The Best [and Worst] Work-Life Balance Jobs in Commercial Real Estate

Investment banking roles tend to get a bad rap for 80-hour workweeks and overly demanding bosses, but as real estate has become more institutionalized over time, the hours analysts are putting in at real estate private equity and brokerage firms can sometimes be just as tough.

But having worked at 6 different commercial real estate firms myself throughout very different parts of the industry, I can tell you that not all companies are created equal from a work/life balance perspective, and where you work can impact how much you work in a really big way.

So if you’re trying to figure out where you want to head next in the industry, this article walks through what I’ve seen as the best and worst work/life balance jobs in the commercial real estate industry, and the career paths to avoid (or move towards) based on what you’re looking for.

If video is more your thing, you can watch the video version of this article here:

Work/Life Balance in Commercial Real Estate

As a general blanket statement, commercial real estate careers usually offer a slightly better overall work/life balance than most other areas of finance, and in most cases, a 45-60 hour workweek is relatively standard for most analyst and associate positions across the United States.

Analytics & Processing Roles

Let’s start with the roles that usually won’t require working on weekends, require very limited (or no) travel, and usually offer as close to a 40-hour workweek as you’ll get in this industry, and these are analytics and processing-focused roles.

The category of “analytics” within this context doesn’t refer to acquisitions analyst, investment sales analyst, or asset management analyst roles, but instead, positions that tend to be relatively far removed from the decision-making process related to acquiring properties and managing deals.

Jobs that fall into this category include research roles, data analytics roles, and even underwriting analyst roles at banks, agency lenders, and insurance companies, and these are often considered “back-office” positions that don’t require much (or any) client-facing work.

While there are deadlines in any job, the deadlines in these types of roles usually aren’t based around the timing of a transaction, which tends to result in a much less hectic work schedule than you’ll find in other parts of the industry.

Especially at the analyst level, there usually isn’t a need for you to travel to see properties, you won’t be responsible for producing new business, and you won’t need to respond to client emails at all hours of the night.

Instead, these roles tend to be much more focused on processing existing information, whether that’s organizing and analyzing data, reviewing borrower financials, or conducting market research.

Operations & Management Roles

If you’re willing to put in more than 40 hours per week but still want to keep your work life manageable, the next step down on the work/life balance spectrum are operations and management roles, which require a little bit of travel, some tight deadlines, and some client-facing (or partner-facing) components.

Positions that fall into this category include asset management, portfolio management, and project management roles, or the jobs that focus most on reporting, operations, and investor communication.

In an asset management role, you’ll be focused most on the operations of properties in the portfolio, and a more regular travel schedule comes along with that focus. Managing capital projects, meeting with on-site staff, and making sure you’re in touch with what’s going on in the markets your company is active within all require regular on-site visits, and these are necessary actions to take as an asset manager.

Deadlines for asset managers can also become demanding when it comes to putting together budgets, creating quarterly or annual reports for investors, or preparing for an asset takeover when a new property is acquired, which can lead to long hours at certain times of the year.

In portfolio management, as you progress throughout your career, it starts to become more likely that you’ll be directly involved with investor relations. And since your equity investor base will likely be based in all corners of the country (or the world), travel also tends to come into play in these types of roles.

Project management professionals also tend to be held to extremely high standards when it comes to the costs and timing of the projects they’re managing, and requirements to be on-site can a lead to a significant amount of travel in project manager roles.

Transaction & Sales Roles

If you’re looking for a challenge and willing to sacrifice your time outside of work to get ahead in your career, transaction and sales roles tend to have the least work/life balance in the industry, involving extremely tight deadlines, lots of client interaction, and a significant amount of travel.

This category primarily includes roles in investment sales, debt and equity placement, and acquisitions, or any jobs that are almost entirely centered around the buying and selling of commercial properties.

In brokerage, you’ll often be dealing with difficult clients expecting immediate responses, tight deadlines to get materials out on time, and a significant amount of travel when conducting property tours and trying to win new business.

In acquisitions, you’ll constantly be under pressure to deploy capital, you’ll need to manage expectations of equity investors and partners, and you’ll need to manage the transaction process itself, which can be an extremely time-consuming process (especially when things don’t go as planned).

In both acquisitions and brokerage roles, there also tends to be a huge emphasis on after-hours activities, with networking events, conferences, and closing dinners being the norm. This makes a traditional 40 hour workweek difficult to come by in these types of positions, especially as you progress into more senior-level roles.

Company Impact

It’s important to note that a job title itself isn’t going to be the sole determinant of the hours you’ll work, and the focus of the company as a whole will also have a big impact on what your work/life balance will be.

At companies focused on maximizing transaction volume, like major private equity, investment banking, and brokerage firms, you’ll tend to see a lot less of a work/life balance across all positions within the company, even those focused on research or data collection.

And at companies that are focused most on analytics and processing, like dedicated research firms, government organizations, traditional banks, and agency lenders, you’ll tend to see some of the best work/life balance in the industry, even within business development, originations, and acquisitions roles.

The age of the company can also have a big impact on how hard you’ll be expected to work, with newer startup organizations that have been around for about 5 years or less often requiring long hours to get things off the ground, while established firms that have been around for 20+ years can often have some of the best work/life balance that you’ll find throughout the industry.

How To Break Into Commercial Real Estate

If you know commercial real estate is for you and want to make sure you have the skills you’ll need to land an analyst or associate role at a top CRE firm, make sure to check out our all-in-one membership training platform, Break Into CRE Academy.

A membership to the Academy will give you instant access to over 120 hours of video training on real estate financial modeling and analysis, you’ll get access to hundreds of practice Excel interview exam questions, sample acquisition case studies, and you’ll also get access to the Break Into CRE Analyst Certification Exam. This exam covers topics like real estate pro forma and development modeling, commercial real estate lease modeling, equity waterfall modeling, and many other real estate financial analysis concepts that will help you prove to employers that you have what it takes to tackle the responsibilities of an analyst or associate at a top real estate firm.

As always, thanks so much for reading, and make sure to check out the Break Into CRE YouTube channel for more content that can help you take the next step in your real estate career.

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