This would make a good blog post, as well as an opportunity to talk about the current state of real estate education in Canada.” So here goes.

If you’re looking for a good real estate book to get you started, I recommend checking out “Real Estate Finance and Investments: Risks and Opportunities" by Peter Linneman. It’s a much easier read and way more casual compared to most textbooks. When I was in grad school, people referred to this book as the "blue bible.” The cover on the previous edition was less purple and more blue. Unfortunately, he has also changed his glasses since the photo below.

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To his second question, if I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing about my education. I loved architecture school and combining it with business school classes and a real estate concentration was the best thing for me. I never wanted to be just a “numbers guy”, but I also never wanted to be a fanciful artist type who didn’t know how to build and manage a pro forma.

Now, let’s talk about real estate education in Canada.

I think we’re way behind. In the US, you can do a Master of Science in Real Estate Development, a Master of Real Estate Development, and all sorts of other real estate degrees. In Canada, you’re probably doing a MBA with a few elective real estate classes. Real estate is the largest asset class in the world. Does that not justify a dedicated degree?

Part of the reason for this, I think, is because real estate development is still very much an entrepreneur’s business–though it has become more institutionalized in recent years. Because of this, people get into development from a variety of different professions. They just need that entrepreneurial hutzpah. And that’s all fine, but I still think that the profession, the economy and our cities would benefit from University trained developers.

So if you’re reading this University of Toronto, I think–and I’ve thought this for awhile now–that The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design and The Rotman School of Management should get together and collectively form a real estate program. Who’s with me?

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