Most real-estate professors are pure real-estate researchers, not real-estate finance researchers. There is an arbitrage opportunity for people to bring the rigor of finance to real estate studies, and to bridge the two fields. Zahi’s career is built on using rich and sometimes unique real-estate data to test standard finance hypotheses in creative ways.
Traditional real estate journals are lower quality, and most universities separate their finance department from their real estate department. The real estate researchers end up doing publishing papers with many interesting ideas, but that are not up to the standard of the finance journals, and that don’t focus on finance implications. It’s possible to find interesting ideas that have already been published with poor execution, and repurpose them into publications in top finance/econ journals.
Advice on hiding faults: If your paper has weaknesses, don’t try to hide them. Revealing shortcomings shows maturity and can actually help you win over your audience and improve your credibility. Fama’s and French’s 1996 paper is arguably the most influential asset pricing paper of the last 20 years, even though they frequently reject their own three-factor model in statistical tests. They admit such and have a ready explanation.
Dissertation advice: Choose a topic about which you are passionate, and for which you have the required skills. Invest not just enough to write a job-market paper, but enough to write a whole series of work.
Job-talk advice: You need to convince senior people in your area of your contributions. You don’t need everybody else to buy into your methods and technical prowess. You need to convince senior people not in your area that will be a nice colleague.