Colleen Bennett - Sotheby's International Realty

THE REAL DIRTT: When It Comes To Your Home’s Square Footage, Follow the Carpenter’s Rule of Measuring Twice and Cutting Once … BY COLLEEN BENNETT

September 6, 2017
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LA VERNE, California, September 7, 2017 — Do you know how some people fudge about their age. Well, that can be a harmless little white lie compared to the real cost and legal damage that can result when people incorrectly list the square footage on their home for sale.

 

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An inflated house size can bring the seller extra thousands of dollars while burdening buyers with an inflated house price.

 

The error can be the result of an innocent reporting error by a homeowner, builder, real estate agent, or appraiser that has been compounded over time. Once recorded, however, it becomes as permanent as the house’s foundation until someone actually takes the trouble to have it changed and re-recorded at the county assessor’s office.

 

What’s especially concerning is that I’ve heard that the square footage listed for most houses is inaccurate 50 percent of the time.

 

Buyers who discover they’ve been shorted by even a few feet can ask for a credit worth thousands of dollars or if they discover the error after they move in, they could initiate a lawsuit against you and your Realtor and anyone else they feel is to blame.

 

Now there are several reasons why the same house can boast different square footage totals. Basically, the totals reflect the people doing the measurements, as well as their experience. Typically, a homeowner taking the measurements won’t be as practiced as an appraiser taking measurements.

 

Sometimes even the “experts” measure spaces and areas that really don’t qualify as Gross Living Space or GLA under American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Hence porches, sunrooms, patios, basements, garages, vaulted spaces, unfinished areas unconnected to heating and air-conditioning, rooms without the proper ceiling clearance, improper attic conversions, unpermitted structures and other spaces are counted into the overall square footage when they should be excluded.

 

Square foot totals can also differ due to the measuring devices used. Some appraisers might rely on their 100-foot tape measures while others use laser-aided measurements, and sometimes people use both. Typically, for homes, measurements of exterior walls are taken. If that is impractical, due to shrubs or dangerous overhangs or other factors, the home’s interior dimensions are taken and the thickness of the walls are added back in.

 

So, you can see, all this data collection is at best an inexact science.

 

Despite this inexactitude, however, we live in a number-obsessed culture, and buyers will likely want to know what your square footage is. Now, you could tell them that they are a buying a home and a neighborhood and a community — and not just square footage — but this sane attempt at pleasing your buyers will probably fail.

 

So in attempting to give them a number, give it with qualifications that will protect you.  Whatever you base your square footage on — tax records, architectural drawings by the developer, a formal appraisal you recently paid for, a previous listing in the MLS — include a reference to that information (per tax records or a recent appraisal, for example). Also include a disclaimer like “information included is reliable but not guaranteed.” Always disclose the source of your home’s square footage measurement on your marketing materials, as well. It just provides you with more legal cover should a lawsuit arise.

 

In other words, you are communicating to all potential buyers that you’ve done everything humanly possible to accurately convey the correct square footage of your home.

 

Even if you’re confident the square footage you have for your home is solid, it is still a good idea to confirm that number. If you don’t feel like paying for a full appraisal, I have found there are measure-only appraisers, which should cost you less.

 

Remember the old carpenter’s rule that says “Measure twice and cut once.” It’s a good one. By failing to get your square footage number right, you could cut yourself out of a good sale.

Colleen Bennett is La Verne Realtor who works for Sotheby’s International Realty. If you have any real estate question or concern, give her a call at 909.374.4744.

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