Compensation in Real Estate (United States 2021)

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 2021.

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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 2021

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 2021 and 2020 to 2021 for each of the positions.

Summary of 2021 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 2.3% to 4.2%. 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 saw the highest growth in their compensation, among industrial and office professionals. Office and industrial asset management professionals saw a near 4.0% increase in compensation, while their acquisitions counterparts saw a 2.8% increase and their development counterparts a 2.9% increase in compensation.

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 2021 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 2.6% – 3.5% year-over-year for the retail positions we analyzed, with senior executives seeing a similar compensation growth rate as other retail real estate professionals.

This is a trend change from previous years, where senior executives had experienced far more growth than their more junior counterparts. Regardless, 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 2021 Pay (Salary plus Bonus) for Multifamily 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, and top multifamily development executives are the best compensated development professionals among the four major property types.

Early career professionals working in analyst and associate level positions in multifamily acquisitions, asset management, and development can expect, on average, total compensation in the high 5-figures to low 6-figures. Of that total compensation, they should expect 15% – 25% of the total to come from bonus.

Changes in Real Estate Salary and Bonus – 2020 vs. 2021

Real Estate compensation from 2020 – 2021 grew at its fastest pace in five years. This is a rebound from the slow compensation growth the industry experience in 2020 on account of the impact COVID-19 had on the commercial real estate industry. Total compensation from 2020 – 2021, across the 76 positions we analyzed, rose on average 3.1%.

Compensation grew fastest among office and industrial asset management professionals, increasing on average 3.89% from 2020 to 2021. Interestingly, the least growth among all property types was experienced by office and industrial acquisitions professionals whose all-in pay grew by just 2.46%.

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Changes in Real Estate Salary and Bonus – 2013 vs. 2021

This year, we also analyzed the change in total compensation from 2013 to 2021 to understand how pay has changed over time. On average, total compensation in real estate has increased 25.4% from 2013 to 2021. We also created a scaled look at the change among all positions (high end) from 2016 to 2021. That look is visualized below. Note that we do not have data from 2015, hence why the scaled look only goes back to 2016 while the change in total compensation calculation goes back to 2013.

The industry saw the largest percentage increase in compensation (3.9%), as well as the largest total increase in compensation from 2020 to 2021, since we began tracking compensation in real estate. This outsized increase in pay came at a time of above-average inflation and pay in the economy as a whole and was further bolstered by record asset value growth in real estate.

Average total compensation for all 76 positions reviewed (high end of range) from 2016 to 2021

Conclusion on 2021 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 and has only accelerated of late. 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 over 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.