Cool Real Estate Search for Investors

I noticed that Robbie has been playing around with the back-end of the home search tool he has developed for Rain City Guide, and it reminded me that I’ve been wanting to highlight one of the cool feature. The search tool allows you to sort your listings based on the price per square foot…

And why should you care? Well, here is a search of the “cheapest homes in Seattle” in terms of cost per square foot. (note I had to put in values for the low end of a home and the low end of square footage in order to eliminate all the “zero” values.) If you’re the type of buyer who is looking for a good deal this would be a great place to start. I’m not aware of any home search site in Seattle that allows you to filter things in this way so easily!

Create your own search here: Seattle Home Search.

26 thoughts on “Cool Real Estate Search for Investors

  1. Robbie & Dustin….

    If you had to guess what % the accuracy of NWMLS data is in these two categories?

    Both land Sq footage and Sq footage of housing. I would love to hear your thoughts… even if it is a guess.

    Here in Atlanta the land sq footage is sometimes off in as much as 50 percent of the listings.

  2. I would say land square footage is rarely off here…are you a metes and bounds area? They tend to be the most “off” in my experience, as sometimes tax records use the long side X the long side of an irregular lot to calculate total sf on the lot.

    Here in Seattle you can pretty much depend on lot size, but housing square feet shown in mls should NEVER be taken at face value. Exception might be newer construction, but I always check it against the tax record and our standard optional addendums remove liability regarding square footage. Sometimes, even on newer homes and townhomes, mls figures include the garage, which should not be included. Sometimes mls shows an unheated, 3 season type room. On older homes, especially ones with basements, there are lots of variances, and we have a LOT of older homes.

    Interested in the experience and opinions of others on this.

  3. I know over a 33% of the listings have a square footage of 0 and 30% have a lot square footage of 0. Which means at least many are off by 100%.

    Besides from that, I have no idea what % accuracy is. I guess I’d have to cross-check with Zillow or King Co. records to get an intelligent guess.

  4. I will agree with Robbie that 0 is always “off” πŸ™‚

    So my comment before that would be limited to the accuracy of those with a number higher than 1.

  5. I know it seems silly, but the Department of Licensing has indicated that it will discipline an agent if a complaint is filed and it is proven that an agent incorrectly represented that a house had an exact square footage without having ever measured the house to confirm the square footage amount. However, the Department will not discipline an agent if an agent states in the printout that the square footage amount is taken from County records or that the square footage amount is an approximation only. It is the opinion of the Washington Association of Realtors lawyer that a listing agent should report the amount of square footage that is listed in the county records AND that agent should explicitly state in the comments to the listing, that the square footage amount is taken from county records. There is still no guarantee that a buyer will not sue listing agent for misrepresentation if the amount is wrong, but the Agency Law provides that agent is entitled to rely on the representations of reasonably reliable sources. Accordingly, given the market pressures to report square footage, this would appear to be the most appropriate approach. If listing agent does measure the house personally and report agent’s conclusions as the amount of square footage, then listing agent will have no defense if that number is wrong.

    Appraisers have guidance as to how to measure square footage, but we, as agents, do not. For instance, some are of the opinion that we shouldn’t count garage square footage. But what if it’s attached and part of the living area, in that it’s been converted to an art studio? And do we measure closets? No? How about large walk-in closets? Closets converted to sewing rooms? Shall we measure all the rooms and then add those up or shall we do what appraisers do and measure the outside of the house? Wouldn’t that add square footage by counting the thickness of exterior walls?

    So, some agents, to avoid liability all together, just don’t put any square footage in the listing. Problem solved, at least for them. Yes, it makes it difficult for buyers and it skews the statistics, but, it’s often considered the safest route by some agents and brokers. Until we can remove this liability, some agents and offices will continue to omit square footage.

  6. How many cases have there been in Washington state regarding this issue? Does this sort of thing happen regularly (more than once a year)? Has there ever been a case in which an agent was sued when there was a square footage error in the buyers favor? If so, what’s to prevent you from being sued if you entered 0?

    It seems since there is no standard way to measure square footage (is there even a legal definition of square footage?), I’d suspect proving such as case would problematic.

    Does anybody offer “malpractice insurance” for realtors so agents can protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits? Perhaps, I just discovered a new business opportunity for Russ & Craig? πŸ™‚

  7. Robbie, In the Real Estate Industry “malpractice insurance” is called E&O Insurance (Errors and Omissions). It doesn’t necessarily protect you from “frivolous” suits, as it generally comes with a $5,000 deductible per claim. Even a frivolous suit can cost $5,000 in legal fees. No suit at all can cost $5,000 in legal fees.

    There have been many cases around the country on the square footage issue and buyers have been awarded damages on a price per square foot basis. I have never heard of a case being brought against an agent who put “zero” when available sources of info differed. It is not common practice in the Seattle area to guess or measure. The info comes from County Records most of the time. Sometimes an appraisal that the seller has and then the source is either “seller” or “appraisal”, not agent.

    I have a case now like this now where the builder floorplan from 2003 says 1,627, tax record says 1,450 and neighbors who sold the same model showed 1,900. I have the floorplan and am measuring the walls from the interior. It’s a townhome, so the builder plans would say 1,627 for each, but “as built” can differ. It is not possilbe to measure exterior in this particular case.

  8. I’m sure Russ or Craig have more information about this than I, but there was a landmark case in the early 80’s, I believe it was Heritage House, who was named as the defendant. They were a real esate firm in Seattle who was sued by the buyer for misrepresenting the square footage of a property. If I remember correctly, Heritage House’s defense is that they were either told the square footage by the seller or took it from the tax records… either way, they were found liable and were bankrupted by the court decision. Since then, my brokerage has been very strict about listing square footage in the listing. When it’s done it must say “per King County Records”.

    As a point of reference concerning Errors and Omissions insurance, Coldwell Banker Bain payed out more than $500,000.00 in insurance premiums and settlement costs in 2005. To those who wonder why we charge a minimum of a 3% listing fee to sell a home, this is just one of several reasons why…..

  9. Great post everyone… Thanks for the response…

    That was exactly my point Robbie… putting in a 0 into the MLS does little good for someone trying to put together an idea of how their property stacks up against others in the area.

    That is why our site looks to take the liability off the agents shoulders by going through every property shown on our site to quote a “best guess” square footage. We do this by pulling title on every lot and comparing legal descriptions, tax records, mapping software and plat maps.

    I completely understand the reasons why agents don’t typically quote sq. footage… the liability and lack of the proper tools to make these estimates. So as a web designer… we must take it on our own to clean up the data and have quality control measures in place.

    The problem with this is making it all happen… and don’t even get me started on that subject…

  10. Giles, I have to say that web designers guessing at square footage on their own…is that a data collector who hasn’t seen the house?

    Often when zero is entered it is because the tax record is much smaller than the actual house. A data collector entering the square footage could get in a lot of trouble by using the smaller number on his own for “cleaning up the data” purposes. If the seller didn’t hire you as a “maid” to clean up his data, I would be careful there.

  11. Ardell…

    I understand your concern but I am only talking about lot sq. footage, we have nothing to do with the structures on the land.

    All we care about is if it has asbestos as that costs more money to remove.

  12. Two times in 15 years I have had a major problem with square footage issues. One was the lot size and one was the house.

    I listed a house and the tax record said the lot was 33,000 square feet. I walked the lot, which was quite irregular, and said “no way this is 3/4 of an acre”. I did the geometry, created the rectangle, and then added the square footage of the two triangles outside of the rectangle, and came up with 17,000 square feet. The tax record took the hypotenuse, which was very long and multiplied it by the road frontage to get the total square feet. The owner still wanted me to put 33,000 square feet in the listing. I walked.

    The other was a house showing 800 square feet in the tax record, obviously wrong. The owner (who was an attorney in L.A.) handed me the listing from when he bought it that said 2,400 square feet. I said I think it is 1,750 square feet, let’s get someone out to measure it. He said you are “spot on”, and I know that from the appraisal, but I am telling you to put 2,400. I walked.

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