Allen Norwood

Square footage returns to MLS

The regional multiple listing service again provides specific square footages, instead of square footage ranges, of homes listed for sale.

Specific figures were restored as part of an ongoing effort to upgrade and streamline the online system and provide better service to prospective buyers and sellers, says Joe Rempson, president of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association.

Specific square footage numbers disappeared from public display in 2008, in part because calculating them is complicated. To help you appreciate how complicated, try measuring your own house. (I’ll tell you how to get started shortly.)

As I wrote in 2008, Carolina Multiple Listing Services began using ranges to cut down on squabbles and legal wrangling – with real estate pros in the middle. Sellers want to market every square inch they can, and buyers are sometimes angry if they don’t receive every square inch they’re anticipating.

Real estate pros could see actual square footage, but the rest of us could see only ranges.

The ranges stretched from 10 percent below the actual figure to 5 percent above. So, before the recent change, a 4,000-square-foot house would have been listed as 3,600-4,200 square feet.

Why not just use a figure that’s halfway between the low and high? The unofficial, sort-of-off-the-record answer I heard back then was that skewing the range a bit might also cut down on fights over footage. The logic was that if some prospective buyer was doing the rough math quickly in her head, she’d probably come up with an average figure that was a little bit low. Then she’d be pleasantly surprised that the house offered a bit more space than expected.

Measuring square footage can, indeed, be complicated. If three experienced pros measure the same house, they’re not likely to come up with the same exact number. That’s why the N.C. Real Estate Commission says that any difference of less than 5 percent generally won’t be a reason for concern.

Download the commission’s official booklet, Residential Square Footage Guidelines, and try measuring your own home ( booklet 2013.pdf).

You’ll need a sharp pencil (with an eraser), a calculator and a long tape measure. Look for a tape with measurements divided into tenths of a foot. Otherwise, you’ll have to convert inches into decimals.

And you’ll need pruning shears. You measure from the outside, not the inside, which means you’ll have to squeeze behind those hateful foundation hollies.