Commercial Real Estate as a Tool for Self-Discovery

Brendan Chapko, COL & WH ’24, San Diego, CA

This summer I had the opportunity to work as an acquisition analyst at DXE Properties, a young real estate firm in New York which focuses on finding and improving value-add multifamily properties in the southeast. While my intended path through Wharton will be to focus on finance, I had taken real estate courses before and found them quite fascinating. Because of this, I assumed that I would be somewhat competent and knowledgeable from day one. However, in an attempt to hit the ground running my first week, I simply hit the ground as I realized my classroom training (while undoubtedly helpful) was nowhere near the breakneck pace that the world of real estate investments operates at. Fortunately for me, it was the same ground that I fell on which became the foundation for the most insightful summer I have experienced to date. Working hands-on with experts in the field taught me more in two months than I could ever learn from a textbook. It helped that the “interesting” market dynamics of the first half of this year gave me no choice but to catch up quicky—good deals had to be researched, analyzed, and snatched up in the time it took to grab a quick lunch.

My experience as a summer analyst taught me how to analyze and understand properties, markets, and everything in between. Every day, you could find me seeking out potential investments: looking at multifamily properties across the country, creating financial models, completing market research, and pitching the best properties to potential investors. But this does not mean my work was one-dimensional. Throughout the summer, I did everything from helping design high-end downtown apartment buildings to writing independent research papers covering the changing market dynamics in commercial real estate. Being the lead intern at a small firm, I was also afforded the opportunity to interface with clients, contractors, partners, and investors on a regular basis—I found this to be the most valuable part of my working experience.

This invaluable summer was only possible due to Penn’s generosity. Knowing that the university would be supportive with financial backing allowed me to accept the employment offer that I felt would be the most enriching, even if it did not necessarily pay as well as more restrictive positions at larger firms.

While other, better-paying roles I had been considering were certainly appealing, they universally did not allow the flexibility that I was specifically seeking. As I am in the infancy of my career, I am nowhere near firmly set on my intended career: a difficult decision that has been delayed by covid and muddied by the primordial soup that is my current mix of majors, minors, and intended academic pursuits. That is why I so desired to work at a smaller, more flexible firm: while the over-arching theme of my work this summer was real estate, the range of tasks and projects I was allowed to (not only participate in, but) lead taught me lessons applicable to any industry.

This summer opportunity, fueled by Penn’s summer funding, did not convince me to pursue a career in real estate (although I quite enjoy the industry); it did not tell me where I plan to live after graduation (even though I loved New York City); what it did give me is a truly transformative experience that will have lasting impacts on my academic and career pursuits, regardless of the path(s) I choose to follow.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services