By: Raymond Cohen  | 

YU Adds Real Estate Course to Curriculum

In 2010, amidst a slow national recovery from the recession, undergraduates struggling to find gainful employment were left questioning their decision to attend college. News authorities such as TIME Magazine, US News, The New Yorker and The New York Times called into question the assumption that a bachelor’s degree provides the necessary value to offset its cost. A mere 55% of newly-minted grads surveyed in 2011 claimed that their college education prepared them for a job - a result suggesting that college was no longer a worthwhile investment.

Fast forward five short years, and what was once one of the most hotly debated topics is now a no-brainer. A 2014 Pew study found that the earnings gap between those with a four-year degree and those without one had reached an all time high. College graduates also had lower poverty rates and were more likely to be satisfied with their job. Put succinctly by a recent article in The New York Times, “Yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close.”

Higher education has rapidly reclaimed its position as one of the most important investments for young adults. But what is it about college that provides so much value? Is college a four-year academic endeavor or intensive preparation for your first job? The question is particularly tricky for a business school. The Sy Syms School of Business has made a concerted effort to provide its students with a combination of academic rigor and technical ability. As Dean Pava put it, “We search for high caliber faculty, whether it be academically-oriented  faculty or professionals, but we make sure to maintain a balance between the two.”

In an effort to provide more practical courses like Kukin Executive Lecture Series and Social Media, the Syms administration added a specialty course this semester called “The Anatomy of a Real Estate Deal.”

The course is being taught by Professor Jason Greenblatt, a graduate of YU (’85 YUHSB, ’89 YC) and 22-year veteran of the real estate industry. He earned his J.D. from NYU Law School  in 1992 and joined The Trump Organization in 1997 where he has worked ever since. Per his Bio, Professor Greenblatt has “represented Donald J. Trump and his children in legal and business matters, concentrating on all aspects of domestic and worldwide real estate development, financings, acquisitions, operation and management…”

The fact that the Professor has so many years of real-world business experience has excited many of the students. Sam “Shmoozie” Weinstein  (SSSB ‘15), a student in the course and the Vice President of the Sy Syms Student Council, labeled this “the course that transcends University.” He went on to explain that the course provides students with the tools to “succeed in [their] job and succeed in business.” In doing so, Shmoozie echoed the Professor’s idea of the essence of what the class is supposed to provide: “This is a course that, by design, is intended to allow students to learn what is really going on in a real estate deal, in many cases utilizing actual real estate transactions as examples.”

For some students who are looking to pursue a career in real estate, this class has yielded tremendous benefits. Charles Saka (SSSB ‘16), a former intern for Thor Equities, one of the worlds largest real estate development firms, and current intern for Paramount Realty, came to the professor with what he thought was a great investment opportunity. As Charles tells the story  “[Professor Greenblatt] asked me two or three quick questions and really made me think for myself. I was forced to reevaluate my position and I learned something new in the process.” The following week Charles presented his newly developed analysis to the class and took the role of professor as he explained about the function of ground leases.

The course has an interactive style and encourages students to develop both hard and soft skills that are useful in the professional world. Course assignments engage students and encourage them to follow the real estate market to develop their own opinions. For example, students were sent a relevant article about a potential real estate investment and each got the chance to publicly address the pros and cons of investing in the particular project. This assignment not only provided students with the opportunity to enhance their public speaking skills, but also sharpened their analytical skills in the context of business.

One of the main assignments for the course is a group project that requires students to analyze the intricacies of a real estate deal. Students select an attractive investment property anywhere in the United States, conduct market research, project cash flows, and engage in negotiation. Not only was this an opportunity for experiential learning, but, by observing their peers, students were exposed to the negotiation process for a wide range of transaction types,including one group presenting a commercial property, another residential, and a third presenting a building being sold by a non profit. Max Stern (SSSB ‘15) elaborated on his involvement in the project: “When I go for an interview, I’ll be able to differentiate myself easily.”

Like Charles, Max is also pursuing a career in real estate; he interned two summers for Ashkenazi Acquisitions and is thrilled about the course. “The project is giving me experience in everything from confidentiality and title insurance to term sheets and purchase and sale agreements.” He also noted the added benefit of working in a group setting, which sharpens his team building skills.

To add to the course’s professional development experience, the class will be taking a trip to the offices of The Trump Organization sometime later in the semester. The trip has garnered a large amount of interest amongst the students and is sure to benefit them by exposing them to real estate in a professional setting.