Price per sq. ft. in tricky home value territory

Kristi Bailey 2020 NETAR President

There is no argument that navigating today’s real estate market is complicated. So, it’s easy to see why buyers and sellers are always looking for ways to make things less difficult. Especially when a property’s price is the issue. 

A popular concept that is overused and frequently misunderstood is price per square foot. All you have to do is take the price of a home, divide it by the property’s square footage, and have a benchmark for comparisons.  


It’s easy. It’s fast.  And yes, it can be useful about the general value for a specific property, but that’s about the extent of its worth. Still, it continues to hold almost mystic sway in real estate discussions. The truth of the matter is that a property’s actual value is more complicated than a simple two-variable formula.  

Here’s a quick example of just how the type of construction and a few other factors renders price square foot an unqualified data point when comparing property prices.  

There four basic categories in home construction: economy, standard, custom, and luxury. They are as different as the names imply. 

House A and B have the same square footage, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. The price per square foot should be a good common dominator – right?   


House A was built on an economy standard. It was built for buyers who wanted to spend as little as possible. The builder was careful to use materials that keep costs down. All the materials met code but were more often not of the highest quality. The doors are typically hollow; cabinets, other fixtures, and appliances are also in the economy class. The roof is nine years old, and the home is on a busy street. 

House B is a custom-built home.  Cabinets are custom. The flooring is hardwood. It’s the type of home where you find higher-quality appliances, better windows, solid doors, and higher-end plumbing fixtures. House B also has a two-year-old roof and sits at the back of a cul-de-sac.  

Running the two-variable price per square foot formula gives you a number for each home. But those numbers have about a much in common as a grape and a watermelon.  

One example of when price per square foot a reliable yardstick is a neighborhood that includes fewer homes, developed by one builder who built each home using the same materials and amenities in each home. Price per square foot is a good yardstick is the same.  

One of the most complicated parts of a professional REALTOR’S® job is determining a property’s market value. When setting a pricing strategy for a new listing, it is often as much an art as a science.  Because the process involves research in public and private databases, math, street-level market knowledge, and attentiveness to local market conditions that ebb and flow by the day, you need a professional to help you determine that value. Call a local REALTOR® to find out the value of your home. 

NETAR is the voice for real estate in Northeast Tennessee. It is the largest trade association in the Northeast Tennessee – Southwest Virginia region representing over 1,400 members and 100 affiliates involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries. Pending sales, Trends Reports, and the regional market analytics can be found on the NETAR websites at 

NETAR is the voice for real estate in Northeast Tennessee. It is the largest trade association in the Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia region, representing over 1,800+ members and 100+ business partners involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries. Weekly market reports and information for both consumers and members are available on the NETAR website at