It is often said that the three most important factors in making a homebuying
decision are "location," "location," and "location." Other than "location," the
single most-important factor is probably the size or "square footage" of the
home. Not only is it an indicator of whether a particular home will meet a
homebuyer's space needs, but it also affords a convenient (though not always
accurate) method for the buyer to estimate the value of the home and compare it
with other properties.
Although real estate agents are not required by the Real Estate License Law or
Real Estate Commission rules to report the square footage of properties offered
for sale (or rent), when they do report square footage, it is essential that
the information they give prospective purchasers be accurate. At a minimum,
information concerning square footage should include the amount of living area
in the dwelling. The following guidelines and accompanying illustrations are
designed to assist real estate brokers and salespersons in measuring,
calculating and reporting (both orally and in writing) the living area contained
in detached and attached single-family residential buildings. When reporting
square footage, real estate agents should carefully follow these Guidelines
or any other standards that are comparable to them, including those approved by
the American National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI) which are recognized by
the North Carolina Real Estate Commission as comparable standards.* Agents
should be prepared to identify, when requested, the standard used.
Living Area Criteria
Living area (sometimes referred to as "heated living area" or "heated
square footage") is space that is intended for human occupancy and is:
by a conventional heating system or systems (forced air, radiant, solar, etc.)
that are permanently installed in the dwelling - not a portable heater - which
generates heat sufficient to make the space suitable for year-round occupancy;
Finished, with walls, floors and ceilings of materials generally
accepted for interior construction (e.g., painted drywall/sheet rock or
panelled walls, carpeted or hardwood flooring, etc.) and with a ceiling height
of at least seven feet, except under beams, ducts, etc. where the height must
be at least six feet four inches [Note: In rooms with sloped ceilings (e.g.,
finished attics, bonus rooms, etc.) you may also include as living area the
portion of the room with a ceiling height of at least five feet if at least
one-half of the finished area of the room has a ceiling height of at least
Directly accessible from other living area (through a door or by a
heated hallway or stairway).
Real estate appraisers and lenders generally adhere to more detailed criteria in
arriving at the living area or "gross living area" of residential
dwellings. This normally includes distinguishing "above-grade" from
"below-grade" area, which is also required by many multiple listing services.
"Above-Grade" is defined as space on any level of a dwelling which has living
area and no earth adjacent to any exterior wall on that level.
"Below-Grade" is space on any level which has living area, is
accessible by interior stairs, and has earth adjacent to any exterior wall on
that level. If earth is adjacent to any portion of a wall, the entire level is
considered "below-grade." Space that is "at" or "on grade" is considered
While real estate agents are encouraged to provide the most complete information
available about properties offered for sale, the Guidelines recognize
that the separate reporting of "above-grade" and "below-grade" area can be
impractical in the advertising and marketing of homes. For this reason, real
estate agents are permitted under these Guidelines to report square footage of
the dwelling as the total "living area" without a separate distinction
between "above-grade" and "below-grade" areas. However, to help avoid confusion
and concern, agents should alert purchasers and sellers that the appraisal
report may reflect differences in the way living area is defined and
described by the lender, appraiser, and the North Carolina Building Code
which could affect the amount of living area reported.
Determining whether an area is considered living area can sometimes be
confusing. Finished rooms used for general living (living room, dining room,
kitchen, den, bedrooms, etc.) are normally included in living area.
For other areas in the dwelling, the determination may not be so easy. For
example, the following areas are considered living area if
they meet the criteria (i.e., heated, finished, directly accessible from living
Attic, but note in the listing data that the space is located
in an attic (Fig. 2).
[Note: If the ceiling is sloped, remember to apply the
"ceiling height" criteria.]
Basement(or "Below-Grade"), but note in the listing data that
the space is located in a basement or "below-grade" (Fig.
1). [Note: For reporting purposes, a "basement" is defined as an area
below the entry level of the dwelling which is accessible by a full
flight of stairs and has earth adjacent to some portion of at least one wall
above the floor level.]
Bay Window, if it has a floor, a ceiling height of at least
seven feet, and otherwise meets the criteria for living area (Fig.
Bonus Room(e.g., Finished Room over Garage) (Fig.
3). [Note: If the ceiling is sloped, remember to apply the "ceiling
Chimney if the chimney base is inside living area. If
the chimney base is outside the living area but the hearth is in the living
area, include the hearth in the living area but not the
chimney base (Fig. 1).
Closets, if they are a functional part of the living area.
Furnace (Mechanical) Room Also, in order to avoid excessive
detail, if the furnace, water heater, etc. is located in a small closet in the living
area, include it in living area even if it does not meet
other living area criteria (Fig.
Hallways, if they are a functional part of the living area.
Stairs, if they meet the criteria and connect to living area
6). Include the stairway with the area from which it descends, not
to exceed the area of the opening in the floor. If the opening for
the stairway exceeds the length and width of the stairway, deduct the excess
open space from the upper level area. Include as part of the lower level area
the space beneath the stairway, regardless of its ceiling height.
Note in the listing data and advise purchasers of any space that does not meet
the criteria for living area but which contributes to the value of the
dwelling; for example, unfinished basements, unfinished attics (with permanent
stairs), unfinished bonus rooms, shops, decks, balconies, porches, garages and
Concealed in the walls of nearly all residential construction are pipes, ducts,
chases, returns, etc. necessary to support the structure's mechanical systems.
Although they may occupy living area, to avoid excessive detail, do not
deduct the space from the living area.
When measuring and reporting the living area of homes, be alert to any
remodeling, room additions (e.g., an enclosed porch) or other structural
modifications to assure that the space meets all the criteria for living area.
Pay particular attention to the heating criteria, because the heating
system for the original structure may not be adequate for the increased square
footage. Although agents are not required to determine the
adequacy of heating systems, they should at least note whether there are heat
vents, radiators or other heat outlets in the room before deciding whether to
include space as living area.
When an area that is not part of the living area (e.g., a garage) shares
a common wall with the living area, treat the common wall as the
exterior wall for the living area; therefore, the measurements for the living
area will include the thickness of the common wall, and the
measurements for the other area will not.
Interior space that is open from the floor of one level to the ceiling of the
next higher level is included in the square footage for the lower level only.
However, any area occupied by interior balconies, lofts, etc. on the upper
level or stairs that extend to the upper level is included in the square
footage for the upper level.
The amount of living area and "other area" in dwellings is based upon
exterior measurements. A one hundred-foot-long tape measure is
recommended for use in measuring the exterior of dwellings, and a thirty-foot
retractable tape for measuring interior and hard-to-reach spaces. A tape
measure that indicates linear footage in "tenths of a foot" will greatly
simplify your calculations. For best results, take a partner to assist you in
measuring. But if you do not have someone to assist you, a screwdriver or other
sharp tool can be used to secure the tape measure to the ground.
Begin at one corner of the dwelling and proceed with measuring each exterior
wall. Round off your measurements to the nearest inch (or
tenth-of-a-foot if your tape indicates footage in that manner). Make a sketch
of the structure. Write down each measurement as you go, and record it on your
sketch. A clipboard and graph paper are helpful in sketching the dwelling and
recording the measurements. Measure living area and "other area," but
identify them separately on your sketch. Look for offsets (portions of walls
that "jut out"), and adjust for any "overlap" of exterior walls (Fig.
3) or "overhang" in upper levels (
When you cannot measure an exterior surface (such as in the case of attics and
below-grade areas), measure the perimeter walls of the area from the inside of
the dwelling. Remember to add six inches for each exterior
wall and interior wall that you encounter in order to arrive at the exterior
dimensions (Fig. 2,
Measure all sides of the dwelling, making sure that the overall lengths of the
front and rear sides are equal, as well as the ends. Then inspect the interior
of the dwelling to identify spaces which cannot be included in living area.
You may also find it helpful to take several photographs of the dwelling for
later use when you return to your office.
Calculating Square Footage
From your sketch of the dwelling, identify and separate living area from
"other area." If your measurements are in inches (rather than
tenths-of-a-foot), convert your figures to a decimal as follows:
|1" = .10 ft.
||7" = .60 ft.
|2" = .20 ft.
||8" = .70 ft.
|3" = .25 ft.
||9" = .75 ft.
|4" = .30 ft
||10" = .80 ft.
|5" = .40 ft.
||11" = .90 ft.
|6" = .50 ft.
||12" = 1.00 ft.
Calculate the living area (and other area) by multiplying the length
times the width of each rectangular space. Then add your subtotals and round
off your figure for total square footage to the nearest square foot.
Double-check your calculations. When in doubt, recheck them and, if necessary,
re-measure the house.
When measuring an "attached" single-family home (e.g., townhouse, duplex,
condominium, etc.), use the same techniques just described. If there is a
common wall, measure to the inside surface of the wall and add six inches.
[Note: In the case of condominiums,
do not include the thickness of exterior or common walls.] Do not
include any "common areas" (exterior hallways, stairways, etc.) in your
For proposed construction, your square footage calculations will be based upon
dimensions described in blueprints and building plans. When reporting the
projected square footage, be careful to disclose that you have calculated the
square footage based upon plan dimensions. Therefore, the square footage may
differ in the completed structure. Do not rely on any calculations printed on
(Effective May 9, 2001)
Real estate agents are expected to be able to accurately calculate the square
footage of most dwellings. When reporting square footage, whether to a party to
a real estate transaction, another real estate agent, or others, a real estate
agent is expected to provide accurate square footage information that was
compiled using these Guidelines or comparable standards. While an agent
is expected to use reasonable skill, care and diligence when calculating square
footage, it should be noted that the Commission does not expect absolute
perfection. Because all properties are unique and no guidelines can anticipate
every possibility, minor discrepancies in deriving square footage are not
considered by the Commission to constitute negligence on the part of the agent.
Minor variations in tape readings and small differences in rounding off or
conversion from inches to decimals, when multiplied over distances, will cause
reasonable discrepancies between two competent measurements of the same
dwelling. In addition to differences due to minor variations in measurement and
calculation, discrepancies between measurements may also be attributable to
reasonable differences in interpretation. For instance, two agents might
reasonably differ about whether an addition to a dwelling is sufficiently
finished under these Guidelines to be included within the measured
living area. Differences which are based upon an agent's thoughtful judgment
reasonably founded on these or other similar guidelines will not be considered
by the Commission to constitute error on the agent's part. Deviations in
calculated square footage of less than five percent will seldom be cause for
As a general rule, the most reliable way for an agent to obtain accurate square
footage data is by personally measuring the dwelling unit and calculating the
square footage. It is especially recommended that listing agents use
this approach for dwellings that are not particularly unusual or complex in
As an alternative to personally measuring a dwelling and calculating its square
footage, an agent may rely on the square footage reported by other persons when
it is reasonable under the circumstances to do so. Generally speaking, an agent
working with a buyer (either as a buyer's agent or as a seller's agent) may
rely on the listing agent's square footage representations except in those
unusual instances when there is an error in the reported square footage that
should be obvious to a reasonably prudent agent. For example, a buyer's agent
would not be expected to notice that a house advertised as containing 2200
square feet of living area in fact contained only 2000 square feet. On the
other hand, that same agent, under most circumstances, would be expected to
realize that a house described as containing 3200 square feet really contained
only 2300 square feet of living area. If there is such a "red flag" regarding
the reported square footage, the agent working with the buyer should promptly
point out the suspected error to the buyer and the listing agent. The listing
agent should then verify the square footage and correct any error in the
It is also appropriate for an agent to rely upon measurements and calculations
performed by other professionals with greater expertise in determining square
footage. A new agent who may be unsure of his or her own calculations should
seek guidance from a more experienced agent. As the new agent gains experience
and confidence, he or she will become less reliant on the assistance of others.
In order to ensure accuracy of the square footage they report, even experienced
agents may wish to rely upon a competent state-licensed or state-certified
appraiser or another agent with greater expertise in determining square
footage. For example, an agent might be confronted with an unusual measurement
problem or a dwelling of complex design. The house described in Figure 8 in
these Guidelines is such a property. When an agent relies upon
measurements and calculations personally performed by a competent appraiser or
a more expert agent, the appraiser or agent must use these Guidelines or
other comparable standards and the square footage reported must be specifically
determined in connection with the current transaction. An agent who relies on
another's measurement would still be expected to recognize an obvious error in
the reported square footage and to alert any interested parties.
Some sources of square footage information are by their very nature unreliable.
For example, an agent should not rely on square footage information
determined by the property owner or included in property tax records. An agent
should also not rely on square footage information included in a
listing, appraisal report or survey prepared in connection with an earlier
In areas where the prevailing practice is to report square footage in the
advertising and marketing of homes, agents whose policy is not to
calculate and report square footage must disclose this fact to prospective
buyer and seller clients before entering into agency agreements with them.
For assistance in calculating and reporting the area of homes, refer to the
following illustrations showing the living area shaded. To test your
knowledge, an illustration and blank
"Worksheet" for a home with a more challenging floor plan has also been
included. (There is also a
completed "Worksheet" for the Practice Floor Plan .) In reviewing the
illustrations, assume that for those homes with basements, attics, etc., the
exterior measurements shown have been derived from interior measurements taking
into account walls and partitions. Where there is a common wall between living
area and other area, the measurements shown in the illustrations
include the thickness of the common wall in living area except in the
condominium example where wall thickness is not included.
*The following materials were consulted in the development of
The American National Standard for Single-Family Residential Buildings:
Square Footage-Method for Calculating approved by the American National
Standards Institute, Inc.
House Measuring & Square Footage published by the Carolina Multiple
Listing Services. Inc.;
Materials compiled by Bart T. Bryson, MAI, SRA, and Mary L. D'Angelo.
Copyright© 1999 by the North Carolina Real Estate
Commission. All rights reserved. Distribution of this documents is prohibited
without written permission from the Commission.