The square footage found in the public records is typically from the county Assessor’s office. This information, while official, can be quite dated and inaccurate, especially with older homes that may have had additions. This data was likely collected at the time of the county’s last reassessment, which in some cases was decades ago. For instance, Montgomery County hasn’t done a reassessment since 1998. Prior to Philadelphia’s recent reassessment the City had not done a countywide reassessment in over 40 years! Even with the 2013 revaluation, the Philadelphia Assessor’s office did not physically measure every property. Many were inspected using aerial photos and measuring software.
The MLS is a different animal. There are basically three sources for square footage that can be cited in the MLS, all of which are subject to inaccuracies. The first as mentioned above is the Assessor’s office. The second is the Listing Agent and the third is the Seller of the house. Often, Agents and Sellers will ballpark, estimate or even guess the square footage of a house. Some will lump in finished basement space or enclosed porches as overall square footage. I’ve even seen garages included as living space.
There are also inconsistencies in the methodology used by the three sources. In some of the counties surrounding Philadelphia the square footage listed in the public records will include finished basement space in the Gross Living Area (GLA). Then, under that number they will then report the amount of finished basement space. The correct way to examine these numbers is to back-out the finished basement space from the Total Square Footage and what you’re left with is the more accurate representation of the true GLA. For more information on how finished basements affect the overall GLA read our previous post on the subject Finished Basements & GLA
Certain housing styles like Split Levels and Cape Cods can also add to the confusion of the home’s true square footage. There are actually established standards for measuring homes that are put out by the American National Standards Institute. (For a copy of these guidelines send me an email request)
For agents in particular getting the square footage wrong can be a real problem. Misrepresentation of a home’s square footage is the most common reason why real estate agents get sued. We had a case last week where the agent assumed the square footage in the public records (1,728SF) was incorrect. She assumed that the addition off the back was not included because “the house just felt bigger”. So she estimated that the addition made the house around 2,000SF and for good measure included another 300SF for the partially finished basement.
As it turned out, the square footage in the public records was pretty accurate at 1,728SF. After measuring the house our appraiser arrived at 1,724SF. That’s about as close as you’re going to get. The finished area in the basement was closer to 242SF. All in all, the agent misreported the GLA of the house by over 570SF. That’s the equivalent of a 20’ x 28.5’ room. Big difference.
What I would suggest is if you are not going to measure the house yourself hire someone to measure it for you. Most appraisers will measure a property and provide you with a sketch for a fee. The measurements will be more accurate and will give you something to hang your hat on when listing a property. For more information on the home measuring services provided by The Coyle Group call us at 215-836-5500.
The Coyle Group’s team of Philadelphia appraisers is a leading provider of appraisals for Estate/Probate, Divorce, Bankruptcy, Tax Appeal and Pre-Listing appraisals in the greater Philadelphia Metro Area. If you need a guest speaker at your next sales meeting, please give us a call. We would welcome to opportunity to speak to your group and field any appraisal related questions you may have. For more information please visit our website at www.TheCoyleGroupLLC.com You can also contact The Coyle Group at 215-836-5500 or firstname.lastname@example.org