MEASURE FOR MEASURE, OR NOT
Standards for measuring NYC apartments would be a boon to the industry. It’s a subject I’ve broached before, and one that merits re-consideration. Without uniform guidelines, the challenge of computing accurate square footage in order to compare properties persists for agents and consumers alike. While price per square foot is only one of many factors that contribute to a property’s value, square footage has become the common denominator, if not the virtual currency in which real estate properties trade. And yet, because standards are not in place, calculating square footage remains inexact.
Square footage—the basic unit of measure for floor space—often grows bigger by degrees depending on who is doing the measuring. One would think that multiplying length times width to determine area would be straightforward arithmetic and not subject to exaggeration or rounding to the nearest 100. However, if you were to ask a developer, interior designer, appraiser, seller and real estate broker to measure the same co-op apartment, more often than not, you would get five different responses. Similarly, if you were to ask a carpet installer to compare one 2,000 square foot apartment to another 2,000 square foot home in two different condominium developments, you’re likely to come away with two very unequal carpetable areas.
Reluctance on the part of brokers to quote square footage in cooperative apartments in particular stems from past lawsuits and complaints filed against agents. In the late 90’s, a buyer of a Park Avenue co-op withdrew from a contract claiming the broker had overstated the property’s square footage by 500 square feet and sued both seller and broker. The case was settled out of court in 2000, and nearly all brokerage companies directed their agents not to cite square footage. For awhile we stopped, but as the inventory of condo products grew, so did the pressure to discuss square footage in co-op’s in order to compete with condos where square footage is specied and explained as a matter of course in Offering Plans.
Within the book-length OP, a sponsor must disclose how square footage has been computed. Nearly all builders measure from exterior wall to exterior wall, but since the thickness of walls varies—some exceeding a foot—not all brick to brick measurements are equal. In corner apartments, there are two exterior walls to take into account. Moreover, there are differences among gross area calculations since developers include more than interior space and add a prorated share for common elements such as elevators, corridors, stairwells, mechanical columns and sometimes even pipes. As a result, actual apartment square footage is distorted. While variations may be minimal between smaller units, when comparing larger apartments, the disparities are proportionately greater. Consequently comparing apartments in different condominium buildings is imprecise.
Not all tape measures are created equal
When I’m representing sellers, I always calculate a property’s square footage but rarely publish it on marketing materials for co-ops, and always for condo’s.. When I’m representing buyers and comparing and contrasting purchasing options, I calculate floor area from floor plans using my ruler and my own approximations for closets (3’ usually), bathrooms (4’ across), hallways (3’-5’ depending on whether it’s pre or post war) and thickness of walls (also varies depending on whether it’s pre or post war). The sums we calculate together may not be definitive, but our numbers will be off proportionately the same for each of the properties under consideration so we can proceed to informed decision making.
Uniform methods for calculating rentable space in NYC office buildings and stores were developed by The Real Estate Board of New York in 1987 to facilitate comparative cost analyses. Nationwide, there are standards for calculating the square footage of single family houses. It’s high time that our industry joins together to develop clear and consistent guidelines to calculate square footage in co-ops and to also provide suggested uniform parameters to condo developers. To best serve buyers and sellers, we need to be able to match up apples to apples. We need industry approved standards that make uniform allowances for oddly shaped rooms, loft areas, staircases, interior and exterior walls, and a host of other unique layout components. Basic guides for best practices and uniform measurement standards would definitely benefit both agents and consumers.