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6 min read Jan 30, 2024

Wrong Square Footage on MLS: A Guide To Avoiding This Violation

Square footage is the unit of measurement used to calculate home spaces. Providing misleading or wrong square footage information on the MLS is a violation and attracts a fine.

Further, the square footage of your home is an important part of your listing when you’re selling a house. Most buyers rely on the area information that you provide in your listing.

Your home’s square footage also affects the property tax amount you or a future buyer pays. Hence, it’s important to note how to provide the correct square footage in a listing.

Most Common Reasons for Wrong Square Footage

A real estate agent normally depends on the MLS tax records for information related to the square footage of your home. At times, this number could deviate from the data you provide to the agent.

Here are some of the most common reasons why your data and tax record data could be different:

1. Tax Records are Not Updated

Any changes in tax records may take time to reflect on online portals.

If you have only recently made an amendment application to the county assessor, wait for a while for the changes to get reflected. This will ensure the same square footage information in every listing.

If the square footage information has not been updated for a long time, it is best to visit the county assessor for a new assessment.

2. Renovations Made Without Appropriate Permits

Carrying out renovations or additions, e.g. a patio or attached porch, may require permits in your county. This also enables the county assessor to make any required changes in the property square footage records.

If an owner or a past owner had made any renovations or additions without necessary permits, it may not be updated in public records.

Such changes can vastly affect the square footage of a home, and listing your home with the wrong square footage can become misrepresentation.

3. No Appraisal has been Conducted in a Long Time

A seller must hire an appraiser before listing if a substantial amount of time has passed since an appraisal was last conducted.

A fresh home appraisal will serve as proof if an agent asks for recent square footage data.

4. MLS Tax Records are Different from County Assessor’s Tax Records

It is essential to note that the tax data that listing agents refer to on the MLS may not be updated according to the county assessor’s data.

In such cases, the seller can obtain updated documents from the county assessor’s online portal.

Why is Providing the Right Square Footage Important?

1. Buyers Rely on it

Most buyers rely on the information provided in the listing. That’s why misrepresentation or negligence in providing square footage can attract unnecessary lawsuits.

2. It Increases Your Credibility as a Seller

Almost 95% of home buyers search and review homes online. They rely on the information given by you in your listing. Therefore, failing to provide accurate information puts your credibility as a seller at risk.

Almost 15% of real estate contracts were terminated because of appraisal issues, including appraisal square footage discrepancies. If there are inconsistencies in your listing information, the buyer may withdraw their offer.

3. Misrepresentation or Wrong Square Footage Attracts Fine

MLS can impose a fine against sellers who represent wrong information on MLS listing. This fine usually depends on the type of violation and changes across different MLSs. Generally, this fine ranges between $200 to $1,500.

Note that it is a buyer’s responsibility to verify the square footage of a house before buying. Most states in the USA follow the ‘caveat emptor’ rule, meaning the buyer must follow due diligence before buying a property.

» Seller’s Disclosure: Find out what home sellers need to disclose when selling a house.

Documents Used to Prove Accurate Square Footage

If your listing agent asks you for document proof to verify wrong square footage calculations, the following documents can be submitted –

  • Recent appraisal report of a professional
  • Updated county records
  • Floor plans of your house
  • Blueprints or building plans (if the house is newly built and never lived in)

» Paperwork for Selling a House Without a Realtor: Know which documents you need to sell your house without a Realtor

How to Calculate Square Footage for Real Estate Listing?

Most state MLS have regularized the method to measure the square footage of your house.

The one you provide in the listing is categorized as a ‘living area.’ It is also referred to as ‘heated living area’ or ‘heated square footage.’ Basically, it is the space used for human occupancy.

In order to be categorized as a living area, it needs to fulfill 3 conditions:

  • It should be heated, i.e. heated by conventional systems that are permanently installed in the house
  • It should be finished, i.e. with completed walls, floors, and ceilings and a ceiling height of at least seven feet
  • The area should be directly accessible from other living areas, i.e. a door, a heated hallway, or a stairway.

Additionally, areas like the attic, closets, stairs, etc. are calculated under the living area if it is a functional part of the house.

Here’s how you measure your home according to MLS square footage guidelines:
  • Always start by measuring the exterior side of your home. Start with one corner of your house and measure the length of each exterior wall.
  • Make a sketch with your measurements on graph paper.
  • For spaces that you can’t access from the exterior, e.g. the basement or attic, measure the interior walls. Further, add about 6 inches to each side to calculate the proper square footage.

Many MLS require you to mention the ‘above-grade’ and ‘below-grade’ areas separately.

Any area that does not have earth next to its exterior wall is considered to be “above-grade.” For instance, an attic or all stories above the ground. As opposed to this, “below grade” space refers to any room that has earth next to any part of the exterior wall, such as a basement.

Generally, your full-service real estate agent will make these measurements for you. Otherwise, you can hire a professional appraiser to provide you with an appraisal certificate that will contain accurate square footage.

It is important to note that personally calculated measurements do not count as solid proof for square footage issues. Therefore, having the certified documents mentioned above is necessary if you wish to make changes to your square footage in a listing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are home appraisals public record?

No. Any information under a home appraisal is governed by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. The confidentiality clause prevents an appraiser from divulging any confidential information except to the clients or persons authorized by the clients.

Who is responsible for verifying square footage in a home?

The following persons can provide accurate and reliable measurements for your house:
1) Appraiser
2) Real estate agent
4) Architect
5) Builder (for newly reconstructed properties)

How to find house square footage online?

You can find the square footage information on the county assessor's web portal.

Are property taxes based on square footage?

Square footage can impact the tax assessment values for your house. The bigger the house, the larger the assessment.

How to look up square footage of a house?

You can find the square footage information of your house on the county assessor's web portal. You can also look for previous listings of your house on Zillow to find square footage information.

Do appraisers measure square footage?

Yes, measuring square footage of your house is one of the things an appraiser does during a home appraisal.


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