From The “I Missed That Class Where We Talked About ‘Place Value’” Department: Palo Alto Per-sq-ft Prices Drop Precipitously Down From $75,000

July 15, 2008

In a former life, I was a middle school math teacher. In the Peace Corps. In Botswana. I distinctly remember spending a number of days teaching about the importance of place value in numbers — you know, the concept that decimal points and zeros aren’t just decorations. .32 and 3.2 and 32 and 320 are distinctly different.

As far as I know, none of my former students are Realtors in Palo Alto. Which might explain this juicy little chart from our friends at Altos Research:

Note the drop in per-sq-ft prices a few years ago, from $75,000 per sq ft down to perhaps only a thousand bucks a sq ft. Then, a massive run-up back to over $20,000. Then back down again. Kind of like a scary roller-coaster ride.

Even during the incredible run-up in real estate prices, trust me, we were never at $75,000 per sq ft! The explanation for that chart? Simple: Every now and then a listing makes it onto the MLS with a misplaced decimal or zero. A $2,000,000 home gets listed for $200,000 (these mistakes are typically corrected quite quickly when the listing agent gets 100 phone calls in the first hour from agents wanting to make offers.) Then a $700,000 home gets listed for $7,000,000. (These mistakes take longer to correct. The agent wonders why nobody comes for the open house, then figures it out.)

Then there’s the square foot mistake, where a $1,600,000 home (price entered correctly) gets its floor space shrunk from 2000 sq ft (correct) to 2 sq ft (incorrect.) Voila! This home now costs $800,000 per sq ft! A few of these in the same week, and poof! Up goes that average!

Athol Kay has proved that, as a species, we Realtors aren’t that good at taking pictures. But for the love of God, people, can we please please please remember the importance of correctly-placed decimal points and zeros!

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