Real estate appraising. What an easy job! I was in a house recently where the tenant excitedly announced that he could get used to being an appraiser! I mean all we did (to his knowledge) was measure the home, take a few notes, snap a few pictures, and then BAM! Done! While some homes are easier to appraise than others, appraising a home is never easy. And one of the first things we do – measuring – can be the hardest.
That’s right…measuring a house. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve always said that you could have a Realtor, an appraiser, and a PVA deputy measure a home, and you’d get three different square footage calculations. For that matter, you could get three different appraisers, and we’d all differ slightly in some cases! How do you know who’s right? Well, that’s not an easy question to answer. One place to start though, when looking at a sketch of a house, is checking dimensions to make sure the house ‘comes around’.
Whenever an appraiser sketches a home in their software, the home must ‘come around’ to the starting point. To put it simply, if the left wall of a house is 20′ long, the right wall must be 20′, or add up to 20′. The same is true for the front and back of the home. The total dimensions must be equal on opposite sides of the house. If that right wall measured out to 19′, then most likely the one measuring has made an error.
Typically, when a home is listed for sale, the first place a homeowner or Realtor will look is the PVA or Tax Assessor records. In most cases, the records indicate the size (square footage) of a home; all too often, however, the square footage listed may be inaccurate. Look at the PVA-supplied drawing below taken from a home I recently appraised:
Notice anything? If you add up the left side (not counting the 10×10 porch or the 8×16 furnace room), the left side of the home measures 42′ (19+13+10). Look now at the right side. It should equal 42′ as well. However, 2+28+10 = 40′. Therefore, this sketch cannot be accurate, as it doesn’t ‘come around’.
Here is my sketch on the property. Notice how each side adds up.
So why the discrepancies?
There are several reasons public records (MLS, PVA, etc) may differ from actual measurements. Here are just a few:
- Rooms that don’t count. Sometimes rooms are included in the GLA (Gross Living Area) calculation which should not be. Sun rooms, or enclosed porches that are not heated are often included (wrongly) in the square footage calculation. Another room we see often is a bonus room over the garage that is accessible only by going into the unheated, unfinished garage. Or perhaps a cottage or guest house connected to the home by a breezeway. Such areas cannot be included in the overall gross living area as one must pass through unfinished space to access them.
- Builder Changes. If the public records’ information was obtained from a builder, and the builder changed plans without notifying the assessor, or if the builder’s calculations were wrong in the first place, this could lead to reporting inaccurate information.
- Limited Access. In some cases, the Assessor/PVA might not actually measure the home, but use other information (aerial maps, plans, etc) to estimate the gross living area. In our area of the world, the PVA deputy does not enter the home. So if your home has an upper level, for instance, and there are no building plans or other information about the upper level, the PVA will estimate the living area of the upper level.
- Non-Permitted Areas. How often do you know someone who added onto the back of their home using Uncle Ed and his crew, just to get around the permit process? I see this all the time. If a homeowner builds an addition that is not permitted, then the PVA office may not know about this area, and will therefore have incorrect information about the square footage. On a side note, it will be up to the appraiser to decide if the lack of a permit has any effect on value or marketability, and/or if the addition was done in a good, workman-like manner.
And then…ANSI guidelines. I plan to write a blog about the joys of ANSI at a later date, but for now, let’s talk about two common ‘problem areas.’ First of all, ANSI (the standard of measurement adopted by many states, including Kentucky) has a five-foot knee wall height requirement. That means that on homes with an upper level and a sloping roof, where the roof slopes down and meets the wall coming up from the floor, that wall has to be five feet high or more. If it is any lower, the appraiser has to come out from the wall until he or she reaches a height of five feet, and then measure the distance between the two walls.
Additionally, all ceilings must be at a minimum height of seven feet (for a ceiling which slopes, at least half of the ceiling must have a vertical height of seven feet). Many older homes with an upper level do not meet this requirement, so the appraiser cannot consider that area in the overall GLA. The area may still have value, though. I’ve seen upper levels with two bedrooms and a bathroom, but with 6.5’ ceilings. I could not include the area in my GLA calculation, but it did have market value.
Measuring a house if tough business. But as so much of a home’s value is riding on the square footage, it becomes absolutely imperative that you have accurate measurements. In Part Two of this series, I will look at Manufactured Homes and consider how they are advertised by the manufacturer and PVA. We will consider how this information is often times different than what actually exists, and if the disparity actually means anything or not.
And stay tuned for Part Three, as we ask the question, “Why does it matter?” Find out how having inaccurate measurements of your home could lead to an undervaluation or sometimes overvaluation and what you can do to prevent either from happening.