Maybe you’ve seen it on the MLS: a luxurious home with gorgeous photos, often featuring a large, inviting lot. Everything looks great, right? Yet when you look for how much living space there is, you find the square footage listed as zero.
It’s a trick some real estate agents use to circumvent the price per square foot calculation. Especially in the higher-end zip codes. Because if they were to reveal the true size of the home, it would shine a harsh, bright spotlight on how overpriced it is.
Here are a couple examples of properties currently for sale.
In the famous Trousdale enclave of Beverly Hills, a 6-bedroom house with nearly an acre of land is being offered for $23 million. Square footage is listed at zero. Yet a quick check of public records puts the home at 7347 square feet, which translates to over $3000 per square foot.
In Brentwood, a 5-bedroom “private oasis” with a comparably large lot is asking $15 million. Again, square footage of the home is shown as zero. But records from the tax assessor’s office put the true number at 3800. That works out to a staggering $3947 per square foot.
Where does the MLS stand on this?
According to the MLS Help Desk, there are many required fields that an agent must fill in when creating a new listing. However, square footage is not one of them. And while entering the APN number of a property will auto-populate the square footage field with what shows on public records, a listing agent can modify that number manually as long as the source of that modification is specified.
For this reason, it’s important that serious buyers do their research, which may mean hiring a licensed professional during the inspection period to measure the correct square footage in order to make sure they are getting what they paid for.
But seeing zero square footage on a listing can also have a hidden benefit. As I tell my buyer clients, it almost always acknowledges an exaggerated appeal of the property, and therefore a potential weakness in the bargaining position of the seller, which can be exploited in sharp negotiations to knock down the asking price.