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Why a Real Estate Degree Really Matters

Carrie Rossenfeld Healthcare & Education

The following article was written exclusively for SoCal Real Estate:

By Norm Miller, PhD, Hahn Chair of Real Estate Finance at the University of San Diego School of Business and Affiliated with the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate

Norm Miller | Courtesy a representative of The Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate at the University of San Diego School of Business

When we examine the major donors to worthwhile causes, especially schools of business within universities, why are some of the largest donors so often real estate professionals? This fact alone should wake up those universities who do not pay sufficient heed to a critical industry. Unfortunately, real estate academics suffer through a career of hearing, “Why do you need to teach that in school — a license is easy to get?” Those in the industry know otherwise and know that studying real estate is one of the most important industries, deserving of far more attention by universities. Real estate is now one of the most important and active asset classes, included as part of any more enlightened investment portfolio.

Some of us enjoy the real estate industry because the idea of creating something durable is exciting, even if your role is merely a minor part of the process. Others love it because, in order to be good, you need to understand the perspectives of occupants and owners, lenders and investors, business cycles and regulation, politics, finance, and more.

Take the perspective of a landlord trying to entice tenants, lease space, and manage a building. Aside from needing to know finance and investment analysis prior to purchase or ground-up development design and construction, landlords now must incorporate data analysis to find suitable tenants, understand how to market and persuade potential tenants to consider new space, and be able to analyze the business of the tenant to evaluate the chances of success in paying future rent. It gets worse. If the space is retail, they must know how this new tenant affects the sales of all the other tenants and, when they impact parking, how much parking their customers require and more. Lease negotiations and finding the best space for a tenant representative also require knowledge of finance, location analysis, data visualization, and more. Then, once tenants are in a building, the managers need to keep them happy. This requires important people skills.

Real estate touches every facet of our life: where we live, where we work, where we shop, where goods we consume are manufactured, and so on. In brief, the best real estate professionals will need to be properly educated and entrepreneurial and global in perspective. They must also be good negotiators and presenters with some understanding of economics, marketing, design, law, regulations, environmental impacts, construction, management, logistics in some cases, and more. It is impossible to be over educated in any of these areas if you are trying to excel in real estate. Real estate professionals are information vacuums, constantly monitoring trends in the way we live, play, and work, as these all impact the buildings and spaces we need.

At one point in time, real estate was a cost center within firms. Today, real estate is a productivity center, and the bar has been raised on the environmental standards along with the efficiency and flexibility of space. Real estate programs at the university level try and serve several functional areas, including but not limited to:

 Developers
 Lenders
 Brokerage
 Leasing
 Appraisal
 Asset and Property Management
 Investment and Acquisition
 Planners
 Real Estate Lawyers
 Market Analysts and Consultants

Such programs often affiliate and work with a number of trade associations, including but not limited to:

NAIOP and ULI (developers and urban policy thought leaders)
BOMA and IREM (asset and property managers)
ICSC (retail real estate),
CoreNet Global (corporate real estate)
NAREIT, NCREIF, PREA, CCIM (real estate investment and analysis)
SIOR (industrial real estate)
AI and RICS (valuation)
NAHB (home builders)
NMHC, NAA (multifamily owners and managers)

Academic elitists may argue that real estate is not a discipline unto itself. These arguments suggest that all one needs to do is apply economics to understand how markets work, but today so much of being successful in real estate requires institutional knowledge and practice that only comes from integrating real-life cases and experienced professionals into the classroom and as mentors. The best programs will fully integrate professionals as adjunct professors, mentors, internships, and providers of real-life cases and join in national case competitions judged by professionals.

Further, the connections made within the real estate industry are life-long and are critical to success in the industry. The University of San Diego School of Business in conjunction with the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate employs a comprehensive, integrated and personalized approach to ensure that each graduate and undergraduate real estate student is both well connected with our industry partners and well prepared in a functional area of real estate best aligned with their strengths. In doing so, each student is set up for success as he/she builds his/her future in real estate. This approach has led to USD being ranked by College Factual as the No. 1 real estate college in the U.S. two years in a row.