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How To Calculate A Home’s Price Per Square Foot

Molly Grace4-minute read

July 12, 2021

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Price per unit is a concept many of us first learned about in middle school math class: If you can buy a 6-pack of toilet paper for $5, or an 18-pack for $14, which one is the better deal?

Of course, comparing homes is a little different than comparing multipacks of consumer goods. Understanding a home’s price per square foot – and what you can learn from that number – is much more complex.

Let’s take a look at what price per square foot is and how to calculate it.

Is Price Per Square Foot Important?

Price per square foot is often included along with other basic information on homes for sale, and can vary even within the same city or neighborhood. But what can it tell buyers and sellers about a home’s price and value?

Though you might be tempted to draw certain conclusions from a given home’s price per square foot, the truth is that this number doesn’t give us a whole lot of useful information on its own.

Home values tend to be similar among comparable homes within the same neighborhood. Comparing the neighborhood’s average price per square foot to the home you want to buy can help give you an idea of how your prospective home measures up to similar homes in the area. But even then, it should be viewed as a starting point for further investigation.

For example, if you’re considering buying a home that has a higher price per square foot than its very similar next door neighbor, you might want to ask your real estate agent why that is. It could be that the home you’re looking at has upgrades that the other home doesn’t, or other advantageous features, such as a larger backyard.

There are a lot of factors that go into pricing a home: location, age, condition, number of rooms, lot size, upgrades and renovations and more. A high price per square foot doesn’t necessarily mean that the home is overpriced, while a low price per square foot doesn’t always mean the home is a steal.

Example

Let’s look at an example: Catherine and George are next-door neighbors, and they’re both selling their homes. Catherine is selling her 1,500 square foot home for $280,000, while George is selling his 2,000 square foot home for $300,000.

Catherine’s price per square foot is $187. George’s price per square foot is $150. Even though George’s home is more expensive overall, isn’t his home the better deal because you’re getting more space for less money? And does this mean that Catherine’s home is overpriced?

Consider this: Catherine, knowing she’d be selling soon, made some updates to her home to boost its value. George, on the other hand, didn’t make any improvements to his home, so the interior shows a little wear and tear and several of his home’s main systems, such as the HVAC, will likely need to be replaced in a few years. In this case, Catherine’s home might be the more attractive option for buyers.

Additionally, even though larger homes typically cost more overall than smaller ones in the same area, larger homes often have a lower price per square foot than smaller homes. This could account for some of the difference between George’s and Catherine’s prices per square foot. Or, maybe Catherine’s home, in spite of being smaller, has more bedrooms than George’s home, making it more attractive to buyers.

It’s difficult to tell from price per square foot alone whether a home is fairly priced. However, that doesn’t mean that knowing a home’s price per square foot is completely useless; it’s just one of many different data points that you’ll use to help you evaluate whether a home makes sense for your budget and needs.

How Big Is A Square Foot?

“Square” measurements are equal to the length times the width of a space.

One foot is equal to 12 inches. So, if you have a space that is 12 inches in length and 12 inches in width, that equals one square foot, or 144 square inches.

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Median Price Per Square Foot

The current median price per square foot in the U.S. is around $184, according to Realtor.com data.

Depending on where you’re looking to buy a home, the prices per square foot of the homes you look at might be significantly higher or lower than this number.

In expensive cities, for example, where living space is in high demand, you might see a much higher price per square foot. In New York City, for example, it’s not uncommon to see prices per square foot above $1,000.

How To Figure Out Price Per Square Foot

A home’s price per square foot is equal to the list price divided by its total square footage.

For example, if a 1,000-square-foot home is listed for $200,000, the price per square foot is $200:

200,000 ÷ 1,000 = 200

Many online listing sites automatically include the price per square foot in their listings, so you may not even have to worry about calculating this number yourself.

The Bottom Line: Price Per Square Foot Can Be A Useful Starting Point For Comparing Home Values

On its own, price per square foot gives you a fairly limited understanding of a given home’s value. However, it can help give you an idea of the questions you should be asking about a home you’re considering purchasing. Work closely with your real estate agent to get the full picture of what your prospective home has to offer, and whether they see any red flags concerning the quality or condition of the home.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.