How to Measure a Home

Written by Posted On Saturday, 26 July 2014 05:30

“What’s the square footage?”…”What’s the price per square foot?”…these are two of the most common questions asked by clients.

Real estate agents in Georgia are strongly cautioned about providing the square footage (living area) of homes. The reason revolves around the inability of many agents to be objective; may tend to embellish the facts thinking that will lead to more activity. Some don’t know any better and include areas in that figure that shouldn’t be. Others may rely on tax records or owner records, often incorrect. Of course, there are some agents that simply don’t know how to measure a home according toAmerican National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI) accepted standards.

Many agents tell sellers what they want to hear to solicit listings. Now more than ever accuracy in list price, descriptions, disclosure items, and many other potential legal pitfalls are critical. Many agents either disregard this or simply lack the knowledge to properly advise their clients. The result is a home that doesn’t sell and a client that has to start over with a “tainted” home. When it’s relisted, it now has the baggage of an expired listing with it.

The best way to measure a home is to follow the same process an appraiser will. The best resource for anyone interested in understanding the process will benefit from visiting the North Carolina Real Estate Commission web site. Below are the key points on how to measure and consider areas – I strongly suggest reviewing the entire document as it is very informative: CLICK HERE

Living Area Guidelines

  1. Heated by a conventional heating system or systems (forced air, radiant, solar, etc.) that are permanently installed in the dwelling – not a portable heater – which generates heat sufficient to make the space suitable for year-round occupancy;
  2. Finished, with walls, floors and ceilings of materials generally accepted for interior construction (e.g., painted drywall/sheet rock or panelled walls, carpeted or hardwood flooring, etc.) and with a ceiling height of at least seven feet, except under beams, ducts, etc. where the height must be at least six feet four inches[Note: In rooms with sloped ceilings (e.g., finished attics, bonus rooms, etc.) you may also include as living area the portion of the room with a ceiling height of at least five feet if at least one-half of the finished area of the room has a ceiling height of at least seven feet.]; and
  3. Directly accessible from other living area (through a door or by a heated hallway or stairway).

Real estate appraisers and lenders generally adhere to more detailed criteria in arriving at the living area or “gross living area” of residential dwellings. This normally includes distinguishing “above-grade” from “below-grade” area, which is also required by many multiple listing services. “Above-Grade” is defined as space on any level of a dwelling which has living area and no earth adjacent to any exterior wall on that level. “Below-Grade” is space on any level which has living area, is accessible by interior stairs, and has earth adjacent to any exterior wall on that level. If earth is adjacent toany portion of a wall, the entire level is considered “below-grade.” Space that is “at” or “on grade” is considered “above-grade.”

Determining whether an area is considered living area can sometimes be confusing. Finished rooms used for general living (living room, dining room, kitchen, den, bedrooms, etc.) are normally included in living area. For other areas in the dwelling, the determination may not be so easy. For example, the following areas are considered living area if they meet the criteria (i.e., heated, finished, directly accessible from living area):

  • Attic – note in the listing data that the space is located in an attic. [Note:If the ceiling is sloped, remember to apply the "ceiling height" criteria.]
  • Basement (or “Below-Grade”) - note in the listing data that the space is located in a basement or “below-grade”. [Note: For reporting purposes, a "basement" is defined as an area below the entry level of the dwelling which is accessible by afull flight of stairs and has earth adjacent to some portion of at least one wall above the floor level.]
  • Bay Window - if it has a floor, a ceiling height of at least seven feet, and otherwise meets the criteria for living area.
  • Bonus Room (e.g., Finished Room over Garage) – If the ceiling is sloped, remember to apply the “ceiling height” criteria.
  • Closets – if they are a functional part of the living area.
  • Furnace (Mechanical) Room – if the furnace, water heater, etc. is located in a small closet in the living area, include it in living area even if it does not meet otherliving area criteria
  • Hallways – if they are a functional part of the living area.
  • Laundry Room/Area
  • Office
  • Stairs – if they meet the criteria and connect to living area. Include the stairway with the area from which it descends, not to exceed the area of the opening in the floor. If the opening for the stairway exceeds the length and width of the stairway, deduct the excess open space from the upper level area. Include as part of the lower level area the space beneath the stairway, regardless of its ceiling height.
  • Storage Room

Note in the listing data and advise purchasers of any space that does not meet the criteria for living area but which contributes to the value of the dwelling; for example, unfinished basements, unfinished attics (with permanent stairs), unfinished bonus rooms, shops, decks, balconies, porches, garages and carports.

Other Notes
Concealed in the walls of nearly all residential construction are pipes, ducts, chases, returns, etc. necessary to support the structure’s mechanical systems. Although they may occupy living area, to avoid excessive detail, do notdeduct the space from the living area.

When measuring and reporting the living area of homes, be alert to any remodeling, room additions (e.g., an enclosed porch) or other structural modifications to assure that the space meets all the criteria for living areaPay particular attention to the heating criteria, because the heating system for the original structure may not be adequate for the increased square footage.Although agents are not required to determine the adequacy of heating systems, they should at least note whether there are heat vents, radiators or other heat outlets in the room before deciding whether to include space as living area.

When an area that is not part of the living area (e.g., a garage) shares a common wall with the living area, treat the common wall as the exterior wall for the living area; therefore, the measurements for the living area will include the thickness of the common wall, and the measurements for the other area will not.

Interior space that is open from the floor of one level to the ceiling of the next higher level is included in the square footage for the lower level only. However, any area occupied by interior balconies, lofts, etc. on the upper level or stairs that extend to the upper level is included in the square footage for the upper level.

Measuring Guidelines
The amount of living area and “other area” in dwellings is based upon exterior measurements. A one hundred-foot-long tape measure is recommended for use in measuring the exterior of dwellings, and a thirty-foot retractable tape for measuring interior and hard-to-reach spaces. A tape measure that indicates linear footage in “tenths of a foot” will greatly simplify your calculations. For best results, take a partner to assist you in measuring. But if you do not have someone to assist you, a screwdriver or other sharp tool can be used to secure the tape measure to the ground.

Measure all sides of the dwelling, making sure that the overall lengths of the front and rear sides are equal, as well as the ends. Then inspect the interior of the dwelling to identify spaces which cannot be included in living area. You may also find it helpful to take several photographs of the dwelling for later use when you return to your office

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Hank Miller, SRA

Hank Miller is an Associate Broker & Certified Appraiser in the north metro Atlanta area. Since 1989, real estate has been his full time profession. Hank´s clients benefit from his appraisal and sales experience; they act upon data, not baseless opinions. He is an outspoken critic of the lax standards in the agent community.

Hank remains an active certified appraiser and completes specialty work for FNMA, lenders and attorneys. He is a well-known blogger and continues to guest write for multiple industry publications as well as national outlets like the WSJ, NYT, RE Magazine, USA Today and others. He is a regular on public Q&A sites on Zillow, Trulia and many others.

Hank consistently ranks in the top 1% of all agents in the metro Atlanta area. He runs the Hank Miller Team and is known as much for his ability as he is for his opinions. He is especially outspoken about the lack of professional standards and expectations in the real estate industry.

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