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Understanding the Difficulty of Differing Residential Square Footage Standards in North America

May 08 2019

If you're buying, selling, or listing a home, you want to know its square footage, but do you need to use a standard of measurement?

planitar 25 April 2019 tablet 2 Approved Marketing Images and VideosWhen you bought your current home, who told you its total square footage? It's a critical question, as you likely based your offer on that figure. The problem is, if you're in North America, that figure may not be consistent with typical measurement practices in your area. Your home could be much smaller than you expect.

Homeowners' Measurement Expectations

If you ask homeowners how to measure a home, most will tell you a few rules about only including heated space or only above-grade space. Unfortunately, the truth is that there are no hard and fast rules.

When it comes to how residential real estate is measured, there are no national measurement standards in Canada or the United States, and no state measurement standards.

In general, homeowners throughout North America expect measurements taken from the interior walls, though many measurements are made from the exterior walls.

Many home measurements in the Midwest add up heated space, including the basement, but not the garage or sunroom. The opposite may occur in the Northeast, where below-grade space is rarely counted, even if it's finished. Most homeowners here want gross living area (GLA), from which garages and patios are excluded.

Rules also differ by region in regards to several other features of a home, including stairs, sloped ceilings, vaulted ceilings, furnace rooms, attics, and balconies, to name a few.

Most homeowners and real estate agents will discover and abide by their local customs. However, an untrustworthy few will intentionally include extra square footage to get a higher price on the home. Or, homeowners will tell their real estate agent the number they were told, perhaps from the builder or architect, not knowing that it could be inaccurate.

Adam Fingret, CEO of Extreme Measures and BOMA floor measurement standards expert, argues that the lack of consistent residential measurement standards is a problem for buyers, sellers, and real estate agents.

"Essentially, you have novices that are at risk of being taken advantage of by experienced builders and Realtors. I'm not saying they are being deliberately taken advantage of, but it can be challenging to find out how to measure a home properly and fairly."

He explains that the problem for real estate agents is the liability of offering an incorrect measurement.

Liability Over Home Measurement Practices

planitar 25 April 2019 book law rules and regulations Approved Marketing Images and VideosIn Canada and the United States, displeased home buyers have sued real estate agents after they discover their home is significantly smaller than it was listed at and won significant compensation. In some cases, the courts decide in the agent's favor.

Some states have built-in protections to help real estate agents avoid legal trouble, so long as they aren't negligent or fraudulent. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota's purchase agreement states square footage is approximate, while in Mississippi, a Realtor's statement on size is not considered a guarantee.

Still, Fingret argues that real estate agents need to take more steps to protect themselves from these lawsuits.

"If I was a broker, I would insist that I, my firm, and the other professionals I deal with, are armed with whatever local practices and information is available with respect to floor area measurement," he says.

Getting a professional measurement is just one of the many pieces of advice Fingret offers agents looking to get more accurate square footage measurements. However, you'll still need to communicate that number, and how you arrived at it, to the home buyer. Most agents will rely on the MLS to do so.

MLS Requirements for Home Size

planitar 25 April 2019 Kitchen Approved Marketing Images and VideosTo combat the misconceptions around square foot measurements, many MLS services now require agents to list total square footage, and sometimes even the source of that measurement. Others, including Ontario's MLS, place each home in a square footage range. Alaska is the only state with a price per square foot field.

Though homeowners frequently rely on MLS numbers, there's no guarantee they are accurate, not even when given as a range. Toronto's MLS has a liability disclaimer that states, "The listing information is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed." Others have similar disclaimers.

Further, some agents prefer to leave the square footage field blank. These agents argue that listing square footage gives homeowners an expectation that the number is accurate. Without it, homeowners can't argue that they misrepresented the space.

However, square footage is a powerful tool that buyers want to use to compare homes. Is it really smart business practice to avoid giving a number?

Klages argues for a different approach. He believes that providing more information, including a floor plan and specific room measurements, can help the real estate agent avoid liability and entice buyers.

"Buyers want to have a floor plan, room measurements, floor area calculations, and how those numbers were calculated. So those are four pieces of information that you simply want to have whenever you're selling a residential property," Klages states.

Unless national or region-wide measurement standards are adopted, agents will need to educate homeowners about how they got to their measurement. Homeowners who place a high value on the square footage of their home will have to be savvy, ask questions, and seek out agents that can provide accurate information.

Brought to you by Sara Penny, Communications and Marketing Manager at Planitar Inc. the makers of iGUIDEĀ®. Follow the link for more information on how iGUIDE provides all the property dimensions and listing details that your clients demand.