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Why Agents Don’t Talk About Square Footage

By Lucy Cohen Blatter Created: November 3, 2012 Last Updated: November 5, 2012
Related articles: Business » Real Estate
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You might not be able to get a straight answer out of your agent when it comes to square footage; in general, square footage is hard to calculate accurately and meaningfully. (Photos.com )

You might not be able to get a straight answer out of your agent when it comes to square footage; in general, square footage is hard to calculate accurately and meaningfully. (Photos.com )

Anyone who’s ever been in the market for a co-op has probably noticed how reluctant a broker can be to offer up the square footage of the unit.

While it’s only fair that buyers want to quantify their potential purchases, the broker often is unwilling, or at least cautiously reluctant, to give away those numbers.

In a recent blog post that caught our eye titled “Fastidious for Footage,” Warburg Realty’s president, Frederick Peters, shined some light on the tricky topic of co-op (and especially pre-war) square footage.

Here are a few things you may not know:

* Most co-ops were built before square footages were consistently calculated (or calculated at all).

* Appraisers rarely agree on square footage, and frequently diverge by as much as 15 percent of the total area.

* In the mid-1990s, a lawsuit changed the practice of throwing around (and inflating) square footage numbers. A buyer, looking to get out of a signed contract, claimed that the seller’s agent had misrepresented the square footage. Appraisers agreed. The Residential Division of The Real Estate Board decided that square footages would not be required on co-op transmissions.

In the condo and new development markets, brokers are not as afraid to give square footages. The “Schedule A” in the prospectus (available for buildings built from the ground up or rehabilitated within the last 25 years), which every buyer receives, has square footage information for each unit. But it should be noted that the numbers are usually based on outside measurements and overstate the usable square footage by some considerable percentage.

“My agents and I sometimes joke that the numbers seem to be based on measuring the property from the middle of the street!” writes Peters.

When dealing with a high-stakes co-op, Peters and his agents will “sit down with a scale ruler and try to measure off the floor plan to arrive at a square footage number. I make certain assumptions: most bathrooms are 4 feet across; most closets are 3 feet deep. I leave 6 inches for walls when measuring several rooms together. Hallways can be as narrow as 3 feet or as wide as 5 feet.

Most importantly, when we come up with a number, we disclaim like crazy. My numbers are usually low compared to those used by others, which makes me feel more comfortable,” he writes.

Lucy Cohen Blatter is a writer for BrickUnderground.com, the online survival guide to finding a New York City apartment and living happily ever after.

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