Feel of a home trumps its size

By Steve Tytler Herald Columnist

Question: We are planning to put our condo on the market. When advertising a condominium, do you advertise the inside square footage or the outside square footage?

Answer: When you buy a condominium unit, you are literally buying the air space within the unit. In other words, you own it from the coat of paint inward. The actual structure of the building, including the walls of each condo unit, are part of the “common grounds” of the complex, which are jointly owned by all of the owners as a group.

When an appraisal is done on a condominium, the interior space is measured and the total amount of square footage is computed from those measurements. However, when advertising a condominium for sale, you do not have to go to the trouble of actually measuring your unit.

Most real estate agents use the county property tax figures for the square footage used in advertisements. However, this number is always qualified by using the term “approximate.”

For example, if the county property tax records show that your unit has 978 square feet, you could advertise that it is “approximately 978 square feet, per Snohomish County Tax Records.” It is then up to the buyer to verify the exact square footage of the unit.

I am currently renting a condo that I own, and I advertised it as “almost 1,000 square feet.” I think it is somewhere between 975 to 985 square feet, but I didn’t bother to look up the exact number. Now if I were selling it I might have tried to be more exact but most renters aren’t that picky.

The point is that it’s a fairly large unit and that’s all that matters to them. So keep your audience in mind.

You should also be aware that county records, and even building plans, are often inaccurate when it comes to the square footage of a home. The only reliable figure is determined by an actual measurement of the property. Incidentally, for single family homes, the total square footage is usually based on a measurement of the exterior of the building. That’s because you are purchasing the entire building, and not just the space inside the building as you are with a condominium.

But don’t get too hung up on square-footage figures. The layout of the home has a much greater effect on how “roomy” it feels than the actual square footage. Modern homes with open floor plans often “feel” much bigger than similar sized older homes with walled-off separate rooms.

It’s common for buyers to ask about square footage, but be sure to emphasize positive aspects such as “light and open” if it is a relatively small unit.

Also, be sure that you make it clear that any representation of square footage is an approximation and it is up to the buyer to verify this information on their own.

I know of a case a few years ago where the home buyers were specifically looking for a 5,000-square-foot home. They bought a home that was advertised as 5,000 square feet, but later the buyers were shocked to discover that house was much smaller than the 5,000 square feet that had been advertised.

Now, keep in mind that the buyers did not have a problem with the look and feel of the home when they bought it. It “looked” big enough at the time. But they were very upset to find out the actual square footage was much smaller than they wanted.

In this case, it was primarily a matter of ego because even though the buyers were happy with the house, they wanted to live in a “5,000-square-foot house,” not a 4,300-square-foot house. So they sued the sellers and won a cash settlement.

Don’t put yourself in that kind of position. Tell prospective buyers that the square footage is just an estimate and must be independently verified.

This goes for anyone selling a property of any kind, whether it’s a condo or a house. Never guess. If you are not 100 percent certain about the square footage, lot boundaries, etc. just say that you “don’t know” on the property disclosure statement. That’s much safer than giving an answer that later turns out to be incorrect.

Steve Tytler is a licensed real estate broker and owner of Best Mortgage. You can email him at features@heraldnet.com.