Two fresh examples of square footage inflation in real estate listings, provided by a woman shopping for a home in Bay Village.
The first property is a townhouse at 22 Shawmut Street. City records list the living area as 1,116 square feet. The initial real estate listing shows 1,260 square feet. And the current listing shows 1,360 square feet.
The shopper, who doesn't want to be named because she's still looking for a home in the neighborhood, says she confronted the listing agent about the discrepancy and asked to measure the property herself. The result? About 980 square feet. (The city measures the outside walls of the building, while this shopper took a tape measure to the interior walls, which may explain why her number is smaller than even the city's.)
What's going on? The listing agent, Kyle Hancock of Gibson/Sotheby's International Realty, says the city numbers are wrong. She said the listing -- the second listing, which shows 1,360 square feet -- is based on an appraisal.
The second property also is a townhouse, at 2 Lyndeboro Place. City records list the living area as 1,253 square feet. And that's exactly the number in the initial real estate listing, which was still posted in a ground-floor window as of Tuesday morning. But an updated online listing for the property shows 1,885 square feet.
The listing agent, Aline Cullen of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, referred me to her boss. I left a message and will update this post as soon as I hear back.
I spoke this afternoon with Jeffrey Heighton, a senior vice president at Coldwell Banker. He says the listed square footage is based on a measurement by an outside consultant, that it includes a lower level used as a family room by the current occupant, and that the complete MLS listing for the property includes a note stating, "Square footage includes lower level."
Heighton noted that Boston's measurement of the living space in the home may be outdated, and the buyer can judge for themselves whether the lower level feels like livable space.
"For us to include a lower level and disclose that is about as upfront as we can be," Heighton said. At the end of the day, I think the buyer decides if the price on the property is worth the space that they see."
Disclosures about square footage often aren't included in the presentations of MLS data on third-party Web sites, leaving home shoppers a little blind as they consider where to look. Without commenting on this example -- I haven't seen the basement -- it's also the case that increasing the square footage and then including a footnote lets sellers bump properties into higher size categories on any pretext whatsoever.
Consider the example from my last post on this subject:
I last wrote about this issue in March, citing the example of two condos in Brookline. Both of those cases included notes explaining the listed square footage wasn't real. Said one, for a property listed at 1,000 square feet, "Actual is 940. Efficient floor plan makes feel larger."
The discussion that ensued was detailed and informative and I highly recommend you give it a read, here.
What stood out for me was a broad agreement that square footage inflation is a prevalent problem, enabled by a lack of clarity about the right way to calculate square footage in the first place.
If so, the consequences are significant. Many of us rely on price-per-square-foot calculations in shopping for a new home.
(Indeed, the Bay Village shopper told me she wonders if square footage inflation isn't becoming more common, because it basically allows hard-pressed sellers to hold their price point: If their 1,000 square foot home is no longer worth $500,000, then perhaps their 1,200 square foot home still is.)
As I understand it, the position of the real estate profession on this issue is that you can't tell a knowing lie, but neither do you need to make any special effort to be sure you're right. In other words, ignorance is bliss. That strikes me as a pretty lousy standard.
It seems to me a better standard would be something like this: If you cite the same square footage as in town or city records, you're safe even if the number is wrong. If you want to cite a different figure, you need to list the source, and you're liable for being significantly wrong.
Here's what I'd love: If you know of a case of square footage inflation, send me the address and the evidence. I'll contact the agent and post the results here. If we can build up a case file, perhaps we can build an argument that there really is a broad problem.
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