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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Real Estate is NOT a science, Part II: "I think, therefore I am."

I am an information junkie. I am suffering a bit of withdrawal right now. My real estate licensing class ended last Saturday. I passed, well in a comfortable percentile. During that intensive week-long course, I nearly OD-ed.

The experience was exhilarating — all the concepts thrilled me, since I had first-hand knowledge from my three years of secretarial work at a real estate firm. I also have a fervent love of law: when first came to NYC, I worked at a bar association library, my hands awed when they came in contact with centuries-old case law; then at a law school as a video assistant for several years, seeing how they train those mudderfudders in their semantic games, how they define ethical standards, how intertwined the actions of our legislatures, executives and judiciaries are with everyday workaday life. I saw parallels in the injustices of law with those cheated in their real estate ventures. I saw parallels with history itself: I saw how the Fair Housing Act is a direct descendant of the Magna Carta, how the rights of tenancy are rooted in the medieval custom of primogeniture. I understood too, that real estate licensees, like lawyers, should be educated on a continual basis, that even though there are bedrock concepts and law, there is this ever-changing part of the practice, as amorphous as plasma.

But despite this intense pleasure in learning, I was overwhelmed. I underestimated the breadth of the material covered, all compressed into a consecutive six-day course. Furthermore, I don't work by rote memory: I have to completely chew the information, digest it, and sh*t it out. I did not have enough time reinterpret the text and scribble all the Venn diagrams and flow charts I am so fond of.

I rarely made it home from class before sunset, and I still had to cook and clean — attend to actual living, not thinking. My son made it doubly hard: when we reunited for the evening, he clung to me for dear life. He made sure I could never crack open my textbook before midnight. With each day passing quick and another day behind, I pleaded for help from my former co-worker, Ruby, who had been supportive through all the woes and heck surrounding my departure from my job (the details of which may be the subject of a future blog, once I know it's totally blown over).

I had very little sleep last Wednesday, the night before I studied with Edward (Ruby's son, who is also in real estate). I'd finally asked Ruby for help that day, which fortunately for her but unfortunately for me happened to be her birthday, so she couldn't help me on her special day. Our class was assigned to read the "Real Estate mathematics" section for Thursday. I was nervous at first, because it's been over a decade since my last mathematics class in high school, Pre-Calculus, and I thought I'd lost my touch (see Footnote below). (It has become a concern too, that I'd want to be able to help my son when he gets to math with variables.) But once I started getting into the chapter, (not to sound all Celine-Dion sappy) it was all coming back to me.

As I read on in the wee hours, I was frustrated how dumbed down the math was expressed. I am accustomed to formulas being rather simple, with set letter variable representing a concept, it bothered me to have formulas expressed in whole words. For instance, if someone said, "the amount of mass multiplied by the speed of light squared equals its energy potential," that is not as elegant as writing E=mc2. It also made it hard for me mnemonically. I almost broke out the Greek alphabet to come up with my own theorem. I know the course is open to almost anyone, regardless of their familiarity with basic algebra, but since a good deal of my other classmates were confused, there must be an intrinsic flaw in the approach.

I stopped reading any further; my brain started racing. Why isn't there a name equivalent to Pythagoras or Descartes in real estate thinking? Even other applied sciences, like medicine and engineering, have its superstars, like Louis Pasteur or George Washington Carver. (BTW, I later learned if you wanted to go the full monty and get a degree in Real Estate, it would be a Bachelor of Science.) I started thinking, "Forget string theory. My theory of everything will include real estate."

Thinking like this, my "eureka" light-bulb moments, gets me off. I longed to speak to someone about it. Thursday in class, I was on the edge of my seat completing the math problems. The classmate next to me, Toni, was a former engineer, and I commiserated with her a bit. That night, Ruby was not able to chat at length with me when I was at her house; my son, fussy in the alien surroundings, took so long to lay to rest; I only studied for a short spell with Edward, who made a late-night business run. I was left so unsatisfied — but I don't know what satisfaction I could have had that night. A small nugget of gratification came the next day when I vented briefly to Skip, Ruby's husband, as he drove me to the subway that rainy morning.

I think too much for my own good. Ironically, my motto in film school was, "I feel, therefore I am."
It also brought a smile to my face when Edward jokingly called me "Einstein" that night. If only he'd known.


I wasn't always a worrywart when it came to school. All through middle school and high school, I was the lackadaisical straight-A student, the one who wasn't really pressed about studying. I would fall asleep in the back of the classroom (after watching too much Arsenio Hall), with one hand propping up my head and the other holding a pencil, pretending to take notes. The giveaway would be the puddle of drool on the notepaper. My peers were PO-ed with me, that they worked their butts off and I would score above the curve. It became such a hassle that when I got my tests back, whatever the course — AP US History, AP Euro, AP Art History, AP Chem, Pre-Cal — I would lie to my classmates about my score, knocking off a few percentage points. If anything, I was competing with myself, not my other classmates. Boasting was an anathema to me.

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