Don't be square – know your square feet
Real estate transactions have a lot of aspects to be considered. Some are easy, some are difficult and some are just confusing. It doesn't sound like it should be complicated, but determining the square footage of your home can be less definitive than you may think.
The first thing you should start with is what defines square footage. At the risk of insulting my readers, the square footage of a room is determined by multiplying the length of the room by the width; if a room is 10 feet by 12 feet the square footage is 120 feet. For the faint of heart who think arithmetic is a dead language, there are on line calculators that can do the math for you. Easy, right? Not so fast. First you need to determine what room or space you should be measuring.
Since there is no national standard when calculating square footage, every real estate professional approaches it from a different point of view, as well as communities that have their own culture that can exclude or include certain areas of a home. For instance, when I sold real estate on Long Island, N. Y., it was rare to see any notation on a listing of the total square footage of a property. Homes were identified with the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, garages, finished basements, and the property size was indicated in acreage rather than square feet, i.e. quarter acre, half acre, etc.
When I moved to Florida, every listing calculated square footage, which, given my lack of training in this area, left me totally brain dead as to whether 1,200 square feet was a decent size home or a tiny one. It didn't take long for me to break through the square footage maze only to be further perplexed by the under air factor. I'm sure that Florida isn't the only warm weather state that counts semi-outdoor rooms as living space, if they're air conditioned. For example, a glassed-in air conditioned lanai is counted as living space, and its square footage should be included in the total square footage of the property. If the lanai is just screened and exposed to the elements its, square footage should be noted as such and not added into the total overall square footage of the property.
So, who do you believe when looking at a potential property to purchase? Do you believe county records, original floor plans from builders or the listing agent, who, by the way, is not required in most states to verify square footage that has been provided to them?
You could start by simply asking if terraces, lanais, garage space and basements are included in the square footage and go from there. If having the exact square footage number is important to you for furniture placement and flooring, you might just have to measure individual rooms yourself, with the help and permission of the homeowner, and come up with an exact total. The key is to be transparent when selling a property, providing the best square footage number available to you, and being diligent when buying by asking the right questions.
And, per The Wall Street Journal, if you live in a New York City condo, you'll find out that units are measured from the exterior side of the exterior wall to the centerline of a partition that separates one unit from another. This means that the thickness of the wall is counted as square footage even though it's technically not living space.
My advice – if your grandmother's antique bed and your daughter's playhouse fits, don't get tied up in knots coming up with a precise square footage number. Life's too confusing already. Throw away the tape measure.