How Is Square Footage Measured? You’ll Be Surprised

By Brendon DeSimone

An inch is an inch is an inch. Or, so you’d think. But when it comes to measuring the square footage of a property, it’s not quite that simple.

I doubt there exists a buyer in the entire world of real estate who hasn’t asked, at one time or another, what is the square footage of a particular property. The fact is, however, measuring the size of a home isn’t an exact science.

You can hire three different appraisers to measure the same house and they may come up with three different measurements. Because there are multiple ways to measure and different mechanisms used, the physical act of measuring can be done differently. Some appraisers will measure square footage with a good old measuring tape, albeit a large one. Others come equipped with those new state-of-the-art laser devices. I have been present when an appraiser will just eyeball a difficult-to-measure space or even do the wide-arm measurement. The point is, there aren’t any universally applied standards.

What does this mean for sellers and buyers?

Sellers: Avoid providing square footage whenever possible and always add a disclosure

I once represented a client with a $2.5 million home for sale in San Francisco. Against my wishes, the sellers insisted I list the square footage in all of the marketing materials as 3,450 square feet. They showed me a copy of the floor plan and recent drawings from an appraiser. I reluctantly agreed to add the square footage and supplied the appraiser’s drawing and measurements with the property disclosure statements. I added my own disclosure, stating that square footage is not an exact science, that the number should not be relied upon as fact, and that multiple appraisers may measure multiple ways.

We received an offer. The buyer had all of their property inspections, reviewed city reports, and signed off on all the disclosures. Their agent came back when it was time to release the loan and appraiser contingency. The appraisal came in 30 square feet less than the seller’s appraisal.

Because of the discrepancy, the buyers wanted a $25K credit off the purchase price. The home had not gotten any smaller since the buyers first wrote their offer. Yet the buyers felt that the home was misrepresented; that they wrote an offer thinking it was something it was not. The seller ended up having to knock off $25K just to get the deal done. I believe that the buyers still would have written the offer, and for the same price, had we not listed square footage.

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