Why a Listing’s Square Footage Might Differ From the Appraisal

If you’re buying a home, the listing will likely include the square footage, a key selling point.  But if you make an offer that’s accepted and you’ve moved onto the appraisal step in the process, you might be surprised to find out that the appraiser’s square footage is different from what’s on the listing.  Why?

Square footage is calculated when you measure how much floor space there is in a home.  At its simplest, you multiply the length of the room by its width, then total the rooms together.  How is it then that two different professionals come up with different numbers?  There are some perfectly logical reasons why the square footage measured by an appraiser would differ from what’s on the listing.  Here’s why that happens – and how to handle it.

The difference often comes down to official “living space” versus the total space of the house.  An agent may calculate square footage based on how much living space there is – in other words, areas of the home that are heated such as the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms and so on.  The appraiser, on the other hand, evaluates the total value of the home which means calculating the square footage of everything, even an unheated basement, attic and other non-living spaces.  That inclusive number should have been recorded by the local municipality when the home was built, because it’s used for tax purposes.

How home additions are factored into square footage:  Sometimes agents rely on the tax records numbers that appraisers do to find square footage. But even then, there could be a difference between the listing and the appraisal.  This usually happens when someone decides to enclose a patio, finish a garage, or even add on to the existing structure to increase the amount of interior living area without first obtaining the proper permits.  If a homeowner skips the permit process, the taxing municipality won’t know that there’s addditional square footage, which means it won’t be reflected in the property records.

What should you do if you notice square footage differences?  Don’t hesitate to speak up.  If you’re a buyer, you may have the right to renegotiate the price or even cancel the contract.  To determine if you can do that, first check with your real estate agent who will know the local laws regarding this.  If you’re a home seller and you have some square footage that hasn’t been appraised, now’s the time to call your local municipality to see if a more accurate number can be updated for your records.  You don’t want to be caught misquoting that square footage when the appraiser shows up.