Which house is bigger?
The hot topic in our office meeting this week was Square Footage. Have you ever walked into a house and thought there is no way this house is bigger than mine, but the listed square footage says otherwise? Chances are, you were probably right. Sure, different floor plans do live larger than others, but our real estate community has a serious problem with accurately reporting square footage.
As new agents, we were taught to report the above grade square footage reported by the county assessor. Come to find out, not all Illinois counties report square footage the same way. This has led to ambiguous rules in our local MLS, known as MRED. Here's what's really happening:
The approximate square footage field is required and defined by MRED as above grade square footage which is what we have always understood and used when drafting listings. However, we are noticing that agents are using building square footage (all finished space) or gross square footage (all space including finished, unfinished, garage, porch, etc) for their approximate square footage number. MRED is telling us that if you source the assessor, you can only include above grade square footage for the approximate square footage field but if you cite any of the other options (i.e. estimated, builder, seller, plans, etc...) then you can use below grade square footage in that number too.
This doesn't really make sense and is corrupting the data because it is inconsistent. MRED says they encourage agents to use the assessors numbers; however, if this is the rule, then who would be inclined to use the assessor's numbers, putting their sellers at a disadvantage? If this is the rule, then can we include all finished, unfinished, garage, porch, etc... square footage as an "estimate"/"builder"/"plans" in the approximate square footage field in hopes to attract more buyers or lower our cost per square foot?
The risk of inflating square footage in a property listing is that it can lead to problems during the appraisal phase of the real estate contract. Agents in our office have had contracts fall apart because buyers have felt slighted to learn their future home isn't as big as they thought it was. Or, the actual cost per square foot was out of line with comparable properties leading to a lower appraised value.
We will continue to fight the fight for fair reporting in our MLS, but in the meantime, try not to get so caught up in the number. What's most important is that the space and layout of your home feel right to your and your family. As a seller, be aware of how your square footage is being reported keeping in mind that bigger isn't always better.