How to Become a Real Estate Developer: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a real estate developer. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in real estate development.

Do I Want to Be a Real Estate Developer?

Real estate developers are entrepreneurs who obtain land, prepare it for development and manage the construction process. They may also spend time negotiating projects and participating in public hearings. Most land developers travel a great deal, with dividing their time between working on their project's site or in the field.

Job Requirements

Many professionals in this occupation have a bachelor's degree and begin their careers in real estate or in a planning or consulting role. The following table contains the core requirements for real estate developers:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard*
Degree Fields Civil engineering, business and management*
Certification Certification available, but not required**
Experience 5+ years of experience***
Key Skills Excellent communication skills, leadership, problem solving, interpersonal, analytical, presentation, project management***
Computer Skills Proficient in Microsoft Office***
Technical Skills Ability to read and understand blueprints, knowledge of construction and architectural design***

Sources: *I Have a Plan Iowa, **Realtors Land Institute, ***Job postings by employers (February/March 2013).

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While earning a bachelor's degree is an important step in becoming a real estate developer, this degree doesn't have to be in a specific subject. Several majors include the courses that can help aspiring real estate developers build the skills necessary for the role. Relevant subjects include civil engineering, business and management. A degree in civil engineering can be valuable since it can help students learn how things are built. Programs in business or management can help students develop logical reasoning skills, critical thinking and analytical abilities, in addition to learning about modern management practices.

Success Tip:

  • Develop strong communication skills. Strong communication skills are an essential element needed for real estate developers when interacting with various individuals. To develop and enhance these skills, students can consider courses in communications, English and public speaking.

Step 2: Gain Experience in Real Estate

Before beginning a career as a real estate developer, many professionals gain experience by working in a related field, such as real estate. One can search for entry-level positions that involve the development, buying or selling of real estate to gain exposure in the field. Careers in planning or consulting can also help to prepare individuals for a career as a real estate developer.

Step 3: Consider a Master's Degree

Master's programs in real estate development can help students learn about the issues that real estate developers frequently face, including design, planning, land use and environmental regulations. Many of these programs incorporate numerous disciplines, such as city and regional planning, finance, architecture and construction science, public policy, law, sustainability and management. Students enrolled in a master's program in real estate development can also expect to learn about negotiation, marketing, economics, urban history and deal structuring in all structures, including industrial, office, retail, commercial and residential. Other applicable majors could include community development or urban planning.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Many master's programs in real estate development offer students numerous opportunities to gain experience in preparation for their first jobs in the industry. By participating in an internship, students can make valuable contacts and learn how to apply the skills they have learned in a professional context. Mentoring programs may also be available. Through a mentoring program, students work one-on-one with professionals in the industry and learn how they contribute to communities, serve clients, work with peers and manage their business.

Step 4: Consider Certification

Although certification is voluntary, one can explore the Realtors Land Institute's Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) credential. To qualify, individuals must submit several pieces of documentation. Some of the requirements include an active real estate license, Institute membership for at least six months and a minimum of three years of real estate experience in areas like real estate sales, brokerage or development. Additionally, applicants must complete courses through Land University and pass an exam. The ALC designation is valid as long as Institute membership is kept active.

Step 5: Continue Education

Prospective developers who want to commit to learning the industry may want to consider a certificate or continuing education program. The Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP) has programs resulting in a Certificate of Advanced Study in Real Estate Development and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Real Estate Finance. To achieve these certifications, one must take a required number of courses. These courses range from advanced development practices, real estate law and land use policy, advanced real estate finance and financial analysis of development projects.

The NAIOP also offers continuing education programs that can help to support and facilitate learning opportunities. Individuals who choose to complete a continuing education program can choose from eight course selections, including advanced finance, site analysis, construction management and commercial leasing.

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