Compensation in Real Estate (United States 2020)

Several years ago, we published a careers in real estate series where we discussed the various job sectors, business fields, and job functions that exist in the real estate industry. Additionally, we broke down compensation in real estate (salary + bonus) by position and level for 2014.

Since then, each year we’ve followed up that series with a summary look at pay in various roles and working with various property types in real estate. Here’s what pay (salary plus bonus) in real estate looked like in 2020.

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Source of Compensation Data

Every year, real estate consulting firm CEL & Associates publishes its National Real Estate Compensation & Benefits Survey. The survey is the industry standard for pay statistics across 190 real estate positions in the United States. Nearly 400 companies participate to provide confidential compensation data for their employees working in all major real estate sectors, fields, and functions.

The survey is well-respected. It has been conducted annually for more than 20 years and is done in partnership with the National Association of Office and Industrial Properties (NAIOP) and the National Apartment Association (NAA). Results are available in a couple of formats:

  1. A 400+ page comprehensive paper covering salary trends, policy questions, bonus pay structures, quarterly breakdown, and pay details by company type, location, and size is available for purchase.
  2. A robust summary of the survey results is available to download for free.

Real Estate Compensation in 2020

I’ve taken the comprehensive summary (linked to above) and condensed it down to the information and positions that I believe are most relevant to our readers. These are Analyst through Managing Director positions at industrial, office, retail, and multifamily focused real estate firms working in acquisitions, asset management, property management, and development.

I’ve calculated and reported total pay, or the sum of salary and bonus, as well as the percent change in total compensation from 2013 to 2020 and 2019 to 2020 for each of the positions.

Summary of 2020 Pay (Salary plus Bonus) for Office and Industrial Real Estate Professionals

For real estate professionals working at firms focused on office and industrial properties, pay grew anywhere from 1.2% to 3.0%. As with most roles in real estate, bonus as a percent of total compensation is higher for the more senior roles and lower for the more junior roles. For acquisitions professionals in office and industrial for instance, on average the bonus makes up 30% of an Associate-level professional’s pay while the bonus makes up 59% of the acquisitions executive’s pay.

Asset Management professionals working at office and industrial real estate firms earn slightly more than their colleagues in acquisitions, with total compensation weighted more towards variable compensation for acquisitions professionals while asset management professionals earn slightly higher base salaries.

Summary of 2020 Pay (Salary plus Bonus) for Retail Real Estate Professionals

Generally speaking, Retail real estate professionals enjoy both a slightly higher base salary and average bonus then their office and industrial counterparts. Total compensation grew 1.4% – 2.8% year-over-year for the retail positions we analyzed, with the delta between compensation growth for senior executives compared to other retail real estate professionals continuing to shrink. Senior executives in Retail continue to be the highest compensated professionals in real estate.

Newly-minted MBA in Real Estate and Masters in Real Estate graduates can expect to earn in retail-focused Associate-level positions on average anywhere from $110,000 – $180,000, with pay among asset management associates beating pay among acquisition associates.

Summary of 2020 Pay (Salary plus Bonus) for Multifamily Residential Real Estate Professionals

There are some interesting differences between pay in residential (multifamily) real estate and the others. First, on average the bonus as a percent of salary is lower for multifamily positions compared to their office, industrial, and retail counterparts. This is likely due to the less volatile nature of multifamily investment. Base salaries compare well with the other property types.

Students coming out of undergrad and moving into an analyst level position in multifamily development can expect, on average, total compensation in the high 5 figures; with approximately 15% – 25% of the total coming from bonus.

Changes in Real Estate Salary and Bonus – 2019 vs. 2020

Real Estate compensation in 2019 – 2020 grew at a slower pace than in previous years, not surprising given the impact COVID-19 had on the commercial real estate industry. Total compensation from 2019 – 2020, across the 76 positions we analyzed, rose on average 2.2%. This is the slowest pace of compensation increase we’ve seen since we began to track this data in 2014.

Compensation grew fastest among residential (i.e. multifamily) professionals, increasing on average 2.6% from 2019 to 2020. That pace lagged among the other three property types we analyzed (office, industrial, and retail), where compensation grew on average by just 2.0%.

Given that the impact of the pandemic on compensation lags actual events, we should expect a further degradation in compensation growth among commercial real estate professionals going into 2021. This will likely be especially pronounced among senior professionals, whose total compensation is heavily driven by performance.

The weakest spot in compensation in 2020 was among office, retail, and industrial acquisition professionals, who saw cycle-low compensation growth of just 1.2% – 1.5%. In contrast, residential acquisition professionals enjoyed relatively healthy compensation growth of ~3.0% in 2020 – in line with historical compensation growth for residential acquisition professionals.

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Changes in Real Estate Salary and Bonus – 2013 vs. 2020

This year, we also analyzed the change in total compensation from 2013 to 2020 to understand how pay has changed over time. On average, total compensation in real estate has increased 21.7% from 2013 to 2020.

The more senior roles saw the largest increases, with Top Division Executives at Office/Industrial and Residential firms experiencing the highest average increase since 2013 of nearly 28%. Leasing professionals generally lagged the other function types over the same time period, with average compensation growth among leasing professionals coming in closer to 20% over that time.

Conclusion on 2020 Real Estate Pay

So what does this mean for you? One big takeaway from the survey is that compensation for commercial real estate professionals continues to grow, although at a slower clip than previous years. This is a lucrative career with significant upside, both for employee-minded and entrepreneurial-minded people.

Opportunities abound in a variety of tracks – from asset management to development – for those with the formal real estate education and experience to go after them. So enjoy digging into this report and I hope you use this data to your benefit in your next salary negotiation!

About the Author: Born and raised in the Northwest United States, Spencer Burton has nearly 20 years of residential and commercial real estate experience. Over his career, he has underwritten $30 billion of commercial real estate at some of the largest institutional real estate firms in the world. He is currently Head of Real Estate Investments and member of the founding team at Stablewood Properties. Spencer holds a BS in International Affairs from Florida State University and a Masters in Real Estate Finance from Cornell University.