5 Ways to Make Money in Real Estate Without Ownership

house in hand

Millions of people engaged in the real estate business with zero ownership in buildings of any sort. These professionals in the real estate trade do not own houses, office buildings, strip centers, warehouses, or malls. To use myself as an example, aside from ownership, my involvement in real estate includes asset management, author, and industry writer.  Multiple endeavors in real estate can occur without purchasing a property.  Presented here are five options for having an engaging career in real estate without ownership of real estate.

There is one downside; if you tell someone you are a "real estate" professional, too often, the retort will be, "so you sell houses?"  This sentiment is understandable as there are close to one million Realtors who help people buy and sell homes.  Outside of the National Association of Realtors' hallowed halls, where our cousins work, we in this vocation live and work in real estate too.  Most of us never see, talk about, or go into a single-family home. Ever. These other trades, where you can work in real estate without ownership, are represented by:

  • Asset managers
  • Developers (of land, subdivisions and commercial properties)
  • Architects (Building and Landscaping)
  • Mortgage bankers (mortgages, mezzanine debt, and equity raise)
  • Civil engineers
  • Project managers
  • Commercial insurance
  • Facilities managers
  • Appraisers
  • Leasing agents

The following professional tracks encompass large swaths of people that work in real estate without ownership. Each vocation is dipped in the daily life of being a real estate professional without requiring ownership of property assets.  Granted, you can't just fall off the truck and land on your feet as a full-time real estate professional.  All professional positions, including those noted below, require specialized training, time-in-grade, and time to learn and gain experience and proficiency.

Property Management

Property management is the largest employer of real estate professionals, with millions of people engaged in the management of real estate assets.  Property management professionals are a passionate group.  They are often "people people" and engaging.  The shy need not apply for a public-facing role.  There are plenty of behind the scenes jobs related to the property management field; financial analyst, accountants, portfolio managers, and maintenance managers.

Consider that every real estate asset type known to man requires professional property management.  Of course, there are property assets worldwide under the supervision of non-professionals, including small and large partnerships, and family-owned rentals.  I'm not going to suggest that these people can't manage their real estate assets.  However, I stand firm in believing there will always be a difference in financial performance between the casual operator and those who have taken the initiative to advance their professional property management skills as a vocation and career path.  Here are some examples:

  • Multifamily (of course)
  • Single-family rentals
  • Homeowners associations, condo, PUD,
  • Tenant-in-common buildings
  • Office, urban, suburban and CBD
  • Medical office, research office parks
  • Industrial and light industrial
  • Retail
  • Warehouse and storage facilities
  • Public facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Race tracks
  • Water parks and marinas
  • Theme parks
  • Timberland

There is no shortage of real estate assets requiring professional property management.  Select your specialty and become the best there is in that arena. This list is long intentionally. It depicts that you can work in the real estate profession as a property manager (or Asset Manager- capitalized because that's my specialty) and never see, touch, step on or look at an apartment or house.  You can work for a hospital group and never need a doctor. You can work for a theme park and never ride the rides.

A note about multifamily property management, read this article about available professional designations: 5 Amazing Tips to Grow Your Property Management Career.

Real estate property management employs hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S.  And, although the real estate asset class may change, the need for professional property managers never stops.  Real estate assets do not manage themselves.


The appraisal business is not as cyclical as many believe.  Throughout a recession, for example, although real estate sales slow, banks other institutional mortgage-holders consistently assess their collateral with an appraisal.  The appraisal work may ebb and flow, but it never stops. In hi-flying markets, appraisers are in demand, and the same is true when markets come crashing down.  So much of the work appraisers perform are automated today. One part of the Appraiser's work that we have yet to automate; the human condition.  It's that thought process to express person-to-person and in writing why one parcel, or house, or office building has a value that is different from a neighboring property that looks the same to the naked eye.  We hire appraisers because we highly value their opinion.  Speaking of highly valued, I know one Appraiser that drives a Ferrari, but I'm guessing that is not the norm. Find out more about the profession from The Appraisal Institute.

Mortgage Banking

Like appraisers, real estate sales are only one source of business for mortgage bankers; the business cycle for real estate loans includes:

  • Property sales
  • Re-financing
  • Redevelopment
  • Development and construction loans
  • Mortgages are re-negotiated, re-cast, sold, and swapped
  • Transfer of interest (like an estate sale or buying out an un-related partner)
  • Mezzanine debt
  • Equity as Debt
  • Placing equity
  • Forced sales and foreclosures (where the new owner or buyer takes out a mortgage)

Mortgage debt is a never-ending product supply chain with real estate assets, acting as the underlying collateral to the movement of billions of dollars in mortgages each year.  Mortgages, while debt to the borrower, are assets to the lender, the company, or individuals making the loan.  Equity and debt in real estate are similar to equity and debt in the capital markets, whereas stocks represent ownership, and bonds represent debt.  In real estate, equity the difference in value between property value and the liability of debt placed on the property.

This collateral, this real property, has a value based on usage and income potential.  Mortgage "investors" (like bond investors) consistently assess the underlying value of their collateral (real property assets) in an attempt to determine the level and relationship of risks exposure a single property or portfolio of properties represents (via the mortgage) to their capital.  To learn more about the profession, read articles by the educational arm of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Vendor and Suppliers

Every property needs vendors and supplies—every property.  Assets require skilled labor and parts, appliances, paint, roofing, locks, windows, and flooring.  The list goes on, including; landscapers, pool supplies, fencing, driveway repair, pest control.  You may be fascinated by paint.  Go to work for  Sherwin Williams or Behr (better still if you show up with a college degree in chemistry or a related field).  I promise you your role will be working with property owners of all stripes all day long.  In retail, one person needs a pint of paint for one wall in a closet.  Commercial users will need five-hundred gallons - just for that day -  for new commercial development.


This category of work in real estate is required by every owner- even for owners of ree and clear assets.  Every property has insurance needs ranging from hazard insurance, fire, storm damage, liability, and fixtures. If you are serious about becoming an insurance professional, start with information from the International Risk Management Institute.  Thanks to Mary-Claire Kalafatis of AJG for this recommendation.

Beyond these five, there are other categories where you can make money in real estate without ownership. Let this shortlist provide you with some food for thought, a jumping-off point about how to become engaged in real estate without ownership.  There is nothing that says you can't do both: work in the trade and own assets!

Not to leave out the traditionalist, according to Investopedia, there are several ways to make money in real estate where "the basic methods that haven't changed in centuries."  Click the link to read their article.

John Wilhoit is the author of the best-selling book on rent roll analysis: How to Read and Rent Roll. See also the companion guide to measuring the quality of rental income: Rent Roll Triangle.  Find JW's Podcast here and YouTube channel here.

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