The Commission regularly receives inquiries and complaints about the measuring of square footage in properties listed or being listed for sale. Accuracy in measuring is critical because the amount of space in a structure has a bearing on value and functionality and is a material fact. Thus, the task of assessing square footage should be one of the most important in the process of market evaluation.
Following are questions typically asked of Commission staff. Read these and the answers that follow to test and review your knowledge of this topic.
Q. Have there been changes to Commission rules on the reporting of square footage?
A. The Commission has no specific rules on this topic. However, it does have rules about misrepresentation which can result from inaccurate measuring. It also has educational information in the form of the Residential Square Footage Guidelines – a booklet which provides instruction in measuring different types of floor plans in residential properties – and content in postlicensing courses on the topic. All of this is available on the Commission’s website, www.ncrec.gov.And, if questions still arise, you can call the Commission.
Q. I am the listing agent. Am I required to report the square footage?
A. The Commission doesn’t require it, but if you decide to report the square footage, it must be correct. Furthermore, your MLS may require it. To avoid problems, obtain the correct square footage yourself or obtain the services of a licensed appraiser.
Q. Is it okay to use tax records of square footage as a source?
A. No. Review the tax records, but never rely on them for this information. If you find that the square footage of the property differs from the information on the tax records, there may be a permit or other issue to be resolved.
Q. If I do not measure the property myself, must I get an appraiser to do it?
A. No, but appraisers are generally a very good source because they are typically trained and experienced in measuring. The Commission will normally allow a broker to rely on a licensed appraiser’s current measurement as long as that reliance is reasonable and there was no red flag to alert the broker to a problem. Regardless of who does the measuring, the broker should keep the measurements on file in the event of questions or problems arising.
Q. Is it okay to use an old appraisal?
A. No. Do not use an old appraisal or an old MLS listing description since there may have been changes to the property at a later date.
Q. What happens if I make a mistake in measuring, or report the wrong square footage for any reason?
A. According to NC General Statute 93A-6, the Commission has the authority to take disciplinary action against a licensee who makes any willful or negligent misrepresentation or pursues a course of misrepresentation through advertising or otherwise. Therefore, if the square footage is wrong, the listing agent and firm may be held responsible. In addition, the broker-in-charge is responsible for all advertising, so he or she may also be the subject of disciplinary action. The Commission looks at many facts when assessing these types of cases.
• Why was the square footage wrong?
• Who measured, and was he/she qualified?
• Can the measurements/sketch be reproduced by the broker?
• How much harm was done to the consumer?
• How far off were the measurements; was it a significant amount or negligible?
• Was the property unusually difficult to measure?
• Did the listing agent rely on square footage from tax records?
• Should the buyer’s agent have recognized a significant difference and checked the measurements?
• When/why was the mistake made and was it corrected?
The bottom line, though, is that the listing broker, firm and broker-in-charge, and maybe even the buyer agent could be at risk of disciplinary action by the Commission for misrepresenting square footage.
Q. Assuming I do discover an un-permitted section of the house, is it okay to include it in the overall square footage?
A. Include it separately and make the parties aware of it. As a listing agent, be sure not to misrepresent the property and/or mislead the buyer. The buyer needs to be made aware of the un-permitted section’s size and location in the dwelling. It’s best to provide written disclosure and maintain a copy in the file. The un-permitted section must be separately identified. Document your disclosures for future reference.
This article came from the February 2015-Vol45-3 edition of the bulletin.