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A buyer agent's word on square footage

Posted by Rona Fischman  May 20, 2008 04:00 PM

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I will not often put my oar in regarding Binyamin's discussions, but this one is relevant to my clientèle, and therefore, my audience.

The most commons source for square footage on listing sheets is public records. Public records state perimeter measure of the outside of the foundation. That counts space inside walls, closets, under stairs. This is made worse by the garbage-in-garbage-out quality to the information in the public records.

Then there is cheating; some brokers count space that’s not living area, such as unheated attic rooms, basements and unheated porch space.

Condominium documents are accurate, because those documents require an architect’s floor plan to identify the space.

When I do a Comparative Market Analysis, I need to figure out how big the home in question is and whether the comparables are really their stated size. Even with so much information available, I often pull my hair out trying to get an accurate measure of residential homes. Some of the tools I use are:

Assessor’s records from the town (Some even have the size broken down by floor.)
Pubic records from the Registry of Deeds. (including condo docs.)
Old listing sheets from previous sales, or attempted sales.
My notes from when I was in the house before it sold.

I don’t evaluate a house on price as price-per-square foot. That measure works in warehouse and commercial real estate, but is irrelevant in residential space except in the most urban of areas. There are far too many vagaries regarding location, style, and especially condition. Then the added question about the value of the outdoor space and the parking. Consider this: how much is 600 square feet in two unheated bedrooms in an attic worth? How much less are they worth if the stairs are impossibly steep? How much less if the ceiling is six feet high? Is the house worth the same as a house with no attic at all, yet has the same square footage on floors one and two?

There is a lot to consider in finding the value of a house, and simple formulas just don’t cut it.

When you are house-hunting:
Decide on your limit for smallest square footage for your search. Expect that there will be places within that limit that are smaller, or seem smaller than others. Sometimes they will truly be smaller; sometimes the place just wastes space and feels smaller. When you run into a dud, move on.

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This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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2 comments so far...
  1. "There is a lot to consider in finding the value of a house, and simple formulas just don’t cut it."

    Rona, that is so true.

    In addition, even when a thorough comparative market analysis is done, many times there appears to be one home that has sold for way too much and another that has sold very low.

    I tell buyers that despite anyone's best efforts, we can never know what the buyers and sellers motivations where when selling a home.

    Was the buyer so motivated because the baby sitting grandparents lived around the corner? Was the seller so motivated because the lucrative new job on the West Coast would have been lost if the home wasn't sold by a certain date? The possible reasons are endless.

    Posted by Rich Rosa May 21, 08 09:23 AM
  1. Good points, Rona. I will caution you on square footage in condominium documents. It's important to remember that the square footage that is listed in the master deed may include additional space exclusive to a particular unit, which is not living space (storage closets, porches, patios). The architect's stamped drawing of the condominium is the ultimate authority (yes, occasionally those have mistakes as well). The master deed’s square footage number may add the living space, the storage space and the deck into one number in order to determine the percentage ownership of that unit in the condominium association. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check both. Unfortunately, condominium documents can be found online, but architectural diagrams require a trip to the registry.

    Posted by Jeffrey Heighton May 22, 08 10:49 AM
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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