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At UB, real estate lessons taught in real time

At the University of Baltimore’s real estate program, some of the lessons these days are in real time.

That’s where Deborah A. Ford and other faculty are using the housing crisis as a teaching tool for students in the state’s only undergraduate real estate program.

Ford, chair of the Finance Department at UB, said the schooling rooted in the recession, which has spawned the national foreclosure disaster and a tight commercial lending and leasing market, is a prime focus for her 58 students.

Such lessons during the downturn, she said, will prepare them for careers when the pendulum swings the other way.

“I try and tell them that this is a unique situation, that it’s never happened before,” Ford said. “I don’t think since World War II that we have had a sustained drop in the housing process in this country.”

Tuesday night, Ford will host a seminar to link her students with professional mentors from real estate, banking, leasing and the mortgage industry.

The unique mentoring program will draw from the local chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women, or CREW, a professional networking organization working to build liaisons with the students. Advisors from UB’s Merrick School of Business, who are connected to the local real estate community, will also serve as mentors.

Lou Ann Dent, president of CREW Baltimore and an executive with Wells Fargo Insurance Services USA Inc., said the group will provide 15 mentors out of its membership of 100.

“This makes it real for them,” she said. “It will allow us to tell of real-life experiences. It is an opportunity for people to reach out to young women and men during a distressed time in this industry and let them know there are great opportunities there. We will help guide them through the career path.

“Sitting in a classroom, they understand the market, design, construction, but they don’t understand the intangible aspects of the job like relationships.”

The mentors will work first-hand with the students to build professional relationships and help guide their budding careers, even as the business undergoes a wild ride from the economy.

“One of our goals has been to transition the students in terms of meeting professionals,” Ford said. “To let them find out what’s happening in the real estate job market and what opportunities are available.”

The mentoring program could produce internships and job opportunities for her students, Ford said. But she is cautiously optimistic.

“I tell them that getting a job selling real estate is not likely, but there are other types of jobs,” she said. “Like in the loan industry, at banks that handle mortgages, jobs in property management, commercial and residential and in policy and economic development.”

Ford said she is doubtful the real estate market is poised for a comeback anytime soon. The foreclosure crisis has hindered that.

On employment prospects for her students, who are juniors and seniors at UB, she said she advises them to stay the course.

“I think it hard for all students now,” she said of job prospects in general.

Of a career in real estate, she added: “It’s not easy, but I think that students of ours have gotten internships at companies and are working very hard to find positions at companies.”

The UB program is in its fourth year, and is focused mainly on commercial real estate. Other highlights include real estate law, finance and investment.

James Czeh, 29, is a senior who will graduate in December. A former residential loan officer, his career was thrown in limbo by the housing crisis, and he said he returned to school to expand his options.

“I think it’s a great time to get into that field,” Czeh said. “There have been so many changes … but everything that can be built on land is real estate, and people are going to need to live and work somewhere and play somewhere.

Czeh said he is planning to seek out a mentor, even though he has five years of residential real estate lending experience himself. His focus now is commercial real estate, lending and leasing.

“I am really trying to find a job, not a mentor,” he said. “But it would be great to get another foot in some door somewhere — it’s a half a leg,” he said. “I might find out what different companies are doing and what interests us.”