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Inside USC's New Undergraduate Program in Real Estate Development


USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy has launched an undergraduate program in real estate development. Bisnow caught up with program designer Christian Redfearn, Price School Borstein Family Endowed Professor of Real Estate and director of USC's real estate program, to find out how this degree program differs from its graduate program and real estate programs elsewhere.

In developing the curriculum, he tells us real estate industry leaders were surveyed to learn what types of undergraduate students they hired and the type of training students needed to be most successful. As a result, the program, which enrolled 80 students in the fall semester, incorporates real estate fundamentals, the development process, real estate market analysis, advanced finance and investment, the history of cities and designing livable communities.


Christian says the curriculum is a three-legged stool, exposing students to the physical plant of design and neighborhood, political roles and finance. Students use SoCal cities to learn to plan projects with an awareness of risk and return based on whether the location requires a messy entitlement process. ”We drill into them the implications of California’s CEQA and Prop 13 in determining what gets built and how and when it gets built,” he says.

A key global trend is the rush to urbanization, he says, and there is an explosive migration into cities across the world, and real estate professionals need to know how to navigate that. 'We will require our students to be proficient in real estate finance, but they also need to know that when you make a bet on a property, you’re typically making a bet on a neighborhood and city." Here's Christian giving students a lecture on Downtown.


Associate director for Price School programs in real estate Sonia Savoulian tells Bisnow the overarching theme is for students to gain an understanding of the urbanization of growing cities, how they develop over time, and what that means across many dimensions. “We’re trying to make our students thinkers and leaders on issues they will be dealing with for generations to come,” she adds, noting that students are learning lessons inside and outside the classroom.

The program connects students to the industry’s build network, USC’s alumni. “They need to see the industry in action; observe changes taking place downtown—watch LA become a global city; and be able to distinguish between the urban core, submarkets and tertiary markets,” she adds.


Christian notes students need to understand forces that are having a revolutionary impact on real estate. “We want them to be aware that LEED certification is a moving target, that sustainability is evolving—if you’re not buying a LEED building, you’re buying something that’s obsolete.”

He also notes the impact of tech on real estate. In Houston, for instance, wind power has made electricity free at night, and once battery storage catches on, how the difference in rates at different times of day could impact net leasing.

“What's really exciting about this program is it places emphasis on the need to know more than just finance,” Christian says. “It integrates the best of contract, design, finance and planning, and teaches our students how to pull together a team and how all this works together. We want them to think broadly."