by Hamp Thomas on 03/21/15
Many agents have asked; “Does this square footage stuff really matter to me? Isn’t it more of an appraisal issue? Fair questions. Let’s take a look at one sale where the agent now understands just how square footage affects a listing value. It was a hard lesson in the importance of square footage, and one they will not soon forget.
The house was listed at $259,900. The tax records showed the heated living area as 2,318. After completing a CMA, it appeared that most homes in the neighborhood were selling between $110.00 and $114.00 per-sqft. Taking an average of $112.00 and applying that to 2,318 sqft, the agent and owner agreed to list the house at $259,900. There was never a discussion of measuring the home, no talk of the square footage from the appraisal when they bought the home, there was never any discussion about square footage. It was simply assumed that the square footage in tax records was accurate. It is the “official record” according to many agent’s viewpoint. This was just the way it was done in their office, and the thought of any potential square footage problems never entered the thought process.
The home stayed on the market without an offer and, after six months, they decided to lower the price. They decided on $254,900 and felt they were offering a good deal too any potential buyer. At this price, they were listed at $109.97 per-square-foot and at the very low end of properties in that neighborhood. The agent was confident this would do the job and they waited. Sure enough, within three weeks after the price reduction they received an offer.
The first offer was $248,000 and after a great deal of conversation, they countered at $252,500 and thought that was their bottom line. For them, who paid $183,900 six years ago and had spent a great deal of time and money working on the house, they just knew the house was worth that amount. They didn’t want to lose the buyer, but also didn’t want to give the house away too cheaply. This time, the buyer said “YES” and the contracts were quickly signed. Feeling partly relieved and partly like they took less than they should have, they decided to focus on the future and find their new home.
They spent the next two weeks looking at every home available on the other side of the county and closer to the husband’s new job. They finally found “the one,” and worked out an agreement to purchase their dream house. The money was tight, but they had just enough for the down-payment with the proceeds they would receive from the sale of their home. Excited about their new home, they looked forward to the move.
Everything was starting to fall in place. The utilities were scheduled to be changed and the moving companies lined up. The home inspection had gone through without issue and as soon as the appraisal was finished, they were set to close. The day of the appraisal came and the appraiser walked through with note pad in hand, taking pictures and pulling a tape measure. The appraiser said thank you, good luck with your move, and he was gone. They thought that seemed pretty painless and felt good about everything coming together.
Three days later the phone rings and it’s their agent. He is in a panic. “Wait, slow down, what are you saying?” The agent tried his best to get it out; the house appraised at $239,000. The buyers are not willing to pay more than the appraised value and we’ve got to get together to talk about our options. Feeling overwhelmed, they agreed to meet the next morning. When the agent showed up, the home owners felt there was something more to the story and asked “how could this happen?” Is this appraiser an idiot? We priced it below where it should have been.
“That’s not it,” the agent told them. “We do seem to have lots of problems with low appraisals these days, but in this case we have an issue with the “size” of your house. I’ve never had this happen before and we have to get this re-checked, and fast. I’ve asked another appraiser to come out and measure your home, just to be sure. Then we’ll decide if we can fight this low appraisal. But, I have your home listed with 2,318 sqft and this appraiser came up with 2,146 square feet.”
The second appraiser came out and carefully measured the home. About two hours later they got the call. This time, the measurements came in at 2,148 sqft. In either case, that’s well below the tax department’s measurements of 2,318 sqft. 2,318 minus 2,148 equals a difference of 170 sqft. That is a huge difference. If you do the math, at $239,900, with 2,146 sqft, that comes out to $111.79 per-sqft. That’s really close to what we thought it should be, and the only difference is in the square footage total we used to calculate the price. I can’t believe the tax department has this large of a mistake. I’ve never seen anything like this before. But, at this point, the appraised value appears to be fair. I am so sorry this happened.
After all was said and done, the buyer was not happy about getting a smaller home than they had been told and were afraid there might be other problems, and they backed out of the deal. The seller could not move forward with the purchase of their dream home, and those sellers also lost a deal on the home they had under contract. When the dominoes stopped falling, six transactions had been killed or delayed. It took a lot of people a lot of time, and caused a great deal of stress all around. Talk about a bad day!
The original listing agent could have avoided all these problems by having the house measured, before they ever determined a listing price. One agent that didn’t think square footage was important, ended up causing a very bad series of events that influenced the lives, hopes and dreams of a large number of consumers (and other agents). So, the next time someone asks you if square footage “is really that big of a deal?” You might want to say that, like most of the real estate industry, “It Depends” can apply to almost every situation. This case might be an extreme, but it’s not as rare as you might think and deals are lost due to nothing more than the square footage number used to calculate the list price. Indeed, Size Matters!