What’s the Square Footage?

J Philip Faranda January 19, 2011

Bear Mountain Bridge

I got an email from a client who was dismayed that his property taxes were raised. It bugged him, and I don’t blame him one bit. The home is a ranch with a finished basement, and I advised him that the finished basement needed a CO (Certificate of Occupancy) from the city to satisfy a buyer’s lender. So, motivated seller that he is, he got it. 

And they raised his taxes. 

And he can’t advertise the extra space he’s paying taxes on as part of his square footage, which is irksome. He wondered aloud why we couldn’t include the finished basement in the published square footage. It seemed only fair. 

I agree, but after a long discussion we came to the conclusion together that the criteria the city uses to assess taxes and the standards by which real estate buyers and agents view legitimate square footage are apples and oranges. As I have blogged before, if a 1500 square foot ranch with a finished basement is marketed as a 3000 square foot structure, it will lead to blowback from buyers and their agents. In Westchester and the surrounding areas, we do not include the below grade portion of the home-the basement- as the official square footage of the structure. The only exception in raised ranches, or, as they are also called across the river, bi levels. 

The reason for this is simple- everyone has to quantify square footage by the same standard or you have anarchy. A 2000 square foot ranch with a basement cannot be compared to a ranch with a true 4000 square foot footprint. People looking for a “true” 4000 square foot ranch will feel mislead and angry if they drive out to see a 2000 square foot house. So, we leave the basement out in the “official” square footage and mention the additional finished area in the remarks. 

I know there are places where even mentioning square footage is a no-no. That isn’t the case in Westchester, and if you are going to do it, it should be done right. Square footage measures the above grade finished living area. That’s the standard, and if we abide by it as we all should, the public and our colleagues can hang their hat on the veracity of what we say with no unpleasant surprises. 

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