Mixed-Use Development Associate – U.S. Development Firm

In this ‘Day in the Life of a Commercial Real Estate Professional’ post, we hear from James Richardson, a Development Associate working at a real estate development firm in Charlotte, NC. James has been kind enough to share his typical daily routine and discuss what it takes to land a successful career in CRE.

Note: This Day in the Life profile was made possible thanks to the help of Emily White, a Class of 2022 MBA Candidate at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. Prior to pursuing her MBA, Emily was a Development Manager for the Alpha Gamma Delta Fraternity Housing Corporation. Emily holds a BA in History from the University of South Carolina. A huge thank you to Emily for her contribution!

Day in the Life of a Development Associate

Current Firm

James Richardson, Development Associate

Founded in 1963 in Charlotte, NC, Crescent Communities is a diversified real estate investment, development and operating company dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people through sustainable multifamily, residential and commercial communities and responsible land management. Crescent Communities embraces a fully integrated approach to development and views each community as an opportunity to create an extraordinary place to live or work. From amenity-rich resorts to efficiency-focused offices, they look to create exceptional environments that deliver what matters most to their customers and the people who will live and work there. Their communities go beyond bricks and mortar to ensure long-term success and sustainability.

Early Career Path

James graduated from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and International Business with the intention to return to school for an MBA after spending some time in the workforce.

With the goal of gaining finance experience, James moved to New York where he worked for JP Morgan’s Private Wealth Management unit. After working with JP Morgan for two years, James moved to Paulson & Co., an investment management firm based in New York, where he honed his skills as a jack of all trades for the small firm, working on everything from legal and compliance to tax and accounting to investor relations and operations.

Deciding he was not being fulfilled by his career in finance and ready to move closer to home, James decided to return to school for his MBA and chose UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School because of its location, reputation, and collaborative culture.

He had exposure to the real estate industry through his father and while at business school decided to explore whether it was the right fit for him. Through classes, the real estate club, and his student leadership experience, he found his passion for building communities that better people’s lives.

Typical Week

James’ top responsibilities include researching and evaluating market trends to identify growth opportunities; performing market, property, and financial due diligence; underwriting proposed development projects; and coordinating with architecture, land planning, and project design to bring a project to life.

He is also responsible for staying up to date on city initiatives which include city development plans, zoning updates, and funding available for infrastructure and community development. James currently spends most of his time on the River District, a 1400-acre master-planned community west of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, and industrial pursuits.

As part of his role, James also travels to potential sites. While on-site, he gets a feel for the property and surrounding area by driving, walking, and talking to locals. He and his team then use this information during the development process to ensure they are designing and delivering a product that will meet the needs of the community.

Due to Covid-19 and working remotely his schedule has changed, giving him more autonomy to manage his day including work and personal appointments while delivering work on time.

About the Professional

Name: James Richardson
Location: Charlotte, NC
Years in Real Estate: 1
Years in Current Position: 3 months
Undergraduate Education: B.B.A. in Finance & International Business, University of Georgia
Graduate Education: MBA, University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School
Approx. Annual Income: Prefer Not to Say

About the Position

Job Title: Development Associate
Job Type: Project Underwriting, Deal Execution, Development
Company Name: Crescent Communities
Company Type: Development Firm
Property Type: Industrial, Office, Mixed-Use, Planned Communities
Min. Education Recommended: Masters’ Degree
Min. Education Required: Bachelors’ Degree
Min. Experience Recommended: 1 – 3
Min. Experience Required: None
Advanced Technical Skills Required: MS Excel

Advice for those interested in this position

Successful Traits

James emphasized communication as the most important soft skill in real estate. He recalled visiting a competitor’s project where he built a rapport with locals to learn more about the property and to understand how they use it—what’s worked and what has not—so he could apply those lessons to the River District and other Crescent developments.

He also views great communication as a way to be memorable; “Memorable people are typically effective communicators, listen more than they speak, and ask questions when they do speak. People love to talk about themselves, and it’s been shown that those who speak less and ask more questions about the other person during a conversation are seen as more likable; ergo, more memorable. Being an effective communicator will help you build your network.”

Most importantly, communication is essential in the development progress when working with counterparties from different industries. “There are so many acronyms and abbreviations in real estate, and sometimes they’re the exact same but different meaning (for example SF = Square Feet; SF = Single Family). Most times context makes it easy to tell the difference, but other times context isn’t enough without explicitly stating what you’re talking about at the start. This is especially crucial when having conversations with different segments of the industry. Developers, architects, general contractors, and city planners…all have different points of view on real estate and use terms differently, so it’s important to pay attention to who you’re talking to to ensure you’re on the same page.”


When asked what advice he would give to someone interested in entering the real estate industry, James recommended reading as much as possible to better understand the market, product, and trends you are targeting and then working to apply that information to your work. In addition, he recommended talking to other professionals in the real estate industry, no matter their profession to learn from them and build upon the knowledge you gain from reading.