Real estate reflections – and advice

Roommates and real estate concentrators Jess Fagerberg and Areti Moustakis (both MBA Class of 2018) reflect on their MBA journey.

Why did you choose to come to business school?

Moustakis: Prior to joining UNC Kenan-Flagler I worked in financial services. While it was a tremendous learning opportunity, I wasn’t passionate about remaining in the industry. I wanted to explore other options because it felt too soon to lose passion in my job and I saw it as an indication that I wasn’t in the right place. I took a step back and thought about my short-term professional goals and I decided pursuing an MBA would provide the widest range of options.

Fagerberg: I am passionate about real estate and wanted to learn everything I could about the industry outside the scope of hotels, which was my background. I felt like the best way to do that and to build a long-term network was to come to business school. From a personal standpoint, I’d spent my entire life in Massachusetts and wanted to try someplace new – and business school was a great opportunity to leave my comfort zone and get a fresh perspective living somewhere new.

How did you become interested in real estate?

Moustakis: I didn’t know real estate would be the path I chose. My introduction to real estate at UNC Kenan-Flagler was an information session about the concentration hosted by Dave Hartzell, Steven D. Bell and Leonard W. Wood Distinguished Professor in Real Estate. The faculty and Real Estate Club members are so passionate about the industry that I was sold immediately. Without background in the field, I felt I was taking a risk but the resources available through the Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies made me confident I can succeed. I took advantage of the club’s learning and development programs as well as alumni’s enthusiastic engagement to learn about the industry. I was truly impressed by how much support I received to ensure I was in a position to succeed.

How did you leverage UNC Kenan-Flagler resources to help your job search?

Moustakis: I participated in almost all events – company presentations, the first-year case competition, real estate treks and weekly learning panels. I spoke with MBA students and alumni who helped me understand the career potential in the industry and general expectations of a development versus investments role. Taking advantage of these resources was a key part in preparing me for internship recruiting.

Fagerberg: The mock interview sessions with second-year MBAs were very helpful. I learned about differences in real-estate company structures during treks, which an invaluable opportunity to make early touch points and learn how to talk intelligently about real estate and where you see yourself fitting into the industry. Going to a company’s office is a big deal – you get a feel for who they are and what they’re about. During internship recruiting a few companies held interviews remotely or over the phone and I struggled to understand the culture of those organizations, so I requested office visits prior to accepting offer. Companies were very receptive to the request and office visits provided valuable insights about company culture.

What was your summer internship and how did you decide which part of real estate to work in?

Moustakis: I was a development intern at EDENS, which develops, owns and operates community-oriented retail in primary markets across the U.S. Based in Atlanta, I learned how to research a market and understand what the needs are, which is a critical aspect of real estate. Being able to build something that offers value and reflects the needs of a community is unique and a role I enjoyed immensely. The real estate development experience was tangible and dynamic as I watched a project take shape. The experience at EDENS reinforced that real estate development was a path I was passionate about.

Fagerberg: A summer internship is the only time you can take a 10-12 week uncommitted risk in your career, so don’t be afraid to pursue something new and different. I interned as a development associate with JBG Smith in Washington, D.C. My goal was to pursue something unfamiliar to me – and for me that was development. I wanted access and exposure to multiple product types since I was unsure which asset type I wanted to pursue post-MBA. I focused on mixed-use residential and retail. I liked that residential is focused on the end-user with significant focus on design, programming and neighborhood demographics. Some product types, such as office and industrial, are more removed from the end-user and focused on leasing economics.

Was having a development experience valuable for you this year as you recruit for a full-time investments role?

Fagerberg: I realized how applicable everything I learned in my development internship is to the investment side of real estate. I found many people on the investment side view development experience as a very valuable skill set. Many investment shops do ground-up deals but don’t have an in-house team that understands the development process. Sometimes they hire outside people to assist, so showing you understand the process and the risk is value-add.

What one piece of advice you would give to the incoming class?

Moustakis: When you’re going through the process, don’t get discouraged – it’s important to stay on your game. It’s easy to get distracted if you stumble a bit in the beginning of the recruiting process, but learn from those experiences and don’t let them bring you down. Take what you learn and use it to improve.

Fagerberg: No matter when you secure your internship, don’t stop networking. I talked with a lot of companies in my first year during internship recruiting, but even after I accepted my internship offer I did not stop networking. During my summer in D.C., I set up 10-plus meetings with UNC alumni and my pre-MBA contacts, which resulted in career insights, new contacts and deeper connections with people in the industry – which all make networking and second-year recruiting efforts easier and more effective.