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How Big is My House?

Let’s ask a professional…

James Siebers    |    Property Valuation

Many aspects of building appraisal or valuation require personal judgment, but one aspect that should not be in this category is the measurements of a house. The actual size of a building is either determined from accurate building plans or by the actual measurement of the structure. An appraiser, assessor, realtor, insurance agent or anyone who determines the square footage of a house should all come up with the exact same square footage. If you note that the size of your building reported from these professionals does not match, then it is time to ask some questions and/or calculate the square footage of your house yourself.

Square footage is one of the most important pieces of data that can be collected on a home. Appraisers measure and calculate the square footage to be used in their appraisal; as a result, comparable sales are chosen and adjustments are made to the comparable sales based on square footage differences. Assessors utilize the square footage of your home when calculating your homes assessed value and thus your property taxes. Realtors use the square footage of your property as a tool for marketing your home. Insurance agents also need to know the size of your home: For insurance replacement purposes, every square foot needs to be accounted for, and of course, your insurance premium costs are going to be based on the size listed.

When professionals are determining the square footage, they should all be looking at the habitable areas of the house. One term used in the industry is Total Living Area (TLA), or total finished living area that has heating, ventilation and lighting, excluding basements. TLA should always be calculated by measurements starting with the use of some kind of measuring device, from the exterior side of the walls. Garages, porches, balconies, decks, chimneys and windows that do not project to the floor should not be included in the TLA, but instead are measured and valued differently.

The American National Standards Institute has standards for measuring the square footage of single family homes. While these standards are only a guide, and are not law, several of these standards for measuring a house are listed here.

  1. Measurements should be recorded to the nearest inch or tenth of a foot. The total square footage should be recorded to the nearest whole foot.
  2. Since TLA is calculated using exterior dimensions, the area of the stairs and landing are included in the square footage of both levels.
  3. Where openings exist to the floor below, such as a two story home with an open foyer, be sure to subtract that area from the square footage of that level.
  4. Measure any areas below the grade, and list that level separately.
  5. If a home has a finished attic, or a half-story with sloped ceilings, then standards exist how to calculate that rooms square footage. Rooms to be counted in square footage calculations should have a height of at least 7 feet. If a room has a ceiling that is predominantly 7 feet in height, then include square footage of any floor area that is covered under a sloped ceiling height that is at least 5 feet in height.

When measuring a house, there are a number of types of measuring devices available. Years ago, 10-foot measuring sticks were used. They were quick and easy to use, but not very accurate. Wheel devices exist and are very efficient for measuring long distances, but results also must be closely checked and carefully used. Tape measures that come in a variety of materials and lengths are very accurate, were known as the standard and are still used today. A laser distance measuring tool uses a laser light for very accurate measuring, so long as the tool is used properly and the target is fixed on the end of the wall being measured. There are also applications for smart phones that allow the user to measure dimensions using the latest technology.

Currently, there are digital software sketching solutions available that are designed for mobile professionals who like to draw floor plans and other sketches, and then calculate areas from measurements they gather on site. Whatever device the professional has, there is software or apps available to allow the property valuation professional to electronically sketch any building or property out in the field on mobile devices including smart phones. By sketching the building in the field, professionals are able to take and record measurements immediately and avoid the possibility of making another trip to re-measure the building. They can also add the horizontal and vertical dimensions recorded, to ensure the totals equal the overall dimensions.

The square footage of your home should be a given. It is a number that should be known by all homeowners, and does not change, unless an addition or removal of part of the structure takes place. When any kind of valuation professional measures or verifies your homes square footage, be sure you get a copy and verify it with your records. When and if there is a discrepancy, see to it that the differences are resolved. It is in your best interest.

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