Square footage is the bane of everyone’s existence

One of the city’s biggest brokerages recently advised its agents and associate brokers to stop providing square footage with their listings.  The action followed a horrific spike in lawsuits claiming that the numbers were overstated.

Floor plan of an apartment for which the total square footage appears in the listing but without a disclaimer. The floorplan itself provides caveats.

While it’s true that there are those brokers (and any number of individuals in other situations) who will exaggerate size intentionally for the obvious reason, it is equally true that automatically generated measurements can be wrong: garbage in, garbage out.

That’s because building owners and their surrogates such as architects filed incorrect numbers when the dwellings were constructed as townhouses or multi-family residences later converted into co-ops or condos.  Even three appraisers calculating an apartment’s square footage easily can come up with three different amounts by using different standards and having a range of accuracy.  One reason is that they don’t always agree on what should be included.  That is:

  • How  do you measure a room beyond the interior walls to the exterior walls?
  • How should a hallway, foyer or bath be counted?
  • What is the area of an odd-shaped room?
  • Do you include or exclude unusable floor area such as columns, mechanicals pipe shafts and chases?

Buyers, their brokers and their attorneys certainly have a keen interest and an absolute right to know the exact square footage.  When it falls short, the lawyers get rich.

So critical is the issue of square footage that the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) recently saw fit to warn its members about the problem.

The Board of Directors said it is “important” that all potential purchasers know that square footage measurements provided through the REBNY database are “usually just estimates and are not certified or deemed reliable by either the listing firm or a participating co-broker.”

In addition, REBNY said that all firms should include “some sort of disclaimer on the materials they provide to their buyers that all square footage estimates are not to be relied upon and are certainly not verified or certified accurate by the brokerage firm.”

Buyers who are determined to learn square footage should have it done themselves and, REBNY added, “should have that professional explain the methodology. . .”

All in all, REBNY seems to me to be on sound footing with its advice.  But good luck, fellow brokers, on trying to persuade buyers that you just can’t disclose what you can’t know for sure.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

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