If you’re looking at homes online that you would like to purchase, you make get a little disillusioned by the amount of square footage that home actually has. A house that sounds roomy and spacious may actually only have 800 of its square feet contained in a four foot tall dirt floor basement...probably not what you’re looking for. 


Why the conflicting information? Well, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines on how to calculate a home’s square footage are considered the standard, but there are no official laws that govern this process. In addition, some Multiple Listing Services (MLS) report all finished and unfinished square footage of a house as one number, adding to the confusion. Since the rules aren’t standard, some listing agents just post their best guess on a home’s square footage. As a result, buyers and their agents often have to investigate.


If you love a home, does it matter if the 2,000 square foot charmer turns out to be officially 1,600 sq ft in length? Since square footage is used to determine a home’s market value, it can matter a lot. When it comes time for you to sell, 400 fewer feet in measurement can impact the price you’ll get, particularly in a buyer’s market.


Verity wants to help you understand how the square footage of a home actually works, so we have created this guide to explain. 


What To Do As A Buyer


  1. Start by referring to your city’s building department records. Many city and county records are now available online, which makes getting this info much easier than it used to be. Some updates – like unpermitted remodeling – may not be reflected in the records, but it will still provide a good baseline.


  1. Familiarize yourself with basic ANSI guidelines for calculating square footage for single-family homes. Practices can vary slightly from market to market, but these rules apply to most areas in the country:

  • Below grade spaces (basements, dens, etc.) do not usually count toward a home’s square footage. Even a finished basement can’t be counted toward a home’s Gross Living Area (GLA) but it can be noted separately in the listings total area.

  • The ANSI method specifies measuring from the exterior of the house, but the wall width is not usually subtracted to account for actual living space.

  • Stairways and closet areas are included in the square footage length.

  • Finished attic square footage is included if an area has at least seven minimum feet of clearance.

  • Covered, enclosed porches can only be included if they are heated using the same system as the rest of the house.

  • Garages, pool houses, guest houses or any rooms that require you to leave the finished area of the main house to gain access are not counted.


Check it Yourself.


As a buyer, it can be helpful to know how to calculate square footage of a house yourself; just multiply the length and width of all applicable rooms in the home. All you’ll need to get started is a 100 sq ft tape measure, some graph paper, and a pencil. 


  1. Assign a unit of measure. Assign a unit of measure to each square on the paper (a foot, for example) and measure to the nearest tenth of a foot.

  2. Pick a wall. Pick a wall and begin making your way around the interior perimeter of the house in one direction, drawing lines accordingly on the graph paper.


  1. Then, go back over your floor plan, multiply the rectangular areas, and add them all up to get your final number. If your calculation includes an area that is not permissible, don’t forget to subtract it out.

Finally, remember that while square footage is important to your home value, don’t focus on it at the expense of style or your emotional response to it. Do you like the design and floorplan? How about the location? Are there rooms you absolutely love? Numbers are important, but they are no substitute for the intangibles that make a house feel like a home.Contact us on our website or give us a call at 757.452.8974 today!