COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | MELISSA FOSTER

A young woman’s career in commercial real estate

Commercial real estate is a hidden gem of an opportunity for women. If more women knew about the dynamics and growth possibilities of a career in commercial real estate and what it has to offer both professionally and personally, I think there would be many more of us in the industry.

I am an associate of the San Diego division of CBRE Investment Properties, a specialty practice group within the CBRE Capital Markets Platform, with a focus on the private client sector of the investment properties arena.

Originally from Redondo Beach, I moved to San Diego in the summer of 2010 right after graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in business economics. I had no real estate background and no personal or business connections in San Diego. While my undergraduate major provided me with solid analytical tools, it did not provide me a clear direction for my career.

A family friend, and now mentor, encouraged me to consider commercial real estate. After several months of informational interview meetings and securing my real estate broker license, I was offered an entry-level position at CBRE in March of 2011. Effective February of this year, I’ve officially transitioned to my current role.

Commercial real estate was not something I considered when I was trying to figure out my next steps after college. Frankly, it was not anything that I had any exposure to as a potential career option. I was always told the sky’s the limit and I could be anything I wanted to be, but commercial real estate just wasn’t in my vocabulary.

From underwriting to creating a marketing package to close of escrow, there is an art to negotiating, contracting and closing a commercial real estate sales transaction that is dynamic and vibrant.

There are many moving parts throughout the process, each with deadlines and varying expectations from multiple parties that need to be delicately balanced and managed along the way.

Brokers are like matchmakers: Our job is to advise our clients in a way that points them in the right direction to achieve their goals. For our clients, it is finding the right match between buyer and seller as well as the right property to buy or sell.

Surprisingly to most, if you were to ask my closest friends and family to describe me growing up, they would likely say, “She’s somewhat shy, conservative, a Type A personality with a great work ethic and good sense of humor.” This career has allowed me to tap into a part of myself that I did not even know I was capable of having.

I love being my own boss and knowing that my success is a true and direct result of my efforts — something that multiple-choice college exams didn’t necessarily allow for. I love that every day is different, bringing new sets of opportunities and challenges that I’m responsible for working through and resolving.

Being a part of a team, you benefit from leveraging each other’s different skills in a way that ultimately gets the best result for the client. Therefore, good team chemistry, cooperation and collaboration are imperative. Ultimately, our clients hold each of us accountable for our actions. Everything is on me to perform for the client and my team, and I find that so empowering and motivating.

I love the social aspect of this business, too. Whether touring a building with clients or other brokers or attending an industry networking event, the ability to get “outside” and meet new people is exciting and adds a dimension to this career.

Although time-intensive, my career still provides an opportunity to pursue my interests and priorities outside of the office. I genuinely believe that it is possible, and necessary, to maintain balance in life. You just have to know what you want and what your priorities are and go for it.

People make time for things that are important to them – job and family. I know many women (some sit about 10 feet from me) who are living proof of that. The world is your canvas in this business. You decide how to spend your time and where to spend it. Sure, things come up and sometimes the daily task list changes, but, hey, that’s life!

My recipe for success in a career in commercial real estate includes the following: leadership, risk tolerance, professional expertise, passion for what you do and an extremely strong work ethic. The hours can be long and the risks significant, but the rewards can be great, and that is an exciting prospect. If more young women were aware of the opportunities a career in commercial real estate has to offer, more would take a shot at it.


Foster focuses on the sale of office, medical office and industrial investment properties in San Diego County. She is active in CREW San Diego, an industry organization devoted to the advancement of women in commercial real estate.

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Katie 1:37pm July 30, 2014

You bring up a great point Melissa. Women aren't missing from Commercial Real Estate because of a lack of interest but due to a lack of exposure and knowledge. We need to do a better job introducing them to CRE and helping them understand what a career in the field really looks like. I agree with you it is a challenging but very rewarding career that does allow balance!

Patricia 8:44pm July 14, 2014

I love this article! I too am in commercial real estate, on the property management side and loving every minute of it! Would love to explore opportunities in San Diego! Keep up the good work!

Rear Admiral (Ret.) Michael Giorgione 8:49am July 13, 2014

I recently met Melissa at the NAIOP Developing Leaders Council Lunch and Learn where I spoke to the group on developing their leadership potential and how to best build and lead a team. This introduction led to an invitation to visit her office and learn more about her approach to business and opportunities in the commercial real estate industry. Melissa is an extremely talented, charismatic and focused professional and her article is an excellent summary of her attitude, style and approach.