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3 ways to get into real estate development

The most popular post on this blog is this one here called, “What real estate developers do and why I became one.” This post alone has been responsible for a good chunk of the organic traffic that this site receives since I wrote it back in 2014. If you search for “real estate developer” in Google it usually comes up on the first page.

Probably because of this post, the number one question I receive in my inbox is about how to become a developer or how to transition into development from some other discipline. Usually this comes from someone who is early on in their career and/or is in architecture (which is not surprising given my background as a fake architect).

I have tried to respond to this question publicly and at scale with a number of different posts. But many of you probably haven’t seen them before, and so I figured it would be a good idea to summarize some of them here (they’re usually tagged with “developer dirt“):

If you’re looking for a more succinct summary of what to do, here is what I would suggest to you. You basically have three options.

1) You can convince someone to take a chance and hire you, even though you likely don’t have any development experience. Maybe you have a background in something relevant such as real estate law, architecture, or politics (good). Or maybe you don’t (less good). Either way, the best way to position yourself is to understand what it is that developers do and figure out a way to create value for them from day one. You want to be in a position to say, “Yeah, I know I don’t have any direct development experience, but I can do X, Y, and Z for you starting today and I think that would be helpful to you for the following reasons.”

2) Get a relevant degree. I’m thinking an MBA in real estate or some sort of master’s in real estate development. The reality is that the development business has, in many ways, become more institutionalized. It has gone, though obviously not entirely, from rich private families developing with their own balance sheets to more institutional capital sources, such as pension funds. Because of this, there are going to be hiring managers out there who need to check off certain boxes. For example, does this person have a real estate degree? This may make it harder for someone to take a chance on you if you don’t have the right experience and/or credentials.

3) Just go out and do it. Despite becoming more institutional, the development business remains, in my view, a deeply entrepreneurial endeavor. You have to be able to problem solve and you have to be creative. The best developers I know don’t focus on can’t, they focus on how. Because there are too many obstacles in this business. A can’t mentality wouldn’t get you very far. So consider renovating a triplex, building a laneway suite, or doing something else that allows you to take a piece of real estate and create some additional value. Because that’s all that development really is at the end of the day.

If you found this post useful, please consider sharing it with someone that you think would benefit from it. And if there are other topics that you would like me to cover (or cover in more detail), please feel free to leave a comment below or to at me on Twitter. I prefer Twitter over email because it forces brevity. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, all.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash


  1. Hi Brandon. I like your blog. Thks for doing it. A few Canadian comments. 1. On education to be a developer, you could mention the 2 great undergrad Real Estate programs we have in Canada (with way more core and elective courses than any MBA) at Guelph and Ryerson UBC has some courses.
    You could mention REALPAC’s RPIC program – which is Canada’s only executive education program in real estate – Or our one off courses in real estate proformas: (sorry website out of date – being converted). I’ll send a separate note on textbooks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Textbooks. I’ve taught Linneman and its no bible. I found mistakes in it. Most Canadian profs use either Brueggeman and Fisher, or Geltner, Miller, Clayton, Eichholtz Real Estate Finance Texts. I think only Rotman uses Linneman. Jim Clayton now heads up Schulich’s MREI program. The only Canadian Real Estate textbook so far is mine, with Canadian laws and Canadian context:
    Recently also Murtaza Haider of Ryerson’s Real Estate faculty has written Real Estate Markets: An Introduction, which I am reading now: Just FYI. A lot of resources here. Not sure if Linneman is one of your sponsors. Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There’s a fourth way to become a Developer…maybe.
    Find a development niche that no one has thought of before.
    For example, for 4 years, I’ve been first, designing and modeling an over-the-river (East River, NYC) arched building. Because of the laws of physics, and also as a major selling point, the building would be the largest in the world, by floor area. There’s a Chinese stadium that comes close, but is less than the nearly 25m sf of the RiverArch (it helps to have a catchy name too.
    There are a few over-the-river old buildings in Europe, and there is also the St. Louis Gateway Arch (one of my inspirations), and many waterside projects, including one literally called Waterside Plaza here in NYC (another inspiration), but none that promise to house and provide workspace for >21,000 people.
    I’m 62 – developers who hear about my project ask me all the time how old I am because of their projected timeframe for a mega-project like this. I don’t have time to “come up through the ranks” and no one would give someone my age a chance anyway. The industry is rife with ageism – the major Developer organization, Urban Land Institute (ULI) has a mentoring program that won’t even accept a mentee over 40, for example. I don’t have a degree, though I study like crazy and do have a Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG) certificate now from the Waterfront Alliance.
    But I can still be actively working long enough to complete the RiverArch (one of my Developer partners is 87; Developers tend to live a long time. They have to see their projects through!). For one thing, the sites the building would be built upon will not be available forever; one is a utility pier that will be redeveloped, and the other is entirely city-owned and will be upgraded. Either change could knock the possibility of building the RiverArch out within the next year or two. A major A&E firm said the building could take 3-5 years to build, using 24/7 modular construction, and delivery by barge (saving 1,000s of truck miles on nearby city streets).

    I know I would not be getting meetings, including politicians, if not for the uniqueness of the building (it helps that 30%, or 2,300 units, will be permanently affordable at 50% discount to market rate). I’ve carved a niche for myself, but there are others on a smaller scale too. Flex-Micro-apartments provide some space for that. Maybe I’ll succeed, maybe I won’t. It beats premature retirement…

    More info in this headlined article in the local paper, The Broadsheet: (scroll past the ads a bit) or this fly-through 3-minute video:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Awesome! Thanks for sharing. Most of the people are looking for this and you shared. Your suggestions are really good. Definitely, people will love your post and suggestion.


  5. Pingback: Being a real estate developer means asking a lot of questions – BRANDON DONNELLY

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