How to calculate a home’s square footage? No one really knows
Appraisers, developers, builders, real estate professionals, tax assessors and architects all measure spaces differently, and no universal standard exists for calculating a home’s square footage – and it also varies regionally.
For example, some pros calculate square footage based on the interior dimensions of finished living space. Some may count the garage or finished basement in the square footage; others may not. There’s no universal agreement on whether to count the square footage of balconies, basements or garages. There’s not even agreement on whether to count the walls or not, as some measure outside the home and others measure inside.
In a recent Houzz.com survey, 58 percent of 400 consumers said estimates of their home’s square footage varied among real estate professionals.
However, square footage is an important number when it comes to buying real estate. Buyers may even narrow their home search online and compare homes based on price per square foot, and some may not even know a 1,950-square foot home exists if they search only for homes 2,000-square feet or larger.
“People want more space and have become very sensitive to that (square footage) number,” says Robert Edelstein, a real estate and business professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Real estate professionals, however, are not required to verify the square footage cited in the listings database, says Quincy Virgilio, chairman of the board of directors at MLS Listings. Real estate pros often draw from several sources, such as county records, developer floor plans and previous sale listings.
Buyers who want to know more about the home’s true size need to ask more about how the size was computed. For example, they should ask the source of the measurements and what is included in that number, such as private outdoor terraces, the garage, basement, utility closets or even staircases.
“Developers tend to say, ‘We are selling you this much square footage.’ But is it really living area?” says Chip Wagner, a real estate appraiser based in Naperville, Ill. Wagner told The Wall Street Journal that he spots size discrepancies of more than 50 square feet about 20 percent of the time in the homes he appraises.
Encourage your buyers to look past the “big number” and instead focus on the dimensions of individual rooms, suggests home builder Brian Hoffman, a principal with Red Seal Homes, based in Northbrook, Ill.
Source: “How Big Is Your House? That Depends,” The Wall Street Journal (March 10, 2017) [Log-in required.]
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