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More apply to study real estate as professionals look to polish resume

IN 2008, when most Americans were fleeing the property market, David Mann was charging towards it.

After selling a clothing manufacturing company in New York that he had helped run, Mann, 32, decided to pursue a master's degree in real estate development. Last May, he graduated from the Schack Institute of Real Estate at New York University and after an 8½-month search, he finally landed a job.

"It took months of looking every day and applying to 300 positions, but I have finally found my dream job," said Mann, who will be the project manager of a condominium development.

In recent years, the property industry's reputation has faltered as it shoulders much of the blame for causing the recession. Despite this drubbing, and the fact that jobs are still hard to come by, students like Mann are flocking to master's programmes in real estate, where the recession is seen as a teaching tool and a rich source of case studies.

Though relatively new, the master's degree in real estate is seen by employers as a viable alternative to an MBA, said James Kuhn, president of real estate service company Newmark Knight Frank and the chairman of the advisory board at the Schack Institute. "It used to be that the only alternative was getting an MBA," Kuhn said, "but around 1995, with the advent of real estate investment trusts and debt securitisations, academic institutions began taking real estate more seriously."

In a recession, many graduate schools report an uptick in applications as professionals who have lost jobs look to polish their resumes while they wait to return to the workforce. That trend is especially true in real estate, because of its boom-and-bust nature. "Students are very aware that real estate is a cyclical industry," David Funk, director of the programme in real estate at Cornell University, said. "If they get the degree now and bolster their skills, they will graduate just in time to take advantage of a rebounding market."

That was the strategy behind Chaeri Kim's decision to enter the Schack Institute. "By the time I graduate in the spring, the market will be ready to start hiring," said Kim, 28, a South Korean. She was pursuing a degree in architecture before deciding she would have a better chance finding work as a developer.

Mindful of the real world, professors are integrating the recent market crash into curriculums.

"In the middle of the bubble, students kept wondering why they had to do all this research when it was so simple to flip a property for a profit," Redfearn Christian, director of the graduate programmes in real estate at the University of Southern California, said. "Now... the students are far more interested in understanding the basics." — NYT/SCMP
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