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Home / News / Construction and Real Estate / Some agents 
frustrated with 
CMLS’ policy for 
home sizes

Some agents 
frustrated with 
CMLS’ policy for 
home sizes

Since the Carolinas Multiple Listing Service changed its method of describing square footage, Re/Max Metro Realty broker-in-charge Eric Strom says it hasn’t created the headaches some agents predicted.

Beginning in 2008, CMLS’ system has reported the square footage of homes for sale in a range. That means that a prospective homebuyer doesn’t know from a listing exactly how many square feet a home is.

Strom said most homebuyers aren’t really bothered by the range.

“I’ve not really run into any issues with it,” he said. “They’ll question it, and we’ll explain it to them. If it’s important to them, we’ll go measure the home or get the tax records.”

But three years later, some are still grumbling about the change. Some even say it has the potential to hurt sales prices.

Late last year, Jonathan Osman, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Charlotte, blasted the CMLS policy in a blog posting.

Osman wrote that square foot ranges were resulting in low offers.

“Buyers are wise to the trickery of the CMLS’ square footage range,” he wrote. “They know that the high number in the range is larger than the actual square footage and they know the low number is close to the actual square footage. Therefore, they are basing their asking price on the lower number alone so as to not over pay for the property.”

He’s not alone.

Don Stephens, a real estate broker with Rock Hill-based Rinehart Realty, says the wide range that’s reported on the MLS is a policy “all practitioners are frustrated by” because the way square footage is reported means little to buyers.

“Why don’t we just put in a caveat that says, ‘Square footage listed is from the seller and must be verified’?” he said.

CMLS’ practice is not universal. In some states, the exact square footages of homes can be found on multiple listing services.

But, advocates for reporting feet in ranges say, real estate agents, like anyone else, can make mistakes when measuring rooms.

Since real estate agents are responsible for accurate measurements, providing a range reduces concerns about lawsuits and fines, Strom said.

Stephens said he has an appraiser measure all the homes he lists. That costs about $75 per home and includes an outline of the structure with the square footage of each floor as well as the square footage of the total heated living area. He includes that floor plan outline on his personal website.

At minimum, the CMLS should list a smaller range for square footages, he said. Ranges on the CMLS actually increase as homes’ sizes increase, he added.

CMLS’ computer system produces a range based on the home’s square footage when an agent initially lists it. The system calculates 10 percent lower and 5 percent higher than the actual square footage, and that’s the range a potential buyer sees in the CMLS listing.

But it can be a problem for buyers who are doing their home-hunting research online, because the range can make it hard to do comparisons.

Stephens said many buyers don’t notice or comment on the range, unless they are more experienced in real estate. Like most real estate agents, he doesn’t think square footage is a good tool to use in a home search. A home with more square footage could feel smaller than one with less square footage but an open floor plan.

“They have to go and stand in the home,” he said.

Laurie Knudsen, president of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association and the CMLS, said the change was brought about because homebuyers were using square footage as a tool to find properties.

“You can’t compare a 2,000-square-foot house in poor condition to a 2,000-square-foot house in good condition,” said Knudsen, who is also a Realtor and broker-in-charge for Helen Adams Realty of Ballantyne. “A lot of agents and consumers were looking at price per square foot, but it doesn’t always equate.”

She said that resulted in some homebuyers trying to renegotiate sales prices at closing, once they realized that the home’s square footage was off by 50 or 70 square feet. Strom said he has seen that, too.

Once a sale is finalized, the CMLS listing is updated to show the actual square footage. That’s done to help appraisers and other real estate agents complete market comparisons.

Before closing, a homeowner can have the real estate agent, an appraiser or another company measure the home to find the exact size.

If a homebuyer believes a home’s actual square footage is not what it was represented to be, they have a way out thanks to the new due diligence agreements between buyers and sellers, Strom said.

“The buyer can walk away,” Strom said. “They’ll lose their earnest money, but that’s generally pretty small — around $200 or $300.”

Knudsen said North Carolina is not the only state that reports square footage that way. Her native New York doesn’t report exact square footages. Neither do Georgia and South Carolina.

But listings on the website of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors provide exact square footages.

The North Carolina Real Estate Commission doesn’t require that square footages be reported. Instead, it requires that listed square footages be accurate to a certain extent, Knudsen said.

Agents can face penalties from the NCREC if they have not made an effort to accurately report the square footage.

That’s why Knudsen said if she were still listing and selling homes, she would hire an outside company to measure it.

“I would do that in a heartbeat,” she said.

CMLS’ change was met with opposition at first, but Knudsen said that has died down.

“At the beginning, it was very confusing,” she said. “Any change always comes with negative and positive feedback.”

Ramsey can be reached at [email protected].

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