This spring is prime shopping season for real estate developers and finance firms seeking graduate students steeped in real estate education and training, according to a new survey released by the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate.

This spring is prime shopping season for real estate developers and finance firms seeking graduate students steeped in real estate education and training, according to a new survey released by the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. Citing an improved real estate market, the Lusk Center’s Peter Gordon, Ph.D., said the number of employers contacting the center about University of Southern California graduate students in real estate finance, development, planning, public policy and construction has jumped 70 percent from this time last year.

“Firms are not only inquiring, they’re hiring,” said Gordon, director of the Master of Real Estate Development program at USC. Already employers have signed up 18 of the 80 graduating real estate students, who won’t have their master’s degrees until May. “The industry’s biggest players are offering salary and bonuses in the $100,000 range to secure top grads,” Gordon reported. “They can’t always predict when the next opportunity will come along, but they have to be ready with a skilled team in place.”

The 2004 grads who have already accepted jobs will be working for such industry leaders as Wells Fargo, Colony Capital, MetLife and Centex Homes. “While salaries have remained stable for the past few years, we’ve experienced a jump in hiring, particularly by residential developers,” said Sonia Savoulian, the Lusk Center’s director of Alumni and Student Services. “Home-building has been a hot market, and more than half of last year’s survey respondents are working for developers, such as KB Home, Shea Homes and the Empire Companies,” she noted. Last year’s grads also went to work for commercial developers, including Regency Centers and Snyder Langston Operon Group; for financial leaders, including Union Bank, AEW Capital Management and Merrill Lynch; and for global consulting firms Ernst & Young, Cushman and Wakefield and Jones Lang LaSalle.

“Compared with other industries, real estate has been slow to institute formal recruiting programs,” said Stan Ross, chairman of the board of the USC Lusk Center. “So who you know really does matter in real estate, and we encourage students to develop networking skills and contacts while at USC that they can parlay into employment opportunities,” he explained.

Ross said the increase in demand for real estate graduates reflects the growing recognition in the industry of the value of undergraduate and graduate real estate education programs offered by universities and colleges around the country. “Some in the industry say experience is more important than education, but in fact both are essential to successful careers in real estate,” Ross commented. He noted that students can gain experience through internship programs, part-time or summer jobs, volunteer work, or taking a couple of years off between undergraduate and graduate school to work in the industry. “Employers value graduates who have demonstrated an interest in learning not only in the classroom, but through practical experience,” Ross observed.

A number of the 2004 USC graduates will become entrepreneurs right after finishing their studies, according to a press statement. These students are busy sourcing deals in between classes, according to Ross, who is seeing more interest among students in becoming entrepreneurs. “Today there are more career choices in real estate than ever before,” said Ross, who is writing a book on career opportunities in real estate that will be published next year by the Urban Land Institute.

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