Think you know how big your house is? Not so fast!

Real estate measurements can be confusing, especially if you're new to buying or selling a property. It’s also pretty disappointing to find out there’s a discrepancy between the square footage in a home’s listing and what you see when you actually walk through the space. If you’re viewing a home described in the real estate listing as spacious, with over 2,000 sf of space for you to enjoy, it’s the worst kind of surprise to realize that 500 sf of that is just a 4 ft high crawl space!

Getting a home's measurements right is an essential step when listing a home for sale. It’s crucial for determining a home’s value and accurately representing it to potential buyers. Inaccurate measurements can lead to confusion, disappointment, and sometimes even legal issues.

Let’s take a closer look at how real estate measurements work and provide some tips on how to know you’re getting them right when you’re buying or selling a home.

Does Square Footage Really Matter?

Yes! When you're selling a house, square footage matters! Square footage is the measurement of a home’s interior living space and it’s one of the most important factors in determining a home’s value. Accurate measurements provide transparency, ensure fair pricing, and allow for apples-to-apples comparisons. They’re also an important selling point in marketing a home.

Homebuyers want to know how much space they're getting for their money, and accurate measurements can help entice potential buyers. By measuring the square footage accurately, realtors can price a home appropriately and ensure that both buyers and sellers are getting a fair deal. Inaccurate measurements or overestimating the square footage can lead to disappointed buyers and lower offers.

Getting the Numbers Right

Something as concrete as the square footage of your home doesn’t seem like it could be up for interpretation. You’re just working with numbers and basic math, so there should be one correct answer, right? Not necessarily.

Calculating a home’s square footage is complicated because there’s more than one way to do it. Understanding how a home was measured is essential for anyone thinking of buying or selling a home!

It helps to have a residential measurement standard to follow to ensure measurements are consistent and accurate. Many places don’t have standards in place but fortunately, Alberta isn’t one of them!

In Alberta, the real estate industry is required by RECA to follow the Residential Measurement Standard (RMS).

The RMS defines how to measure a home for the purpose of residential real estate listings. The standard applies to single-family homes, townhouses, duplexes, and condos. If you're looking to buy or sell a home in Alberta, understanding the RMS is crucial.

Understanding the Residential Measurement Standard (RMS)

The RMS is used to calculate the total area of a home’s livable space for real estate purposes.

This is a really important point!

A home’s square footage according to the RMS won’t necessarily equal the total square footage listed on an RPR, property title, or even on the blueprints. And for condos, the RMS square footage won’t equal the condominium registered unit size because it doesn't include parking spaces, storage units, and balconies.

Defining Livable Space

Livable space includes all usable rooms, closets, and hallways that are part of the main home. In general, the area must be livable all year, have walls and finished floors, be connected to a home’s electrical and heating systems, and have a ceiling that is at least 7 ft (2.13 m) high, though there are other specifics that can affect whether or not it should be included.

Any structures that are detached from the main home are not included in the RMS, even if they check all the other boxes. This includes detached garages or suites built above detached garages.

What's Included in the RMS

To really understand the RMS, it’s important to get familiar with a few key concepts and what they mean:

  • above or below grade
  • ceiling height
  • open areas with no floor

Above or Below Grade Levels

Let’s start by defining grade: it’s the level of the ground around a home’s exterior, whether horizontal, sloped, or both.

The RMS area of a home is the sum of its above-grade levels. This is an important point and it can cause a lot of confusion.

Below-grade levels, such as basements, are not included in the RMS area. In fact, if any portion of the level is below grade, the entire level is considered below grade! Examples of home styles with lower levels include raised bungalows, bi-levels, split levels, and properties with walkout or walk-up basements.

Image Courtesy of RECA

Ceiling Height

To be included in the RMS, a space has to have a minimum floor-to-ceiling height of 7 ft (2.13 m). If the ceiling is sloped, such as in an attic, the RMS includes the area with a floor-to-ceiling height of at least 5ft (1.52 m), but the ceiling needs to be 7 ft (2.13 m) somewhere in the room.

Image Courtesy of RECA

Open Areas With No Floor

The RMS doesn’t include open areas without a floor, such as vaulted areas or the part of an opening over a staircase that’s larger than the stair treads and landings.

Image courtesy of RECA

Additional Areas

The following areas are included in the RMS, so long as they meet all the necessary criteria:

  • extensions, cantilevers, bay and bow windows, and dormers, if they start at floor level and have a minimum floor-to-ceiling height of 5 ft (1.5 m)
  • enclosed sunrooms, porches, and garages that are attached and heated

Getting the Measurements Right

The first step in getting things right is choosing an experienced realtor who understands the RMS guidelines and will ensure your home is accurately represented!

Your home’s blueprints can be a great starting point for calculating the square footage of each area in the home. If you don’t have them, you can measure your home yourself, but it’s always a great idea to hire a professional.

The square footage of your home is an important factor in determining its value. The buyer’s lender may order an appraisal after their offer is accepted, and any discrepancies they find between your measurements and theirs can cause problems during the closing process. If the home is smaller than it was marketed at, you may have to lower the price to account for the lower square footage.

Or, if you’ve been marketing the house as smaller than it is, you’ve left money on the table, because the sales price could possibly have been higher.

Hiring a professional is the best and most reliable way to estimate square footage – it only costs about $150 to $400 and you’ll be confident you have accurate and official measurements.

What Happens if They're Wrong?

What if you discover that the home you just bought was supersized in the listing and you got less than you paid for?

If that’s the case, and you have the evidence to prove it, litigation could be an option. Be aware, however, that builder marketing materials and multiple listing service listings usually include disclosures somewhere in the fine print indicating the information provided is approximate or may not be accurate. You will also want to consider the total dollar amount on the line – the difference in size may not be worth the cost of taking legal action.

Square footage can be a useful way to compare homes and be sure you’re paying a fair price, and size matters, but remember - there’s more to the story when it comes to the size and layout of a home!

A large home with a poor layout may actually feel cramped and not very functional, while a smaller home with a well-laid-out floor plan may feel more spacious and comfortable. Or a smaller home that's well-designed with high-quality finishes and features may feel more luxurious than a larger home with outdated fixtures and finishes.

There are a lot of factors that make a house feel like a home, and many of them are intangible. If you really love a home’s design and floor plan, or it’s in the perfect location, or it just gives you a good vibe, the size shouldn’t necessarily be a deciding factor.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the residential measurement standards in Alberta is essential for anyone thinking of buying or selling a home! Knowing a home’s measurements are consistent and accurate gives you confidence a home is fairly priced and helps prevent misunderstandings and even possible legal disputes. If you’re selling a home, give yourself peace of mind by hiring a professional to measure your home, and always work with an experienced realtor who understands the RMS guidelines and will ensure your home is accurately represented. 

If you're thinking of buying or selling a house, reach out. At Alex Cowie Real Estate, we have years of experience so you can always count on us to get things right!

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