It’s a tough job market for SoCal real estate development professionals
Federal reserve policy designed to stimulate housing and housing employment is having mixed results. The job market for real estate professionals is weak.
Today’s post is about a personal journey of mine to find employment in the land development field in Southern California. Most of the posts on this site cover macroeconomic issues facing housing, but macroeconomic data is merely an aggregation of individual actions taken by people much like me responding to conditions and opportunities. Most recent macroeconomic policy was intended reflate the housing bubble with the hoped-for side benefit of increasing construction and thereby increasing construction-related employment — employment for people like me. My story is a microcosm of the spotty results these policies yielded so far.
The near misses
The following list is the major opportunities where I had multiple interviews and still didn’t get the job. Prior to this experience, I had never had multiple interviews without getting a job. When times are tough, even being well qualified, or the most qualified, doesn’t mean you get the job. For those of you still looking for work, I’m here to tell you your struggles are not unique. It’s still a difficult job environment despite the crap written by financial reporters trying to convince you otherwise.
Back at the end of 2011, the foreclosure inventory dried up in Las Vegas just as hedge funds moved in to buy properties. This choked off the business model I was operating to acquire properties at auction, fix them up, rent them, and sell them to OC cashflow investors. The only model that worked in that environment was to buy and hold because the funds were bidding up prices too high to resell with any margin. I converted my funds to this model, but it left me without a way to make a living from the endeavor, so I began looking for other alternatives. Fortunately for me, this website provides other income opportunities; If not for this website, I would probably be living in my parent’s basement.
Also in late 2011, I was contacted by a local land developer who knew me and knew of my work acquiring and managing rental properties. He was tied in with a large funding source that was looking to get into the business. He and I and one other gentleman negotiated the deal points and obtained a signed letter of intent from a major capital source. The deal was on… almost. The other gentleman who was brought into our group was faced with a difficult decision to continue on with us or take another job opportunity, and he decided to go the other direction. Without this key player, the deal fell apart.
At first I was angry about what happened. If this deal had gone through, my family would be seven-figures better off today between the salary, bonus, and profit sharing. It’s frustrating enough when a deal doesn’t come together, but it’s doubly frustrating when it does come together, and your partner tears up your lottery ticket. The most agonizing part was the way I found out. At one point, I was 98% sure the deal was going forward. After some communication with the funding source, they still wanted to go ahead with the deal after we offered a suitable replacement for the departing partner. The capital provider never did tell us no; they merely stopped communicating with us, and over the next 30 days, my certainty fell from 98% to 0% in an agonizing silence.
2. REO-to-Rental II
I contacted another funding source later and scaled down the operation to one I could manage myself. After a couple of meetings, in mid 2012, it looked like this deal might also come together; however, the key man behind the funding wasn’t convinced housing was a good investment, and he didn’t feel he could pitch this to the other investors he represented. Three months after the market bottomed, and just before prices rose about 40% in the Inland Empire, where I planned to buy, this deal was not considered a good investment. Sometimes I wonder if the people involved ever regret being so terribly wrong. In any case, this opportunity didn’t come to pass either.
3. Housing Research
In November of 2012, I was contacted by a housing market company looking for an analyst to head up their research department. Given that I wrote the book on the Housing Bubble and developed my market reports, he knew I was capable of helping him improve his market forecasts and reports to clients. I went through two interviews for this job, including one with the senior staff I would be working with. After going through this process and nobody expressing any negative concerns, I thought I would be hired. When the CEO contacted me, he told me my blogging activity was incompatible with his business because I proffer my own interpretation of housing market conditions that may vary from his own.
He knew that before we went through this exercise in futility; in fact, I assumed he contacted me because he wanted to take advantage of my blog and it’s social media reach. Perhaps he had other reasons he wasn’t prepared to reveal — a common occurrence in hiring decisions — but whatever his reasons, going through this waste of time greatly annoyed me.
4. Land Planner
In early 2013, I was contacted by a land planning company in San Diego county that was looking for a candidate to head up their land planning department and ultimately buy out the principal in charge. It was a great opportunity for which I was well qualified, and it was a chance to move back to the San Diego area, something my family has thought about since we left in 2002.
I first met with the principal in charge, and later I interviewed with him and his senior staff, similar to what I went through with the housing research firm. This particular job I didn’t get because they wanted someone with more recent San Diego County permitting experience, and they found a better candidate. That happens sometimes.
5. Housing Economist
A large real estate website looked for a chief economist in early 2013. Back during the bubble, several of it’s employees were avid readers of mine, so they already knew who I was. One of my close friends is an attorney who consulted for this company a few years ago, so I had the recommendation of a trusted insider to help things along.
I interviewed with the HR director, and one other staff member, and they both recommended me to the CEO for a follow-up interview. I even treated the CFO to a round of golf at Shady Canyon, a significant expense. The CEO ignored the recommendation of his staff members and hired an old crony he knew from a previous workplace. Perhaps it was a good fit for them, but it was a huge disappointment for me.
6. Director of the Real Estate Center
One of the opportunities I coveted most was the Director of the Real Estate Center at San Diego State University. I was selected for interview among many qualified candidates, and I spent a week working on my 30-minute presentation to the hiring committee. Personally, I thought my performance was outstanding, and I believe the committee members did too. A couple of weeks later, I got the standard, “you didn’t get it” email from the Center.
I was crushed when I didn’t get this job. I think I would have excelled at it. Later on, I looked up who they hired, and after reviewing her credentials, I see that I lost out to a superior candidate. I can’t say she would do a better job, but she certainly had stronger credentials than mine, and she was the better choice for the committee. Losing out to a strong candidate is not near as deflating as losing out to an idiot — and that happened to me as well.
7. Residential Acquisitions
Late in 2012, after getting over the near-miss at the Real Estate Center, I found an active flipper in Riverside County that needed a new acquisition manager. After seeing my resume, he offered me the job over the phone. I made two separate trips to his office to meet with him, and I spent an hour with the staff member I was replacing to get trained for the job.
At the last minute, he interviewed another candidate and decided to hire him instead. There was no good explanation for this, but I surmised he was concerned that since I was developing my own custom IDX system (the system on the site today), he was concerned I was going to copy his system, which I wasn’t because mine is better. The pay on this job would have been fantastic, and despite the shaky fit, missing the chance to make so much money was disheartening.
8. Residential Acquisitions II
In late 2013, I contacted a local REO-to-rental company that was looking for market information to drive their acquisitions. They were very interested in my market reports, and wanted me to expand those to other markets.
I interviewed with the VP of Acquisitions, then the CEO of the company, then a third time with both parties plus other staff members. The interviews went well, and although this wasn’t an employment opportunity, I would have made good extra income from providing market reports and monthly updates to assist their efforts. In the end, they decided not to go forward with the studies.
9. Charity Work
In early 2014, I came across a charity looking to hire a land development professional as a project manager. This was one of those opportunities that surprised me because I found it emotionally appealing. The pay wasn’t very good, but working to produce a product that gives back to the community sounded very rewarding in other ways.
I knew the interim project manager, and I contacted her for help. I interviewed with her, the volunteer HR person, the head of the charity, and the charity board. After going through four interviews, I reasonably believed I had the job. Reality is I was overqualified, but since I had an outside business, I didn’t need to take a higher paying job, and since I have a special needs child, I was highly motivated to work with a charity that works with the disadvantaged.
In the end, I didn’t get the job, and no reason was offered. Based on what I surmise from the circumstances and conversations with others, I didn’t get this job because the head of the charity doesn’t want any staff who are his intellectual equal. He wants to lord over minions even if that means the charity work suffers. Of all the reasons I didn’t get a job, this one left the bitterest taste in my mouth. I did check in to see who was hired in my place, and as you might have guessed, the new hire didn’t have credentials or experience to match mine. Personally, I don’t think the person hired was qualified to be my assistant.
That’s nine opportunities in two and one-half years where I had more than one interview, but for one reason or another, I didn’t get the job. Prior to this period, I had never looked for a job for more than 60 days, and I never had a second interview when I didn’t get the job. In other words, it isn’t me, it’s the hiring environment.
The blown interviews
I had two opportunities where I only had one interview, and I know it’s because I didn’t perform well or said things I shouldn’t have. One was for a job I wanted, and one was for a job I really didn’t want.
The gentleman who pulled out of the REO-to-rental deal felt bad about what happened and worked to get me interviews. Based on his recommendation, I was called by an Orange County homebuilder who needed a project manager. During that interview, the hiring manager told me he felt I was very qualified and could easily do the work. He also stated that since they worry about staffing up again and laying everyone off, they are understaffed, and everyone expects to work 50 hour weeks, and if it gets really busy, 60 hour weeks will be common.
My mind started racing when he said this. The job I was interviewing for paid well, but with my side business income, was it worth it to me to put in that many hours? How was I going to work 50 to 60 hours per week and put out blog posts? I probably should have kept my mouth shut and got the job, but I asked him if he planned to work 50 to 60 hours per week for the next decade. He said he wasn’t. Then I asked him when he thought things might be back to a more normal work schedule. He said he didn’t know, but not any time soon.
I made the appropriate follow up email, but I didn’t hear back from him. I’m fairly certain it’s because my reluctance to work so many hours. In the months that followed, I often asked myself if it would have been better to keep my mouth shut, get the job, and work the 40 hours per week I intended to. It would force them to decide whether to keep my on or fire me for not working the extra 10 to 20 hours per week. I don’t regret my honesty; it wouldn’t have been a good fit.
The worst and most embarrassing job interview was for a land planning and acquisition job out in Rancho Cucamonga. First, I didn’t want to take a job that required that kind of commute, plus the job didn’t pay very well, so I didn’t approach it with a good attitude. I can remember anything specific I said that was a deal killer, but my lack of enthusiasm was likely apparent. They didn’t follow up with me for a second interview, and I didn’t pester them for one.
The interviews I didn’t get
What’s interesting to me is the jobs I applied for — jobs I believed I was a good fit for — where I didn’t even get contacted by the company. I spoke with a recruiter not long ago that told me many companies post jobs they aren’t hiring for. Apparently, human resources people need to justify their own jobs, and they put fake job postings out just to collect resumes to see who’s available. I find the practice reprehensible, but at least it provides false hope to job seekers who otherwise would have no hope at all.
One of the most difficult aspects of a job search is keeping hope alive. As long as I had resumes out for jobs I was qualified for, I felt like I was making progress. Those times when there were no opportunities to even apply for were the most frustrating and hopeless. Often the hope was false or misplaced, but hope is essential to maintaining your sanity when you’re looking for work.
Based on my experience with operating the REO-to-rental business model, I convinced a hedge fund I could deploy $200M of their money. If I am qualified to to that, I should be qualified to work somewhere in the operation of a REO-to-rental company. Apparently, the HR people at these companies don’t agree.
BTW, I think one of the biggest barriers to getting a job is the human resources department at any organization. Of the nine opportunities and two blown interviews described above, zero of them went through a traditional human resources department channel.
I gave my resume to about half a dozen SoCal homebuilders. I started my career as a project manager for a homebuilder, and most recently, I managed a fund doing property rehab. I was qualified for each of the jobs I applied to. However, with the glut of unemployed homebuilder project managers, the homebuilders had their pick, and several of the jobs I applied for weren’t real as they were fictions created to keep the HR manager busy.
The most disappointing non-response I got from a homebuilder was for a job doing market analysis. The gentleman who I got to know through the REO-to-rental deal told me he believed I was ideal for a national homebuilder who wanted to use market data to guide their acquisitions and capital deployment. He understood the power of my market studies and how they could identify undervalued markets. Surprisingly, an Irvine homebuilder advertised for exactly that job description. I sent over my resume with a 10-page excerpt from my market reports.
I heard nothing.
In addition to the opportunity detailed in #4 above, I applied to a dozen or more offerings by various consulting firms looking for land planners. My last W-2 job was as the Director of Planning for an engineering company, so I was well qualified for any of these jobs. Of the dozen or so resumes I put out, I only heard back from the one I described above. Many of the offerings probably weren’t real.
My favorite job posting that garnered no response came from a tech company. I never really thought about applying for a job in social media or blogging, but this job description was such a close fit, I figured I would apply and see what they had to say.
We’re looking for an experienced writer and blogger with social media experience to write compelling stories for consumers about various aspects of residential real estate to attract new customers and keep them engaged. …
You will research and produce compelling articles and blog posts for consumers on multiple aspects of residential real estate. …
Desired Skills and Experience
• Excellent writing skills – you must write thoughtful, compelling, interesting articles.
• Experience with digital and social media, including blogging and social media distribution.
• Experience developing, researching and writing high-quality and compelling content for digital media
• The proven ability to develop content ideas, conduct research, and interview both internal and external subject-matter experts
• Content marketing experience
• Personal or professional experience with buying or selling a home
• Experience writing about residential real estate
• Blog management and/or social media management (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest)
• Experience with content editing content from other contributors
Here was my response:
I have seven years experience writing daily for highly trafficked real estate websites where I analyze market data and comment on current news events that impact real estate. My website, ochousingnews.com, attracts more than 30,000 unique visitors each month, and sustains an active comment section averaging more than 30 comments per day.
Each day I read a number of real estate related articles and conduct research on housing market data and trends to develop unique content for my site. My success is based on my ability to write entertaining and insightful commentary on residential real estate issues.
I have a great deal of experience with social media. To enhance the reach of my website, I also have a Facebook fan page, a LinkedIn business page, 3 Twitter accounts, 17 other supporting websites, and my system automatically posts to numerous social media outlets each day including Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Flickr, Diigo, Plurk, and many more.
I write a monthly newsletter that uses proprietary, patent-pending analysis based on the unique and useful concept of rental parity, which no other real estate company uses in its reporting. I know a great deal about analyzing real estate markets, and managing a website to communicate ideas and generate business.
I publicly predicted the collapse of real estate prices and authored the book The Great Housing Bubble, which provides me great credibility and authority on real estate related matters. I contribute to national news sites, and I am quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and numerous other publications. I was also on the cover of the OC Register in a major news story when my book was published in 2008.
I didn’t hear from them.
Perhaps I’m not qualified to blog on residential real estate matters, and I was foolish to expect a response.
There are dozens of potential deal killers that would have made working with this group impossible, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. At a minimum, they should have contacted me to understand what they are getting into. They could have learned more from me in an hour than they will discover blundering on their own over several years.
You tell me, how serious were they about filling this position?
My new work
After all this struggle, I feel like I should announce I have some high-profile big-ego job, but that’s not the direction I’ve gone. When I interviewed with the homebuilder that wanted me to work insane hours, I realized I wanted to go a different path. Part of the appeal of the charity job was that it would have been normal hours and low stress. I stopped applying for the high-stress jobs and began looking for work that would allow me to have a life. I recently took a job as a planner for the Rancho Santa Fe Association and moved my family to Carlsbad.
Perhaps I need to change by pen name to Carlsbad Renter.
Last Friday, I played golf at Carlsbad Crossings (I get every other Friday off in my new job). As I sat on the ocean-view terrace eating my lunch after shooting a sparkling even-par 72 (reducing my stress is helping my golf game), I could see the next several years of my life playing out. I have a low-stress job that gives me time to enjoy my family and my golf habit. Perhaps someday I will take on the challenge of turning the OC Housing News into a tech company and try to take my market analysis and property analysis calculations national, but for now, I am going to take a breather and enjoy my life. After these last two years, I could use a little boring stability.