Did you know that there are national standards for calculating the square footage of single family houses?  Initiated in 1996 by the American National Standards Institute, and supported by the National Association of Home Builders, the published criteria differentiate between finished, heated floor areas and unfinished, unheated floor areas for above and below ground spaces.  They provide specific guidelines for how to measure single family homes, and are recommended for voluntary use.  A Google search shows that the state of North Carolina also publishes recommendations based on the ANSI model for computing the square footage of single family houses.  The guidelines, however, are not applicable to apartment or multiple family dwellings. 


Did you know that there are uniform methods for calculating commercial spaces in New York City to determine the usable and rentable area for office buildings and stores?  Developed by The Real Estate Board of New York and effective since January 1987, the recommendations are provided “to facilitate a comparison of the cost of space among buildings.”  Dissimilarities between buildings and “loss factors” are acknowledged, and precise guidelines are spelled out.   


Did you know that there are no uniform standards for measuring square footage in either cooperatives or condominiums for New York’s residential housing? 


 Home buyers have always been interested in square footage, but because of the huge increase in the city’s condo offerings which are sold largely by price per square foot, the interest is paramount.  The time has come for us to develop approved and accepted methods to calculate square footage in co-ops and condos.  If we are to help our buyers and sellers evaluate a property’s value and also compare it to other like properties, then we need to be able to measure qualitatively and quantitatively and match up apples to apples. 


The practice among residential brokers today is to avoid citing square footage for cooperative apartments—either from computer sources which can vary, or from seller’s estimations which may be exaggerated—because there have been lawsuits and complaints filed against agents for inconsistencies and inaccuracies.  Instead, brokers invite buyers to come with their architects and measuring tapes.  On the other hand, we are comfortable quoting square footage for condominium apartments, because these figures are published in condo offering plans.  A co-op prospectus lists the count for rooms, bedrooms and baths, but it does not record an apartment’s square footage. 


There are variations, however, in the way condo developers calculate total square footage.  As a result, confusion arises when comparing apartments in different developments.  Within the book-length offering plan, a sponsor must disclose how square footage has been computed.  But not all sponsors add and subtract the same way.   


Nearly all builders measure square footage from exterior wall to exterior wall, but since the thickness of walls vary—some exceeding a foot—not all brick to brick measurements are equal.  In corner apartments, there are two exterior walls to consider.  Moreover, there are differences among gross calculations when developers include a prorated share for common elements such as elevators, corridors and stairwells.  Some offering plans refer to the inclusion of mechanical columns and pipes in gross area totals.  As a result, actual apartment square footage is distorted because common building elements are included in the gross area total.


Square footage in co-ops comprises the floor space within an apartment’s perimeter walls, including closets and hallways.  One would think that multiplying length times width to determine the floor area would be straightforward arithmetic.  In point of fact, however, if you were to ask a developer, interior designer, appraiser, seller and broker to measure the same co-op apartment, more often than not, you would get five different responses.   Similarly, if you were to ask a carpet installer to compare one 2000 square foot condo with another in a different development, you’re likely to come away with two very different carpetable areas. 


Square footage is an important consideration in determining and comparing property values.  It’s time for industry standards.