As the new Real Estate Minor begins accepting applications for its launch in spring of 2022, it’s fitting that the first event to discuss professional opportunities in the field arrives in advance of the McIntire-hosted pan-University program.
Careers in Real Estate, which takes place on Friday, Nov. 12, is—like the minor itself—a collaborative effort produced by the Commerce Career Services office, Schools across grounds, and the Virginia Undergraduate Real Estate Club. The event aims to give students insight about the requisite skills for working in one of the many related sectors, hearing directly from and interacting with alumni who applied their UVA experience to find their own success within the industry.
“My colleagues and I are excited about Careers in Real Estate as a path to introduce students to real estate markets and firms,” says Professor Drew Sanderford, the Robert M. White Jr. Bicentennial Professor of Real Estate Finance. “Just as for the minor, real estate is broadly defined here—there are lots of ways to shape the markets and built environment of the future. This event is a great opportunity for students to explore this space, with an array of alumni from across the industry who are eager to share their time and talent and to become stewards of student curiosity.”
An Attractive, Competitive Field
Alumnus panelist Ryan Johnson (McIntire ’06), Founder & Principal of AAO Property Group, sought a career in the field because of its indispensable nature. “Real estate is a part of life that will never go away. People will always need somewhere to live, and businesses will always need stores, warehouses, or offices. It is such a competitive market that you are forced to evolve and improve in order to remain at the top of your game,” he says.
Fellow event panelist Zander Geronimos (McIntire ’14), who serves as Head of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development at MetaProp, agrees, saying that he was drawn to work in real estate due to it being the asset type that people interact with most. “We live, work, and play in it every day. The physical nature and intrinsic value were most appealing, as the effects of my work can be immediately felt,” he says, adding that having worked on the innovation side, he sees the advent of property technology (“proptech”) offering a great deal of exploratory space in the industry’s rapid change from an analog-only past. “However, we are still in the early days of this opportunity, and it is so exciting to be at the forefront of change.”
Geronimos, who founded UVA’s Alumni in Real Estate group, notes that in his experience working in real estate, the most perplexing aspect of it remains one that interested students will find intriguing: getting started.
“Initially, the most challenging part was breaking into the network and understanding the various pieces of the greater industry,” he says, explaining that newcomers may find limited exposure to multiple elements of the real estate value chain.
“As you grow your career, you begin to see the wider picture,” he adds. While he cautions that since no true roadmap exists for how the various components within the often-complex field function together, it’s up to each student to learn by doing. “You have to study it for yourself and establish your own view through many trials and experiences.”
Recent graduate panelist Hannah Reeves (McIntire ’21) is further proof of Geronimos’ opinion. “Honestly, I did not know much about real estate until I studied abroad with iXperience in Cape Town, South Africa, the summer going into my third year,” says the Financial Analyst at AvalonBay Communities. She recalls that she was interested in finance, but felt a bit lost about her next steps after walking the Lawn. Her time in South Africa provided an exploratory space for her to see firsthand how finance could be applied in multiple sectors, but real estate was the aspect of her time studying abroad that most captured her attention. “I was automatically drawn to it because the differences you make are tangible. I have always been good with numbers, but real estate gave me the opportunity to combine that skill with the creative aspects of my personality.”
Through Johnson’s years working in real estate, the skills he’s honed have proven complementary to other competencies and transferable to his daily life. That outcome surprised him. Some of those abilities include analyzing information and trends to quickly make decisions, relationship building, and executing on established plans. “You can win a deal or lose a deal strictly based on your past history with a broker or seller and whether or not you have been able to perform as advertised,” he says.
Hard and Soft Skills Needed
As Geronimos alluded to earlier, the field is moving toward a more digitally driven approach; he feels it has come around to embracing data and the many benefits of employing technology. He says that students should become familiar with its language, possibly taking computer science classes in addition to their Commerce coursework.
“These disciplines have become integral to the future of real estate. A lot of the grueling work has become digitized, and the next layer requires an analytical mind that is comfortable in the technology overlay of real asset investments,” Geronimos says.
Johnson believes that first and foremost, students should “learn how to deal with different people and personalities, as real estate will always be a people-based business at the end of the day.” But a close second piece of advice is to fully immerse themselves in the market. “Find out who are the largest owners and operators, start to follow some of the public companies, and sign up for subscriptions for real estate news providers and trade organizations.”
Students may also wish to follow in the footsteps of Reeves after she returned from South Africa. “I went to the McIntire career fair on a mission to get a real estate internship.” As diligence and luck would have it, she received an internship with AvalonBay. But she credits that success with some strong support at the Commerce School.
“McIntire was great throughout the entire process. And in my fourth year, I was fully able to dive into the subject while completing my Real Estate Track,” she says, citing the insights she gained from Fundamentals of Real Estate with Professor Sanket Korgaonkar and Real Estate Investment Analysis with Professors George Overstreet and Sanderford.
“The amount I learned from them about real estate, as well as which aspects of it excite me the most, was incredible. Overall, McIntire prepared me for my career by giving me all of the hard and soft skills that I use every day; however, the number one way that McIntire prepared me for my career was by guiding me towards my passion for real estate.”