Real estate investment/developing experience


Hey guys,

I'm currently working in a small investment firm and plan to go to architecture school for M.Arch I in the future. 

I've been looking into switching to a major real estate investment/developing firm for a year of two before making the jump to architecture. Reasoning is that it could give me insights into the financial and business sides of the built environment.

I'm not sure where I'll end up in the long run - A run of the mill architect, corporate drone, or something better - but I'm pretty sure it's a good idea to be real familiar with the economics of the building business. 

That said, I've rarely, if ever, seen anyone going from real estate to architecture (A lot going the other way, based on the student profiles of M.Sc Real Estate programs!)

Has anyone here have had real estate experience prior to doing architecture? And if so, how has that helped, if at all? At the minimum, I figured it would be good to speak the same lingo (Rates of return, Net Lettable Area etc) as a developer client.


May 8, 12 4:06 am


  I know you were asking someone who has a real estate background going into architecture. However i do have family members that had architecture backgrounds and went into real estate. I don't think having a real estate background will help in architecture school at all. But it can definitely help your career prospects. By having a grasp on real estate development and architecture you could try and become a design oriented architect developer. I know people who have done this and it really broadened their careers. 

So in that respect I think having a good idea about how real estate works can help you along your career. In academia probably won't help at all.

May 8, 12 4:24 am

Thanks! I wasn't addressing folks with real estate experience - the question was for all.

I don't think real estate is going to help in studio either - If anything, it might make me too pragmatic/budget conscious! But career-wise, glad to hear that it could be helpful.


May 8, 12 6:01 am

monosierra:  I've worked in both architecture and in real estate. Over the course of my career, I've passed back and forth a number of times, as my interests changed and as various opportunties became available. I've found satisfying and rewarding work in both areas. If your ultimate goal is to become a practicing architect, I think you can't go wrong learning as much as you can about the client's side of the table.

In my view, my time spent in real estate made me a better architect and my time spent in architecture made me a better developer. The respective skills, while different, are  highly complementary. Having a solid background in one area adds to your competence in the other.

As you already know, the construction industry is highly, and unavoidably, cyclical. At a minimum, having experience in both architecture and real estate will give you added career flexibilitly as the industry goes through its inevitable cycles.

One other thing. Knowing what goes on inside a development firm probably will give you enhanced confidence to invest in real estate at a personal level. If you decide on a career in architecture, those side investments can go a long way to offsetting the economic fluctuations that inevitiably follow professional practice.

May 8, 12 9:54 am

definitely good to get some experience on the client side - especially enough to see a handful of projects through.  be careful when choosing developers, though - best places are ones that do a lot of urban development, infill, and existing fabric type stuff - because they tend to hire better architects.

May 8, 12 10:38 am

toaster gives good advice above -- not all development firms are created equal.

May 8, 12 4:39 pm

yeah - and even developers who focus on urban environments can be sketchy - but my point is people who've been around for a while and have done multiple projects in places where the public is paying attention tend to be better than most.


there's also working for property managers - interesting in different ways.

May 8, 12 5:15 pm

Thanks for the good advice, especially that on quality of developers. I'm in Singapore actually, and the local building industry is dominated by three or four mega-developers in the middle of a building boom.

They are commissioning a lot of starchitects these days (Libeskind doing a couple condos, Safdie is really popular after he did the Marina Sands, Nouvel has 2 towers branded after himself, etc) and the bubble might deflate soon.

Thanks again for the advice!

May 8, 12 9:46 pm

then it might be worthwhile looking at property management companies.  Different perspective - you'll get to see how well these buildings actually function, how the market for these spaces works, and you could get to work with arch firms who do high-end interiors.  


btw - the money is much better on the developer/broker side.

May 9, 12 8:59 am

If you are currently working in real estate development, stay there. Read as much as you can about architecture and decide what you like and what the market will support. There really is no need to get an architecture degree. As a developer you will be the one calling the shots. As an architect you will be the one doing what the developer is telling you to do

Many real estate developers do their own schematic designing then have an architect step in to do CD's, permits, etc. Unless you like pushing paper, I would suggest staying at the top

May 10, 12 1:04 am

@ mdler: Thanks. I'm actually not in real estate development yet, but in an investment firm and thinking of applying to a developer. Definitely heard of what you described, about the developers calling the shots on design - unless they've just hired a Hadid or Koolhaas to design a condo. It is rather depressing to just do paperwork.

John Portman aside, has there been any architect-developers that have succeeded in both fields (Or just the latter)?

@ toasteroven: Thanks. By property management firms, do you mean the likes of CBRE, DTZ, and Jones Lang?

May 10, 12 8:47 am


Two prominent firms that I can think of - the former focuses mostly on mutli-family high-rises, while the latter focuses mostly on individual homes or town-houses.  The common denominator is that they are both designed to appeal to the very upper end of the market - think top 2%.  Jonathan Segal also offers seminars for architects on how to transition into becoming their own developers, but I've read that these tend to be VERY technically dense and boring (e.g, 200 page manuals filled with real estate lingo, which might be right up your alley if you're already in finance).

May 10, 12 9:05 am

monosierra - yes... those are the big players.  there are also many smaller firms that focus on regional markets - which could be good if you are planning on staying in one place and if you are still set on transitioning to a local arch firm.

May 10, 12 9:58 am


May 10, 12 11:08 pm

Look around your town, you'll probably find some local architect/developers.  Here we have a few that do very consistent work - good design, good projects (color choices aside). 

Money makes things happen, and if you control the money, you decide how/what/where/when. 

The hard part is getting that money.  Nowadays, it is even harder, financing is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get (large rentals being funded by a different set of investors).  There is a reason that you 'need money to make money'.  If you don't have millions to gamble with, you best know people that do (and that will gamble on you).


Personally, I think the control is worth it - you determine what is built, what is important, etc.  If you have investors, then you can go very far.  Best of both worlds - you get to design something you care about and make (potentially) a very good living. 

Hard to do either of those as an architect.

May 11, 12 11:57 am

trace, I agree!  The greatest limiting factor for architects is the lack of control over what is built and where it is built.  This initial move is critical.  The best studio projects are usually the ones where students are able to pick a site and program.  The research that goes into this usually leads to more interesting and practical ideas.  It is the difference between asking to (put a concert hall here) vs. (heres a space...determine the best use for it through research and design it accordingly) 

May 11, 12 12:09 pm

Trace are you still in LA? if so you know any firms that is similar to or architecture/developer/planning

May 11, 12 3:27 pm

we have some experience with developer-ing at our office (in tokyo). 

based on our own work i can quite cynically say that unless working in the high end the market is in control, not the architect and not the developer either.

it can be very hard to make the numbers work for anything but the lowest-common-denominator.   breaking from that limitation is a lot of hard work especially if you are in an economic climate where investors are looking for high yields and comparing the numbers to some fund or other.  Training in both fields might make it easier to find the magic spot, although in many ways ignorance is also bliss. 

it won't help you in school at all.

May 11, 12 5:51 pm

quizzical, do you have personal investments in real estate?  also, i think i remember you saying you have an mba.  would you suggest an mba or something more focused like a certificate or degree in real estate development if one wanted to go into the field?  i just got into one and have been debating this, seeing how being an architect/developer is my ultimate goal (mba seems to be more flexible, should i change my mind about my career at any point)

May 11, 12 11:21 pm

There are few executive mba's out there in re development (not many that  I could find, anywhere, though).  That's what I was looking at (working while going, take my time to get through, etc.).  The one I was looking at required 12 years of experience in the field (architecture counts, marketing re, etc.) and a TON of money! 

Would have been ideal, though, as they have a mentor program, introduce you to all the local players, get you into the circle, etc.

A lot depends on what scale developer you want to work for, too. 


If I were you - go to somewhere you can get both at the same time.  Getting a MArch and a MBA/MSRED at one time would be ideal.


May 12, 12 9:37 am

@Due89: Yes - I have a number of real estate investments, in addition to my home. Some small individual properties I own individually. Other larger commercial properties I own with a group of other investors. And, from my days working at a real estate firm, I still have limited partnership interests in a couple of commercial properties that came to me as part of my compensation for helping to put those projects together.

To be fair, I've also been involved with a couple of deals over the years that went sour and were taken over by the bank -- thankfully, I was only a limited partner in those -- the general partners in those deals each had the privilege of writing 7-figure checks to the bank to resolve their personal guarantees. Ouch!

And yes, I do have an MBA. I'm well along in my career and took that degree back in the day when graduate programs for real estate really were not very common. I really didn't have many choices as to the type of business program I pursued -- only choices related to which school. The MBA probably is more versatile than a degree focused solely on RE development. What's right for you will depend on the clarity of your own career goals. Mine tended to be fuzzy (flexible) over the years, so the MBA was right for me.

May 12, 12 10:31 am

i'm just curious how much worth an mba would be inside a developer setting.  i mean, don't you need to have a more focused education (leases, mortgages, etc.)?  they don't really teach that.


May 12, 12 4:30 pm

@Due89: If you know specifically that you want to spend most of your career in real estate, then an advanced degree focused specifically on real estate likely would be your best bet. If you want more flexibility in the face of an uncertain future economy, then an MBA will provide you with a more general -- but still very valuable -- business education that would more readily allow you to work outisde the architecture-construction-real estate industry.

I had only one focused real estate course while pursuing my own MBA. Once I joined a real estate firm there was a steep learning curve related to the topics you mention, to be sure. However, my employer was more interested in the combination of an architecture background and a business education -- they were willing to teach me the industry specific stuff I needed to know. (note - while it can be complex, it ain't rocket science.)

May 13, 12 6:30 pm

Trace, you're in Denver correct?  What developers do you recommend looking at?

Jun 11, 12 5:18 pm

can anyone suggest any companies in bangalore??

hw about places like atkins & juroung??

Dec 28, 12 2:00 am

Are any of you interested in the Jonathan Segal architect as developer seminar?  I'm selling the videos and documents for $75 that I bought for $500 from  It's invaluable insight that is unavailable anywhere else.  Email me at if interested. 

May 24, 13 11:56 am

Has anyone worked for jones lang or knows what kind of development they do?

Jul 31, 13 4:40 pm

onyx_one are you still around?  Or I guess I could ask this of anybody familiar with Jonathan Segal's program.....  My one question is whether his seminar/ info would be applicable outside of the US (ie Canada)...

I'm dipping my toes into this area, in fact I have a meeting right now with a partner. We may spring for the seminar if it'll help us fine tune our game.  Thanks.

Jul 31, 13 5:45 pm

bowling_ball - I would assume to some degree that Segal's model is applicable in Canada as well.  He does use some tricks that only architects can utilize when it comes to financing but I don't know if those would fly with banks in Canada.  But of course the pro formas and building prototypes he provides with the seminar would be the same for a Canadian development.  He also includes some thorough legal and investor contracts.  

Let me know if you're interested -

Aug 6, 13 7:15 pm

Hey there. I am considering the MRED at Woodbury this year. This is the program led by Ted Smith and Johnathan Segal. 

If I go I will start a blog a document my experience. 


Aug 7, 13 10:41 am

VON LEE - That would be extremely helpful if you did that.  I personally think that 9 months and $36k in tuition is overkill for what is needed to get started in development if you already have an architecture background but still we'd love to hear about the program.  I've followed the graduates of the program and analysed there projects and the money they are making is unreal.  There is a couple of guys that 3 years out of the program that just finished a project with a $2m profit if my pro forma is correct.  

Aug 8, 13 3:05 pm

Anyone know of other design/ real estate development firms like Alloy?

Sep 26, 13 3:43 am
movingcalc looks interesting, I've been looking for a good magazine, anyone have any suggestions?


my blog: moving calculator

Sep 14, 14 4:48 pm

I don’t have time today to read everything here but what I’ve scanned seems solid. I may be repeating but I started out as a draftsman and slid over to a Contractor/Developer to make more money but primarily to learn how to build something. Didn’t make sense to me then or now how you can design a building without walking in their shoes. I went on to be an Architect-Contractor-Developer-Realtor-Property Manager all at the same time….then slid back just to architecture later in my career.

I think the biggest mistake young students are taught is that architecture is drawing something when in actuality is doesn’t become architecture until it’s built. Offices are just filled with drawers of un-built projects - there is even a book titled “Un-built America”. Designing is only a tiny part of the process to creating architecture and I believe that it is the architects charge to know how to get-it-built. Man, knowing finance? Now there’s a key. Few if any architects understand the finance side – architects need to master that so they can design things that can get financed and still win an award. The OP’s entry point brings a key to the door and while there are many keys required he’ll have one of the missing keys needed.

I am a strong advocate for architects understanding the whole process and employing that knowledge to be the smartest guys in the room. I go farther and advocate that architects should be all things and build and develop. While sliding into those fields to learn can get sleazy I point to architectural firms like SHoP Architects where 17 years ago some college students from Columbia started it to create a new model for the profession, check them out.

One of my partners was a star architect and only knew design and not much else. In semiretirement he went off to start a tiny one man firm that did architecture/building and he just loved it – giving him the control he rarely had.

So coming into architecture from real estate – hell yes and bring with you all that you can garner from the whole process and get-it-built.

Sep 15, 14 3:46 pm

One of the best decisions I ever made was deciding to take finance classes over starting taking the licensing exams.  Plus the finance classes were probably 5% of the work it would've taken to study + pass all the exams.  Interestingly enough if there were more architects who had a handle on finance we would probably see better architecture out there.

Oct 19, 16 2:20 pm

I began learning business and architecture at about the same time, and that, I think, is the best way to go.  

Every summer since the beginning of my bachelor's degree I worked for a real estate management office. I was lucky enough that the owner, a licensed broker who owns or is partial owner of about 400 residential properties, was willing to pay me the same as an architectural internship and still take one Friday per month to teach me EVERYTHING about the business of property ownership and management. He gave me a list of books I had to read (Richest Man in Babylon, How to Win Friends and Influence People, How to Wake up the Financial Genius Inside You, and about 10 more) before I was allowed to sit down and learn from him. 

I must add, however, that the two fields typically don't mix for a reason. Those who are good at constantly questioning the nature of things (architects) don't typically do well at money management because they constantly change their minds. Business owners, on the other hand, are typically more concerned with margins than anything else, and have habits of choosing profits over beneficial ideas. The trick, in my opinion, is to try every good idea against a creative business model, and if it works, do it. 

I guess I'll end by saying that you shouldn't (again, in my opinion) go work for a development firm first. Go learn what architecture is really all about, then run those great, fresh ideas through the lens of a business plan, all the while remembering that the most successful businesses begin with value to the costumer, and strive by giving that value to the consumer in a way that is more economically efficient than the competitor. For more on that subject, read Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

Hope that helps!

Jun 25, 17 4:03 pm

Very true. I switched to development 12 years ago. Now no one give me deadlines except myself.

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