Buyers often compare the square footage of homes on the market, but how that square footage is measured can be dramatically different. Everybody knows a square foot is a two-dimensional area that's 12 inches long on each of its four sides. But not everyone counts the number of square feet in a home in the same way. If you're concerned about the comparable square footage of homes on the market, you might want to ask some questions about the methodology that was used to calculate those figures.
Square Footage Measuring Standard Is Optional
The American National Standards Institute, a nonprofit organization comprised of government agencies, trade groups, businesses and academic institutions, has approved a methodology called ANSI Z765-2003 that can be used to measure, calculate and present the square footage of most proposed, new or existing detached residences. This standard uses measurements taken outside the home, not interior room dimensions.
But this standard is optional and often not used by home builders, tax assessors, appraisers, real estate brokers and others, many of whom may not even know the standard exists. That means square footage figures for any particular home can be a very dicey matter: One source may use the standard or another approach to measure exterior dimensions while another source may measure the interior dimensions and arrive at a very different result.
Sq. Footage Might Include Attic, Basement or Deck
Another problem is that not all square footage figures include the same components of the home. Some sources may count alcoves, attics, balconies, basements, fireplaces, garages, outdoor decks or staircases in the total while others may exclude any or all of those spaces.
In fact, sometimes square footage measurements are based on particularly liberal methodologies. For example, the floor space of a room with a cathedral ceiling might be double counted or the advertised square footage of a new construction home might count optional upgrades that will cost more.
For this reason, some real estate agents are hesitant to represent the square footage of a home and may refer to public records as a third-party source of that information. Keep in mind that public records can be inaccurate or outdated, particularly if the home was remodeled and living space was added or removed after the home was originally built. Real estate Web sites typically tap public records for square footage data as well.
Make Your Own Measurements
If you plan to buy a home, you might want to take your own measurements of individual rooms and make your own assessment of each home's square footage. Some home improvement and hardware stores sell a wheeled measuring device that can make this task easier to accomplish. (Tip: If you have large furniture and are concerned about it fitting into the house you're thinking of buying, measure the interior doorways throughout the house to make sure those pieces will make it into the rooms where you intend to place them.)
Also remember that the square footage of a home might not be an ideal indicator of whether the usable living space is adequate for your needs. Consider the layout of the rooms and the flow of space throughout the home as well as the overall size. For example, a home that has several small rooms along a hallway might feel smaller than a home that is more open even if the two homes are comparable in terms of overall square footage. One plan might be more appropriate for your needs than the other no matter what the square footage.