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Now is a good time to enter commercial real estate, experts say

Recent graduates can expect difficult start, but dividends down the road

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With consolidations and office shrinkage still going on, now may not seem like a very good time to get into the commercial real estate business. Then again, if you can make it during this trough, you may be riding the crest of a wave in a couple of years.

Both Mark Goldman, a professor for San Diego State University's Corky McMillin Real Estate Center, and Mark Riedy, executive director of the Burnham Moores Center for Real Estate at the University of San Diego, have been pleasantly surprised by the interest of their students in the commercial real estate field.

"Now is probably a great time to get into commercial real estate," Goldman said.

Goldman said he currently has 18 students who are pursuing majors in commercial real estate. In fact, the majority of students who are entering the real estate program at the Corky McMillin Center are in the program pursuing commercial rather than residential studies.

Riedy agreed that commercial real estate is popular and said that about 75 percent of those in a real estate major are headed for a degree with a focus in commercial real estate.

The Burnham Moores Center has 26 graduate students in its Master of Science in Real Estate and roughly 90 undergraduate students, most of whom are in the commercial program.

"This was third in interest for our (business) students behind accounting and finance," Riedy said. "That was among 10 or 12 disciplines."

Goldman said just because a student is headed for a degree in commercial real estate doesn't necessarily mean they will be going into the commercial brokerage business.

"Some go into appraisal, property management …” Goldman said, adding that the range of professions for his students go from asset buyers to hedge fund managers.

Riedy countered that if students are in Burnham Moores' Master of Science in Real Estate program, they should have a very good idea about the field in which they wish to work. Riedy said his school has close to a 100 percent success rate in placing students into jobs.

When asked if this is a good time to get into the commercial real estate business, Goldman said "it is a lot more fun to ride a market up than ride it down."

As for the lack of jobs in the industry, Goldman said that unpaid internships are a way for new graduates to get their foot in the door. While stating it is wrong when unpaid interns are strung along only to be replaced, Goldman also said the internship process gives students a chance to prove themselves.

"We really want our young people to have as good a leg up as they can," Goldman said.

Once they have reached the graduate level, Riedy said students aren't likely to accept an unpaid internship. Riedy said students aren't only interested in commercial real estate and the companies who might hire them are showing a strong interest in doing do, even in these more difficult times.

"We had a career expo in which companies brought two representatives and they were complaining 'you only gave us an hour and a half.'" Riedy said. If not already involved in an internship, students are strongly encouraged by Burnham Moores to get part-time jobs -- even if it is in another field -- to gain work experience.

Riedy said he is encouraged that at the very least, temporary hiring -- often a barometer of the more permanent variety -- is trending up. That may be good for his students, but not necessarily for the veterans. "Some of the senior people might not get hired back," he said.

Those who are working in the industry are still painting a picture of a job market that remains very far from ideal.

"It's very difficult to get into the business. It's really hard to break in," said Andy LaDow, a Cassidy Turley/BRE Commercial principal.

Jim Spain, a Colliers International regional managing director, who said he isn't hiring inexperienced brokers, suggested that someone just starting out in commercial real estate might wish to begin their career in management rather than in sales and leasing.

Noting that there is still a surplus of commercial brokers chasing a limited universe of deals, Gregory Albertini, a Grubb & Ellis senior vice president, agreed that getting into the business now remains a difficult proposition -- for experienced brokers and those just getting into commercial real estate.

"It's tough for veterans because there are a lot of brokers out there and it's tough for someone starting out now," Albertini said. "You have to be a real go-getter to make it in this environment."

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