Starbucks cups and price per sq ft

I was in line at Starbucks and then it hit me. The perfect analogy for price per sq ft in real estate. While ordering my Grande drip with no room, I began to wonder how much I was paying for each ounce. Maybe that means I’m a geek, but was I really getting the most bang for my buck to buy a Grande (medium)? Or should I go with a Venti (large)? Take a look at the image below to see how price per ounce works at Starbucks, and then let’s consider a real example of this principle in real estate.

Starbucks cups and real estate - by sacramento appraisal blog

Big Point: The larger the cup, the less you pay for each ounce of coffee. Or we could say it a different way. Smaller cups of coffee tend to cost more per ounce. This is interesting, but it’s not really surprising because it’s merely an example of economies of scale, right? We see this principle all the time when buying bigger or smaller items, yet it’s easy to ignore when it comes to housing. So let’s take a look at all residential home sales from last month in Sacramento County. Do you see a similarity with the coffee?

image purchased from 123rf by sacramento appraisal blog - price per sq ft example

Big Point: The larger the house, the less you tend to pay for each square foot. Or we could say it a different way. Smaller homes tend to have a higher price per sq ft compared to larger homes. This is a principle we see when looking at county-wide data, but it’s also something we tend to see by neighborhood (assuming we have enough data). Just like coffee costs less per ounce the more you buy, it tends to cost less per sq ft for the more house you buy. That’s the big idea.

Be a Great Explainer: I love this analogy. Maybe it’s partly because I’m a coffee fanboy, but in truth talking through price per sq ft is hands-down one of the most relevant conversations to master in real estate. I hope the next time the topic comes up with a client, maybe you’ll think about using Starbucks cups to explain how price per sq ft tends to work in a neighborhood. For a refresher post you can read 5 things to remember about using price per sq ft in real estate.

Question: What drink do you order at Starbucks?

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5 things to remember when using price per sq ft in real estate

Using price per sq ft can be very dangerous. I know that sounds odd because price per sq ft is about as common as anything in real estate. Home owners ask, “How much is the price per sq ft in the neighborhood?”, and real estate agents might say, “I priced this property based on the price per sq ft in the area.” But having a correct understanding about the way price per sq ft works can revolutionize the way we see the market and value properties. Let’s unpack five principles below, and I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

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Image purchased by Sacramento Appraisal Blog from 123rf dot com and used with permission

5 principles to remember when using price per sq ft in real estate:

1) There is a price per sq ft spectrum in a neighborhood: There is never just one price per sq ft figure that applies to every property in a neighborhood. For instance, a neighborhood might easily see a price per sq ft range from $100 to $250 when looking at all sales.

2) Similar houses tend to have a similar price per sq ft: When homes are similar in size, location, bed/bath count, etc…, they tend to have a similar price per sq ft. That’s obvious, but the contrasting factor is that non-similar homes might have a VERY different price per sq ft that shouldn’t be used to value your home.

3) Property characteristics can quickly change the price per sq ft: When there are differences in condition, location, lot size, quality of upgrades, bed/bath count, size, etc… the price per sq ft can change dramatically. We might see a small remodeled home selling at $250 per sq ft, a model match fixer selling at $175 per sq ft, a short sale model selling at $185 per sq ft, and a home with an adverse location selling at $215 per sq ft. Thus even for one model there could be a price per sq ft range from $175 to $250.

4) Smaller homes tend to have a higher price per sq ft: It costs more to build smaller homes, so smaller homes tend to have a higher price per sq ft than larger homes. This is why it’s dangerous to use a price per sq ft figure from a smaller sale to value a larger home. A smaller home might sell at $250 per sq ft, but a larger home might be closer $150 per sq ft. Here is a quick video below (or here):

5) Price per sq ft provides a valuable context: When you can talk through price per sq ft figures in a neighborhood, and explain the above points, you are an incredible resource. Appraisers, pay close attention to the price per sq ft range in a neighborhood. Some appraisers treat price per sq ft as a meaningless metric, but it’s actually valuable. If your value does not fall within the range (especially the competitive price per sq ft range), it’s important to be able to explain that.

CONCLUSION: Be careful about using price per sq ft to price a property because sometimes it’s like putting the cart before the horse. I recommend starting a valuation with an “apples to apples” approach where you first and foremost try to find other similar sales and listings in the neighborhood, and then subtract and add value based on any differences with your property. After you have a grasp of similar sales, research price per sq ft figures for the entire neighborhood as well as competitive properties. Ask yourself if your value makes sense in light of price per sq ft figures.

Questions: Any thoughts or insight? I’d love to hear your take.

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