What is a Real Estate Developer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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A real estate developer is a real estate professional who specializes in creating new developments or renovating existing ones, marketing them successfully, and selling them. These developers often work with partners to share the risk and the workload, and they may work for big companies which conduct real estate development on a large scale or use real estate development as one investment tool in a diverse portfolio. People can approach a career as a real estate developer from a number of perspectives; developers may hold degrees in real estate development, or come from a background as a real estate agent, contractor, or architect.

Working as a real estate developer is very challenging. Developers need to be able to assess a wide variety of future sites and determine whether or not they will be workable and acceptable. He o she can look at an empty lot and find potential in it, or tour a decaying building and create a vision for remodeling and successfully selling it. Developers tend to work on a big scale, constructing multiple units which may extend into the thousands or renovating a building to create a number of saleable units in the form of offices, retail spaces, apartments, and so forth.


Experience in the real estate industry is critical, as a developer must know the market well to know whether or not a project will be successful. Developers also need connections with local governments which will help them accomplish projects, ranging from friendly people in the planning office who may provide recommendations to help push a project through to allies on planning commissions and city councils who will promote their projects.

A good real estate developer is also part of a much larger team. He or she needs to work with architects, contractors, landscapers, politicians, real estate agents, and numerous other professionals to see a project through from start to finish. Developers have to select good teams, organize them well, and manage them effectively, meeting the needs of the project and the team members while staying in control of the overall development.

Many real estate developers pick a particular area of specialty, such as high-end residential properties, commercial real estate, middle-class subdivisions, low-income housing, and so forth. Developers may also travel across a wide region to work on development projects, applying their skills to settings and cities which may be very different. A development which appeals to the high-end residential market in New York City, for example, will not necessarily be as successful in Minneapolis, and a real estate developer must be able to be flexible and read communities well to meet their needs.


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