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Here's What Buyers Need to Know About Home Square Footage

  • Nov 6, 2017
Square Footage

Square footage is a complicated number, and it’s one that confuses many homebuyers. Here are answers to your most pressing square footage questions.

The average home built in 2010 is 2,392 square feet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, an increase of more than 100 square feet compared to one decade before. Over the years, American homes have generally gotten larger. In 1980, the average was just 1,740 square feet.

There could be a number of reasons behind these trends but to the typical homebuyer, explanations about why homes are a certain size may not matter as much as what that number actually means. Square footage is a complicated number - one that confuses many homebuyers. Does that 2,392 square feet include the basement? The tiny cupboard under the stairs?

Here are answers to your most pressing square footage questions:

Do basements count toward square footage?

It depends on several factors, including where the home is located, how it's situated in relation to the ground and what it looks like. Different counties have different rules about whether basements of any kind should count toward square footage, Realtor pointed out. Some say no; others say only if the basement is usable living space, such as a furnished family room or a bedroom.

Some counties also treat below grade basements differently than walk-out basements. Below grade basements are completely underground while walk-out basements have both an ingress and an egress. This may be the case if a home was built into a hill, for example.

Finally, it's more common for furnished basements to count toward overall square footage than musty, dark basements used primarily for storage or housing the furnace and hot water heater.

What about porches, garages or pool houses - are those counted?

Generally, no, these spaces are not counted, according to RedFin. One exception may be if the home's main heating system extends to the porch. If not, this is outside the count. Additionally, any room or building that requires you to leave the main finished area of your home is not counted, taking away garages, pool houses, guest cottages or any other outbuildings from the equation.

How is square footage actually calculated?

It's not necessarily someone with a yardstick carefully circling the perimeter of your home - but that could be one way. According to U.S. News & World Report, there are a few different methods to determine a home's square footage. The most common tactic follows guidelines set by the American National Standards Institute, which is done by measuring the exterior walls. In the simplest cases - perfectly rectangular homes - two perpendicular sides are measured, then multiplied. Most homes aren't perfect rectangles, however, and those corners of the home that extrude outside the area of the rectangle are measured separately.

It's important to note that, even though ANSI is the most common method, there are many different measuring techniques that appraisers use. Business Insider contributor and Realtor Brendon DeSimone related one story about a home seller who insisted on listing his home as 3,450 square feet - a measure the seller deemed fair and soon earned an offer. However, when the appraiser presented a square footage just 30 square feet less than the listing stated, the buyers argued for a final sale price that was $25,000 lower than their original offer.

What does DeSimone recommend to buyers and sellers to avoid confusing or frustrating square footage disagreements?

Sellers should avoid including the square footage in the listing price, he noted. Since another method of measurement could easily lead to a dispute, it's best to steer clear of this aspect early in the process.

Buyers should ask about square footage if it's important to them before securing a residential mortgage; when dealing with condo sales, for example, the price per square foot is an important data point. However, DeSimone also suggested that buyers not put too much emphasis on square footage and consider the other home qualities instead, like location, style and price.

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