The Charlotte MLS system has just announced that beginning in late March, square footage on houses will be reported in ranges, instead of specific amounts. On the data sheet for a home, the square footage may read something like “3600-4200”. This change by the Charlotte multi-listing system is consistent with how square footage is reported in many other real estate markets.
The reason for the switch is to prevent disagreements that sometimes come up after the sale is negotiated. Some buyers want credit if there is even a slight discrepancy. While square footage is a factor in the price of a home, it is not the only factor, or even the most important one in most cases. Amenities, level of finish, condition, and location can create a difference in price for houses that are otherwise very similar in age and size. For waterfront properties, square footage of a house is even less of a factor in price determination. (See What to Look for in Lake Wylie Waterfront Property)
Also, measuring square footage is hardly an exact science, especially when considering modern architecture with some areas open to the next floor, living spaces with sloped ceilings, bay windows and various other nooks and crannies. While there are guidelines for measuring (see my blog Understanding Square Footage), rarely will two people come up with an identical number when measuring some of the more challenging floor plans.
Liability has become such an issue that some real estate agents hire measuring services to calculate square footage. Under the new practice of the Charlotte MLS, the range listed for square footage will leave a bit of room for minor variations in measuring, thus reducing chance of arguments and lawsuits.
While the new method will no doubt frustrate those buyers who carry calculators to make precise comparisons, it will allow the buyers to place more emphasis on the comparison factors that are not as precisely measurable, but may be more important in their overall satisfaction with the property.