When we moved to Baltimore almost seven years ago, my family and I found amazing friends in our next-door neighbor Stephen Sattler and his partner Neil. So, it is really no surprise that Stephen has now found his calling as a Realtor, working primarily with relocation. Here’s how Stephen uses math in his work.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

Basically, I help my clients find shelter–which includes the buying, renting, selling, and ferreting out of places to live, after listening and then understanding what they’re trying to tell me.

When do you use basic math in your job?

The whole idea of proration is key to the real estate industry.  At the settlement table, the property’s monthly taxes, utilities, interest, and other financial considerations must be equitably split between both buyer and seller, as of that date.  The same thing holds true if you’re renting a house, especially if you’re beginning your term in the middle of a month.  Leases typically call for a yearly total of rent due, which means you just multiply the monthly rent by twelve. But calculating the first month’s rent can be tricky if you don’t know how to calculate the daily rate.  It sounds complicated, but all you have to do is divide the yearly rent by 365. Then you can multiply that by the days left in the month.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

I do have a fancy real estate calculator that helps with the more complex things like finding a monthly amortization amount at a given interest rate over a set period of time, but for the most part I hand-calculate the math I tend to use from day to day.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

I wouldn’t really have a job unless I could apply math at its most basic levels:  settlement costs are a typically a set percentage of the sales price, prorated bills are due as of the date the property is transferred, and my income is always a percentage of the total sales price–which can change at each and every transaction.  I feel like I’m always taking quick, armchair calculations to figure out where things generally stand at the end of any given week.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I was one of those students in school who tended to excel more in the creative arts–writing, languages, history, and the like.   I have horrible memories of feeling I was the last person in math or science class to even generally grasp the problem being discussed, from algebra to geometry to even basic chemistry.  I don’t think I ever quite figured out how to balance a chemistry equation!

I turned 50 this year, which meant I could finally let go of what hasn’t worked for me in the past.  With GMATs and all the other truly stressful mathematical events I’ve had in my life, I was convinced that my brain just wasn’t wired the right way, or that I even had some sort of math disability.  Put me in a job I absolutely love, however, and help me see how math can help my clients find and then settle into the home of their dreams, and I’m astonished at how mathematically competent I now feel!

What kind of math did you take in high school?  Did you like it/feel like you were good at it?

I took everything mathematical a good properly-educated, college-bound boy was supposed to take, but my God was it absolute torture.  There were so many rules to understand and follow, and you couldn’t really reason or write your way out of a problem–like you could in an essay question in, say, English class–unless you knew how to manipulate the underlying mathematical formulae (which of course my feeble brain could barely even understand let alone memorize and apply).  It also didn’t help that all the math teachers at my school seemed to double as coaches for various sports teams in their after-school lives, and using the same motivational threats they used on the field (Yo–  what the &*^%\$ were you #@!) thinking!) didn’t quite have the same result in the classroom with those of us who were not quite as macho about math.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?

Actually, successfully using math as much as I do now in my everyday job has finally helped me feel I’m not the complete and utter dolt I always thought I was when it came to dealing with figures.

Do you have questions for Stephen about the math of real estate? Please ask them in the comments section. He can responded there or I’ll write another post addressing more complex issues.