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House Size in Square Feet - Definition
Old 02-06-2016, 01:18 PM   #1
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House Size in Square Feet - Definition

Tricky title....

Never really thought too much about this until a few weeks ago, why DIL and I explored 8 different retirement communities on Florida. Without going into too much detail. we were looking at two or three bedroom stick built homes with a two car garage. The differences in claimed square footage varied so drastically that we ended up having to measure room sizes and calculate a standard measurement in order to get a meaningful comparison.

Seems as if the descriptions of square footage vary widely. Some of the differences:

To include garage area ...
To include area under heat/airconditioning...
To include area under "roof"...
To include lanai area... either open, screened or roofed.
To include roofed entrance...

..or not

Here's a Zillow article that explores some of the questions as well as adding some other concerns, such as taxes.
How to Measure Your Home’s Square Footage | Zillow Porchlight

To put a realistic point on this, we measured the floor plan area for two almost identically sized houses at 2000 s.f.. In two developments about 10 miles apart, one was described as 1960 s.f. and the other was listed as 2750 s.f. (note: all of the home we looked at were one story, slab built. )

To be sure the buying decision is always after visiting the home, but most folks who are looking to relocate, do their homework well in advance, from websites or real estate agents. A heads up, to know what to look for or ask about, when it comes to size.

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Old 02-06-2016, 01:22 PM   #2
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I would also make an estimate of how much of the measured sq ft are usable. Too many dead corners and misplaced stairway(s) can seriously detract from the experience.

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Old 02-06-2016, 05:08 PM   #3
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It is a bit of a problem... on the RE website here they usually use the county tax assessor number... however, when I was looking for places I saw some houses that were listed by 'seller' and they could be 25% higher...

One of them had a second story with slanted ceilings... the district would not count space that was less than 8 ft. tall... so there was space on both sides of the room that the seller counted but was not taxed... not great rooms IMO...

But, to me a garage is not included... it can be a separate number as in a large 2 or 3 car attached or detached etc. etc... but if it is not part of my living area I do not count it.... which throws out the covered porch (mine is only a few s.f.)....

The other problem is that most measure based on the outside dimensions... so if you have a one story that is 30' X 60' then the house is 1800 s.f... I have noticed in some of the housing shows that they do not include basement space in the house area.... even if it is livable and built out... do not know why that would be...
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Old 02-06-2016, 05:21 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by imoldernu View Post
Seems as if the descriptions of square footage vary widely.
To the point of the ridiculous.
Last home we owned was reassessed by the county every three years, and every time the (different) assessor measured things in his own unique way.

One year I just happened to be home when the assessor showed up and he asked me about the sizes of the three outbuildings behind the house. I said I wasn't sure, but I would be happy to get a tape measure so he could check them. "No, I can just eyeball them; that's generally accurate."

So he eyeballed them from at least 100 feet away and put down completely inaccurate dimensions for all three.

The main house was a bit unusual; it was what I would call 1 stories with a full basement. The county assessment was based on dimensions that never, in all the 12 years we owned it, reflected the true square footage. Always either more or less, sometimes off by over 20%.
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Old 02-06-2016, 08:13 PM   #5
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I've always looked at it as being areas under the roof that are heated/cooled, that's the criteria the assessors office uses. Out here in AZ 99% of the homes are built on slabs so basements aren't an issue. I don't see it being a big problem in my area but I usually only pay attention to homes for sale in my immediate area to gauge where prices are going.
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Old 02-06-2016, 08:23 PM   #6
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We faced this issue when building our companion unit/casita. The regulations required it be 700sf or less. The covered (but not enclosed) porch wasn't included. The contractor messed up a bit - and it was going to go over 700sf. This could have literally effected occupancy. He thought interior SF was all that mattered, we knew it included the walls. Fortunately, it was caught VERY early in the framing and was corrected. Our final official square footage was 696sf.

This was extra important because, at the time, the mayor was against companion units being built and was looking to deny permits, deny occupancy, etc... we were under much more scrutiny than most building permits because of the mayor's pressure on the building inspections/permits department.
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Old 02-07-2016, 01:58 AM   #7
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I think checking the tax records to see how many square feet you are being taxed on is the best measurement.

In my area, full tax on living space with full height ceilings, 75% of full tax on space that does not have full height ceilings (think attic rooms with a sloped roof. At 5', the tax basis drops) 50% of full tax on attic storage if full storage. (remember old houses with full attics you could convert to a spare bedroom, study, etc) Covered patio is also taxed at 50% of living space rate.

I would LOVE for the square footage to JUST be that area I can occupy, not include closets and other un airconditioned or heated areas.
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Old 02-07-2016, 04:10 AM   #8
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The house my son bought was listed as 2600 sq ft on the listing, 1100 sq ft for the assessment and was actually around 2100 sq ft. We know that the assessment was low because they don't include the basement even if it's finished, but we have no idea where the other 500 sq ft on the listing was. Maybe the open deck in back?

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Old 02-07-2016, 06:30 AM   #9
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Most include square footage that's heated and cooled.

But if it's a finished basement, it's square footage cost 1/2 that of the upstair square footage. Remember that basement space is just not the same as upstairs space--cost wise.

I would never take any square footage that I didn't figure out--with my own tape measure.
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Old 02-07-2016, 06:55 AM   #10
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In these parts only above grade, heatable, full ceiling height areas are included. So no basements, attics with sloping roofs, garages, three season rooms, porches, decks...
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Old 02-07-2016, 06:56 AM   #11
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I always thought of it as the outside footprint of heated or airconditioned finished space but it is disconcerting that there is no standard.

In our area it seems that finished basements and finished walkouts are viewed differently.
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Old 02-07-2016, 07:55 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by skipro33 View Post
I think checking the tax records to see how many square feet you are being taxed on is the best measurement.
I would be cautious about accepting tax records at face value. They are subject to the same whims as the realty company claims. We refinanced at the tail end of the housing bubble and our appraised value came in too low. I inspected the appraisal and realized the comps they used had grossly overstated the square footage on the county tax rolls. It was immediately apparent from the photos of the homes (e.g. no measurements necessary). I think there were a lot of errors made in the heyday of automated robo assessments, etc. We challanged the appraisal and got approved.
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Old 02-07-2016, 11:46 AM   #13
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I've always gone on the assumption that it's the outside foot print. My current 26'x38' house (outside measurements) is assessed as 988 sq. ft. by the city. My previous 4 level split was assessed as 1800 sq. ft. even though it had a footprint of 1200...the 2nd lowest level that was about 5 feet below grade was counted as living space, the lowest level (basement) wasn't counted.

Most homes here have a full basement. Real estates listings here don't count the basement as part of the square footage but will say something like "1500 square foot bungalow with finished basement"...that means the footprint is 1500 sq. ft, plus there is additional living space in the basement.
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Old 02-08-2016, 05:53 PM   #14
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We are working through the process of building a homes at this time. I just viewed the blueprints and it states:
Heat/cool 2916 sq. ft.
Total heat/cool (excluding porches and garage) 2916 sq. ft.
Total non heat /cool 1571 sq ft
Total slab w/brick ledge 4487 sq. ft.

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