Home buyers and owners for the most part prefer spacious quarters to cramped ones. Just like on an airplane, we like leg room, elbow room and enough space for a free range of motion. Indeed, we want to navigate easily throughout the house. This is why square footage is a specification that many home shoppers ask about. Yet the raw number does not always convey the right information because this figure can be arrived at in different ways. Understanding how professionals calculate square footage assists prospective buyers in determining how -- and whether -- this number will impact home value.

Where Do Realtors Get Square Footage Information?

The square footage put forward by a real estate agent is not always accurate or precise. To be fair, it is closer to an estimate than a precise measurement. A realtor offers a square footage to gauge interest and, perhaps, whet the appetite. Important to remember is that the realtor's figure carries no official weight or authority, Most of the time, they get this number from county tax records or similar property documentation. How did the county get such information? Often, the builder submits it when applying for permits or inspections. Any changes in the interim -- remodeling, additions etc. -- are not therefore reflected in such official records.

Appraisals Have Value Beyond Market Value

Thus, a recent appraisal report by a certified appraiser is necessary not only for home value, but also for accurate specifications and dimensions relative to the structure and the land it sits on. It will account for the age of the house, its structural quality, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the status of the garage (attached or detached). In addition, the appraisal measures the land area and the living area in the home. Clearly, a plethora of helpful information is contained in this custom-tailored document.

How Is Gross Living Area Determined?

Gross living area (GLA) of a single-family residence (SFR) is easy or difficult to ascertain depending on the size of the dwelling and on whether the floor plan is simple or complicated. Most appraisers begin this evaluation by distinguishing the space above grade (or ground) from that below. According to standards promulgated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Federal National Mortgage Association (better known as Fannie Mae), only above grade space is to be measured, even if the basement is finished with a separate entrance.

Stairways and landings factor into finished square footage, as are all rooms and spaces with a minimum ceiling height of seven feet. Any height under five feet is automatically ruled out while five to seven feet are decided on a case by case basis. Attics very often fail to make the cut. Outdoor decks are not ordinarily factored into finished square footage since they are protrusions without walls or ceilings, and often not always applicable for year-round usage. As is evident, finished square footage is not simply a matter of taking a measuring tape to floor space.

What About Condos and Commercial Buildings?

Condominiums represent different criteria when figuring out gross living area. With the typical SFR, square footage begins at the outside wall of the house. Since outside walls are the responsibility of the homeowners association at most condo developments, measuring
begins with the interior walls. Commercial buildings work from three distinct qualities: gross square footage throughout a building; usable square footage, i.e. that amount occupied by each tenant; and rentable square footage -- the usable square footage plus a percentage of the common areas.