December 15, 2015
The ‘Sexy’ Career Path of Real Estate Accounting
I got into the field of real estate accounting for one good reason: I was majoring in accounting at Rutgers-Newark, working nights at a warehouse and looking for a part-time job that would let me use more of what I was learning at school. The first offer I got was for an internship with a real estate accounting firm. That turned into my first career job out of college – they gave me a gift card when I started so that I could buy five suits in addition to my interview suit – and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years.
If you’re just starting out and exploring career paths, you might be considering what you think to be sexier fields: hedge fund management, technology, game development, or perhaps, well, anything besides accounting. But I invite you to take a second look at the accounting profession, and real estate accounting in particular. Here’s why.
It’s an excellent foundational degree
Real estate accounting is great training for other professions. Within your first three years on the job, you’ll learn about payroll management, property development, working with municipalities, asset management, tax law and countless other areas of expertise.
In my own internship, my employer let me play a part (a minor part, to be sure) in a $300 million development deal for an apartment building in New York City. Most of my schoolmates were servers or working in kitchens at the time. I got an early start at doing challenging work that made me well-rounded as a business person.
If you one day decide you want to go back to school and become a tax lawyer, who also happens to be a CPA, your career might soar in another direction.
You’ll meet important people
Your day-to-day job as a real estate accountant will put you in regular contact with developers, landlords, lawyers, architects, engineers, contractors, bankers and real estate investors. You’ll go to networking events, meet people and get countless opportunities to slowly build your reputation. Many CEOs of major corporations started as accountants. If you decide to someday develop properties yourself, you’ll have a database of valuable contacts. For instance, I once got a job offer after working with hedge fund managers who were trying to spin off real estate.
(Sometimes) you can name-drop
New York City developers like their privacy, so it’s not a good idea to drop names. There are many buildings that I played a proud part in creating — such as one recent $2 billion deal — but I often can’t mention the name of clients or projects. However, I can detail my involvement in figuring out lease agreements for thousands of Chipotle locations all across the country. I’ve also done work for Starbucks properties and for Gucci locations.
You’ll get out of the office
There is a very stereotypical — and very wrong — image of accountants working solo in boring jobs. The truth couldn’t be more different. You’ll get out of the office more than you will be in it. You’ll meet with developers and lawyers and tour property so you can verify that rehab work was done. The profession of real estate accountant actually requires an outgoing personality and the ability to work well with others.
You’ll have job security
Or at least as much as anyone has today. The work will vary, but there’s always something important to do as a real estate accountant – especially in New York City, which is unlike any market in the world. Manhattan is the height of real estate glamour. But whether the market goes up or down, there’s always work for accountants. In addition to serving clients in the city and New Jersey and surrounding regions, I’ve helped develop garden apartments in bedroom communities around Philadelphia. Every day brings new challenges and fresh opportunity.
As a real estate accountant, you’ll meet and work with intriguing people and use your talents, ingenuity and creativity to help develop spaces for people to live, work, shop and play. What’s not sexy about that?
Jonathan Crate is a CPA with the Real Estate and Construction Services Group at Wiss & Company, LLP. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973.994.9400.