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  Institute of Housing Technologies
Improving the Real Estate Information Network
Questions and Answers
Real questions from real estate agents all across the country.

This information is not meant to single out or make fun of anyone. We believe the only bad question is the one that never gets asked. This just shows the need for more information on this topic and hopefully answers a few common questions along the way. Thanks for joining us...
Hi. Can you please help us settle a discussion about the square footage in tax records? I was taught that the tax department gets the plans for every house ever built and the square footage is the most reliable information available to agents, and that appraisers use this information in their reports. If the size is based on the original building plans, how could it be wrong? 

Hi Dallas. We've been talking about this issue for the last decade and you have been taught the same as many other people. Unfortunately, what you were taught is wrong. Sorry (:.

The tax department gets their square footage details from lots of different methods. And, it's different in different parts of the country. There is no national tax system. Some states use one system while other states allow each county to choose their own method. The sad truth is, that even in areas where they use builder's plans, the errors can be significant. Plans get changed. And, whenever carpenters build homes the final result is often different from what the plans stated. Also, plans are often drawn using different methods of calculating square footage. The truth is that the building plans may use one method, if the tax department actually measures the house they may use a different method, if a real estate agent measures the house they may use a different method, and then the appraiser may come in and use another method. It's a hodge-podge of numbers that has the potential of cheating home-owners out of thousands upon thousands when they sell, or buy. It's a system out of control that is long overdue for one nationally mandated measurement method. 
Mr. Thomas:

When you measure stairs do you only count the upper level as "flat space" or the part you can walk on level? It seems the staircase is counted as it is on the first floor, so if we count it again aren't we double-dipping? 

Hi Kevin. The short answer is you do count the space of a staircase twice, or double-dipping as you called it. That is the method that ANSI prescribes and the space of a staircase is always counted on the first and second floors, regardless of the sloped space beneath. 

That's a big conversation with lots of different opinions, but in order to keep things simple everyone should follow the same rules. Check out or videos on measuring stairs and that may be the easiest way to understand what I'm talking about. Happy measuring! 
Ours is a townhome and we were told the measurements just go to the walls inside and we don't count the brick part outside. Is that correct? Agent tells us one thing and builder says opposite. Thanks.

Barbara, the answer in your case is yes, you do count the exterior walls in your measurements and sqft total. If you had a Condo, then it would be inside walls only, but it has to legally be a Condominium. A Townhome is counted like all single-family homes and the square footage total is measured from the outside walls. 
Much more, coming soon...
I know I've seen this on here somewhere, but can't find that article. When you have a porch that the people have added carpeting and a propane wall heater, and a window A/C, does that count in my square footage total? They use it just like the rest of the house and have a big TV out there. Where can I find the "rules" for enclosed porches? 

Jerry, Hi. The "rules" you asked about are non-existent on enclosed porches (at least in ANSI). When ANSI was first released enclosed porches were not such a big issue and the word "mini-split" had not been invented yet. You won't find any specific rules that use the words enclosed porch or anything similar. What you will find though is the rule where any space(s) that are included within the finished square footage count must be heated and cooled by a permanent, central HVAC system. Think about comparing "apples to apples." If you were comparing spaces side by side, would most people pay the same amount or get the same degree of "utility" out of that room or space that they would from the rest of the house. That's a question that really needs to be answered as an industry, because many home values and the way these spaces are counted (and valued) are dependent on the appraiser that comes out and what they have been taught. Standardized is not a word that comes to mind when we talk about enclosed porches. 
Dear Institute: Can you explain how we measure Bonus Rooms when you have to go into the garage to enter them, but they are finished like the rest of the house and on a separate heat pump? Thanks. Beverly K

Beverly, hello. If you have to leave the main part of the house to get in this space, it doesn't matter how it is finished. It cannot be included within the total square footage count. It can still be called finished living area, but it should never be included in the main square footage total. Spaces like that are basically "detached" and are counted almost like basements, on a separate line in an appraisal and valued separately from the total square footage. 

I read you stuff about basements but it still doesn't make sense to me. I have a four bedroom house with three full bathrooms and my appraiser calls it a two bedroom and two bathroom home. That's just crazy. Am I being cheated and should I get a new appraiser asap? 

Rick, you're okay and you don't need a new appraiser. I actually agree with you. It's a crazy system the way agents call the house one way and then appraisers have to handle it a different way. It can get extremely confusing and one of the only really upset clients I ever had was over calling his house a one bedroom when he knew he had five. He was convinced that I just missed them (even thought there were pictures of all of them in the report and a full explanation). People seem to automatically assume the worst. 

It is actually a federal law that requires appraisers to report square footage separated between "above" and "below" grade. Just remember it is just a method of "reporting" spaces and you get full credit for all your bedrooms and bathrooms. We need more info out on this topic because many agents don't understand it so they have a hard time explaining it to upset buyers or sellers. However, appraisers have been doing it this way forever. No one pays attention until it effects them personally and then theie firstr thought is the appraiser screwed up. Appraisers seem to get the blame for lots of things when they really don't deserve the wrap.