This article was originally published in early 2010.
Aside from location, square footage is perhaps the most talked-about criteria when it comes to buying a new home. When the listing information doesn’t include it, eyebrows are raised, and when it is included, people are skeptical of its accuracy. Whether you are looking at a condo or a single-family home, square footage can be a central and controversial issue.
In short, the square footage for a property in DC consists of the above-grade finished living area. According to the DC Property Tax Division, that is “comprised of the finished areas of the main floor (kitchen, living room, dining room, etc.) and any finished areas above the main floor.” The basement is not usually included in the calculation.
While that might seem straightforward enough, the square footage you find in tax records for a property could be quite different from what you arrive at if you use the traditional method of multiplying the length and width of each room in a property and adding them up.
“Tax records in DC typically give you a general idea of the size of a home, but they aren’t perfect,” says Long & Foster’s Ron Sitrin. “Things like closets, stairs or a foyer may or may not be included, so that’s why seeing a layout is so important.”
It is also important to remember that square footage on its own does not determine a home’s value. Sitrin points out that in DC, a large one-bedroom may measure out to 900 square feet, but a moderate sized two-bedroom unit may also be that same size, and because one offers an additional bedroom, it may be priced higher. Therefore, he recommends comparing floorplans and building amenities to determine value, rather than focusing solely on square feet.
“When you are looking at condo units, usually those in the same tier are the same size,” says Sitrin. “But you still cannot just do a straight price-per-square-foot calculation, because the layout could be different inside each unit. And of course, things like whether a parking space is included, whether or not there is an extra bath or a fireplace need to be factored in.”
In some instances, real estate agents do not include square footage on their listing information because, over the years, some have been sued for inaccurately representing a property. The multiple listings service for the DC area, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems (MRIS), has a disclaimer for its listings that notes that the accuracy of the square footage for its listings is not guaranteed.
All in all, while square footage is important when figuring out what home to buy, there are many other things that should be used to compare properties.
This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_square_footage_game/1526.
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