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Why Every Real Estate Pro Should Learn to Use a Financial Calculator

Updated: Jan 29

by Trevor Calton

If you are a serious real estate investor or professional, a financial calculator is the most important tool in your toolbox.

  • Overview of the calculator and layout of keys

  • Display decimal places

  • Storage and Memory functions

  • Reverse Polish Notation

  • Practice Problems

  • Basic Calculations

  • Financial Functions

If you are serious about learning commercial real estate, whether as an investor, a real estate agent, a mortgage lender, an analyst, or any other role as a commercial real estate professional, you’ll need to know how to use financial functions on a calculator. If not, you will be at a disadvantage compared to those who do.

If you are getting into commercial real estate, you will likely look at hundreds of deals, if not thousands, over the coming years, and each one will have its information presented in a different and unique way. So in order to really know what you’re doing, you need to understand the concepts behind the numbers, and be able to analyze those numbers without being dependent on a spreadsheet or some proprietary company software program.

Now I’m not saying that spreadsheets are bad, because they’re absolutely necessary, but even if you are primarily working on spreadsheets, the only way to know if the information you’re getting out of your spreadsheet is correct is by being able to analyze numbers manually, and that requires knowing how to use a financial calculator.

That’s why I’ll teach you both the concepts and how to run the numbers.

Financial calculators are those that specifically have the five Time Value of Money functions:

  • N - Number of Periods

  • I - Interest Rate or Rate of Growth

  • PV - Present Value

  • PMT - Payment or Cash Flows

  • FV - Future Value

My personal favorite financial calculator is the Hewlett-Packard HP 12c. These calculators are readily available as a traditional handheld machine, or you can download a digital version on most smartphones. If you prefer to use a physical calculator instead of an app on your phone, they're pretty easy to find online or at most office supply retail stores. And if you don’t want to pay full retail price for a new one, many of my students have found them used online for as little as $5 or $10.

Another thing I strongly recommend is getting a financial calculator that uses Reverse Polish Notation, or RPN. It’s a slightly different type of input it takes a few minutes to get used to, but once you understand it, you’ll never want to go back to the old way because RPN calculators allow you to do algebra without having to stop in the middle of an equation to record your answer.

Join my FREE course to learn the functions with which you need to be familiar in order to effectively use this calculator for general functions and those more commonly used in real estate. It isn’t a fully comprehensive tutorial on all of the functions of the calculator, but rather those you will most frequently need specifically for real estate finance and investments.

Are you interested in more robust training, including a deep dive into financial calculators?

Check out the Masterclass at Real Estate Finance Academy.


Trevor T. Calton, MBA is the President of Evergreen Capital Advisors and founder of Real Estate Finance Academy. A longtime industry veteran and former Professor of Real Estate Finance, he has analyzed, acquired, or sold more than $5 billion of commercial real estate assets, financed over 500 commercial investment properties, and overseen the asset management of over 6000 units of multifamily housing.

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