What Commercial Real Estate Brokerage is Really Like [Hours, Pay, Exit Opportunities]

I made a video a while back on what I would personally do if I were starting my own commercial real estate career over again, and one of the things I mentioned in that video is that if I could rewind time and go back to the beginning, I would do everything in my power to start my career in brokerage.

And since this is still the path I’d take today, I wanted to break this career path down in a little more detail and explain what you’d be signing up for if you choose to go this route.

So in this article, we’ll walk through the main job responsibilities of a real estate analyst working at a brokerage firm, the pay you can expect on the brokerage side of the business, and the potential career progression and exit opportunities available when you’re ready to move on.

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

Commercial Real Estate Brokerage

When we’re talking about brokerage positions, the types of jobs I’m referring to in this article are roles at major commercial real estate intermediaries, or the firms that bring buyers, sellers, and capital providers together.

These are the big-name, national (and global) brands in the industry like CBRE, JLL, Cushman & Wakefield, Eastdil Secured, and any other major brokerage shop that works with clients to buy, sell, and finance commercial properties.

And at these companies, the starting point for a career in brokerage is generally an analyst role, usually under the category of investment sales, debt & equity placement, or general capital markets.

Day-To-Day Responsibilities

In an investment sales analyst role, which can often be synonymous with a capital markets analyst role at some firms, your responsibilities will generally include analyzing potential listings, creating broker opinion of value (BOV) documents, creating offering memorandums, and helping buyers and sellers through due diligence.

In debt and equity placement analyst roles, you’ll be focused on very similar activities with an emphasis on the capital side of the equation, including analyzing deals that sponsors or borrowers present to you, creating presentation materials for lenders or equity partners, and helping your clients secure debt funding, negotiate JV operating agreements, or find equity partners to fund a deal.

In many ways, these jobs are very closely related to acquisitions roles in that a lot of your work will be focused around trying to find ways to pinpoint value, highlight potential upside, and maximize a property’s valuation for a seller, investor, or lender.

Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Hours

Similar to working at a general investment banking firm, working for a commercial real estate intermediary puts you on the sell side of the business.

This can often result in extremely long work hours as a result of having to meet tight deadlines for demanding clients, especially in major markets like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, or San Francisco.

Long hours in brokerage also tend to be common due to the fact that brokerage compensation is purely performance-based at the production level, which often results in these companies keeping their teams as lean as possible to minimize overhead.

Now, this isn’t always a bad thing, and by putting in more hours at the office, you’ll learn how to work faster, smarter, and more efficiently than your peers. This can provide you with significantly more on-the-job experience in your first few years in the business than you’d get in a slower-paced role at a REIT or private equity firm, which is incredibly valuable as a young real estate professional.

Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Pay

By working for a lean team, this also means there will be more bonuses and commissions that can be spread amongst the group, which can make these some of the highest paying roles available for new entrants into the industry.

It’s not uncommon for a brokerage analyst on a high-producing team in a major market to be making $200K per year (or more) just ~3-4 years into their career, and when an analyst is ready to move on, they generally have a significant number of options to take that number even higher.

After progressing through the analyst stage, brokerage professionals will generally move into what’s commonly referred to as an “Associate Director” role, which is usually somewhat of a hybrid analyst and production position. In these roles, the associate director continues to work on some underwriting and modeling projects, but also becomes responsible for client generation and building a book of business.

If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. In these roles, former analysts are now juggling not only their own analytical work, but also starting to oversee the work of other analysts on the team, while simultaneously spending every free minute they have on generating new business.

Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Exit Opportunities

After spending ~3-4 years at the analyst level, brokerage professionals generally have the option to either stay in brokerage and become a 100% commission-based producer, or transition to work for a client in an acquisitions, capital markets, or loan originations role.

For analysts that decide to move into production, successful brokers can make a lot of money. Top producers in gateway markets can often make over seven figures annually, and even mid-tier brokers at major brokerage firms will commonly generate annual commissions in the mid-six figure range in many major markets.

For those who decide to transition onto the principal side of the industry, just by working at a firm of the caliber of a CBRE, JLL, Cushman, or Eastdil Secured, analysts will have inevitably built connections with some of the largest real estate investment and development firms in the world, which can often make the transition into a mid-level acquisitions or capital markets role relatively easy.

And because it’s so hard to know exactly what you want to be doing long-term when you’re just graduating from college or transitioning from a different industry, this optionality is one of the biggest reasons why I like brokerage so much for young real estate professionals.

Brokerage positions are also unique in that this optionality generally doesn’t work both ways, and if you suddenly decide you want to become a broker after ~3-4 years as an acquisitions or asset management analyst, you’ll generally need to start at the analyst level again in brokerage before being able to move into production.

How To Break Into Commercial Real Estate Brokerage

If brokerage sounds like the right path for you and you want to make sure you have all the skills you’ll need to land an investment sales, capital markets, or debt & equity placement role at a top CRE brokerage 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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