Square footage can be very useful when coming to a home buying decision. It can, however, be confusing and misleading. If you do not know how the square footage was calculated and what was included, a fair comparison of one house to another is not possible. So, what really is the “size” of a house?
The problem in answering that question is that there is no universally adopted standard to calculate square footage. It seems as though everyone measures it in their own way. “House area” means different things to different people. Sometimes the entire perimeter of the house on both floors is measured. This is a good place to start, but the square footage that comes about may or may not include stairs, basements, two story areas or garages.
And of course, all square footage is not created equal. For example, a below grade basement with a low ceiling adds value, but most would agree not the same value as space above grade on the first or second floor. A better way is to list areas separately. For example, specify first floor, second floor and basement individually so you, as a home buyer, can better assess the space and your particular needs. Nevertheless, even if the areas are broken down, you should still ask what method was used to arrive at the square footage numbers.
Other questions to ask about square footage: What is the quality of the space? What about volume areas? Maybe a tray ceiling, open foyer, or two story gathering room? How about a finished basement with a low ceiling versus one with extra height? While features such as these are not included in square footage calculations, they certainly can have a great impact on your living experience and choosing the right house for you.
All this being said, the point is, do not assume that square footage is always accurate, hard and defined. Ask how the number was calculated and what was included. “Assume nothing. Verify everything.”
Finally, although important in evaluating a house, never let square footage be the primary factor in your purchase. Tour the house. How does the space work for you? What are your personal wants and needs? What is your general impression? In the end, be sure the house “feels” right before you decide to call it “home”.
Notes: There is a method of calculating square footage recommended by the National Association of Home Builders (Square Footage-Method for Calculating: ANSI Z765). This method is generally used by architects. Square footage numbers used by Chiusano Homes are supplied by their architects.