In today’s real estate industry, getting a good start will take tenacity, hard work, initiative and innovation – and quite possibly an internship.

From commercial real estate brokerages to appraisers and property managers, major real estate employers – in Orange County, around the country and internationally – are seeking young professionals for internships, which can be the entry into a rewarding career.

Here are the stories of two Cal State Fullerton business seniors planning for real estate careers. They have found impactful internships this semester with Irvine-based Sperry Commercial, a global commercial real estate powerhouse.

Sperry Commercial Real Estate Intern posing in courtyard at Mihaylo Hall

Joshua Lee

Joshua Lee: Financial Analyst Intern for Sperry Commercial

When Joshua Lee ’20 (finance and ISDS) arrived at Cal State Fullerton after transferring from Pasadena City College in 2017, he wanted to be a tax accountant. But several reasons combined to encourage the transfer student to choose real estate as his path.

“Having thought of how I can make my parents’ retirement better, I wanted to provide them a nice house to live and relax in,” he says. “And I liked the idea of passive income and cash flow. And growing up in Burbank and surrounded by nice houses, I realized I wanted one of those nice homes one day, too!”

With a long-term career goal of being a real estate broker and owning a gated housing community, Lee is already a licensed salesperson and has interned at Sperry Commercial for the past nine months, where he has learned a lot of the technical and social sides of the industry.

“I’ve learned how to underwrite, use Yardi and ARGUS [real estate computer programs], test debt service coverage ratio, use cap rate for valuation of a property, find and use sales comparables to determine if our cap rate is just right, find and use rent comparables to determine if our rent is best, and read loan documents and promissory notes,” he says.

“I was surprised that everyone is willing to help. I thought that being an intern, I wouldn’t be looked at in the same way, but even if they’re busy, they’re willing to help. As time went on, my second surprise was learning how big commercial real estate is compared to residential!”

For Lee, involvement in Cal State Fullerton’s Real Estate Association, a student club open to Titans of all majors seeking real estate careers, provided an awakening to the branches of the real estate field – such as wholesale and surplus – beyond selling and managing properties.

Among his mentors at Cal State Fullerton have been Center for Real Estate Director Bob Osbrink, Assistant Finance Professor Jia Xie, and past Real Estate Association student president Michael Sargent.

“You can’t do everything by yourself. Get busy and get involved,” Lee encourages his fellow students. “There are so many clubs and organizations that have connections in the industry. Almost every speaker meeting had an internship available just for us. And being a part of Delta Sigma Pi, alumni from across the nation have internships and jobs available for Delta Sigs. Even if you’re not a business major, the key is networking. Employers would rather hire through an employee referral than screen all the applicants.”

Michael Sargent, an intern for Sperry Investments and CSUF student.

Michael Sargent

Michael Sargent: Intern for Sperry Investments

While Lee gains exposure to the real estate field at the commercial side of Sperry, Michael Sargent ’20 is hard at work in his internship on the company’s investment side. The finance senior grew up in Fallbrook in North San Diego County, but was drawn to Orange County due to the strength of Cal State Fullerton’s business program and the local economy.

“When I was 16, I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, and it completely changed my mindset about personal finance and my career outlook,” recalls Sargent. “I went into college intending to major in entrepreneurship, but I realized that most real estate careers are entrepreneurial by nature, but there’s a platform to build that business upon and plenty of mentors to help you along the way. Additionally, real estate is one of the biggest industries and has contributed to the wealth of almost every billionaire in the world. Seemed like an all-around win!”

With a dream job of working at a South Orange County commercial real estate brokerage, Sargent is where he needs to be to turn his vision into reality, learning underwriting skills, market trends, industry norms, ground-up development terms, and even PowerPoint and Excel best practices in his internship.

“The biggest surprise in my internship has been how relaxed the environment is,” he says. “My boss, Eric Vu, is super easygoing yet an incredible mentor.”

A high point of Sargent’s experience at Cal State Fullerton was his term as president of the Real Estate Association, which resulted in unparalleled networking opportunities.

“I got very well connected to both fellow real estate students at CSUF and professionals,” he says. “The Real Estate Association has been an incredible influence on my views of the real estate industry and is one of the largest contributing factors to getting my internship.”

Sargent also encourages students to get involved in on-campus clubs if they’ve identified a career path.

“The clubs are often way more connected than you’d think and could be the reason you score a job while you’re still in college. The more involved, the better. It could be life changing!”

For More on Real Estate

Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Real Estate supports real estate academic instruction at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as networking opportunities for students, alumni and real estate professionals.

Learn more about the CSUF Center for Real Estate. Or read more of our articles about real estate topics.