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4 tips to get accurate square footage measurements

accurate square footage measurements couple looking at house plans

You may be surprised to learn that there are no official national standards for square footage reporting in Canada. As a result, you cannot always rely on the square footage measurements provided by a real estate agent or a listing. We all recognize that buyers need to receive accurate square footage measurements.  Also, sellers need to ensure that information is available for interested parties. However, finding this information from accurate sources is a difficult task.

These four tips can help consumers and agents understand how to measure square footage.  It will also help you understand where to find accurate square footage measurements and how to get proper assessments of a property.

1. No measurement is perfect

accurate square footage measurements house plans

Kevin Klages, co-founder and CEO of Planitar, a company whose 3D technology solutions  help to measure built space, argues that no measurement can be genuinely “accurate.” Klages says that when it comes to property measurement, there is no such thing as accuracy. “If you get 20 engineers to go out to a property, they will come back with 20 different measurements.” Klages notes that these engineers may be within a range of one another, but that properties are not always perfect and walls are not always 90 degrees. “The numbers will always be a little bit different,” he says.

Klages argues that we should be concerned with getting consistent measurements so that we can reasonably compare homes. To get these consistent measurements, a seller or buyer may use technology intended to provide accurate square footage measurements. Many Realtors have already invested in the Planitar technology, called iGuide. It is a tool that makes 3D virtual tours of a home and measures the square footage.

If you are going to invest in measurement technology, make sure it is capable of producing fine measurements. At 99.6%, the iGuide has a very high confidence ratio. Be sure to question the real estate agent about what they are using and what the technology measures.  Klages warns, “a number that isn’t substantiated is meaningless.”

2. Hire a professional to measure. Seriously

accurate square footage get professional help blueprints

Klages suggests that agents learn how to take their own measurements by walking around a property with a laser measurement or measurement tape to record each wall.  Graph paper is also requires in order to note the information they capture. A buyer could do the same, even during an open house.

However, Ron Usher, lawyer and notary in B.C. with a great deal of real estate experience, argues that if square footage is a key issue for you, its best to hire a professional company to measure your prospective home. “I like what they’ve done in Alberta with a measuring standard they’ve put out that’s very helpful,” said Usher. “But the key thing is, and this is to do with any aspect of a real estate purchase, if there’s something that is really important to you, then you need to get it verified by a professional.”

3. Watch out with new-builds

accurate square footage new builds

Did you buy a new property that was just recently constructed? A natural fear could be that there is no building to measure yet. Bob Aaron, experienced Toronto real estate lawyer warns that sales material is not part of a legal agreement. You cannot hold a developer to any promises they make unless those promises are in the contract. On his blog, Aaron reminds potential buyers that they should ensure the home contract holds details of everything they expect from their home.

He writes that he has developed three rules.  No other rules are necessary.

  1. Get it in writing.
  2. Get it in writing.
  3. Get it in writing.

You get the picture.

4. Beware of price adjustment clauses

You may have your square footage in writing.  But a price adjustment clause usually allows developers to land beneath the total square footage by as much as 15%, with no discount to you. This clause also allows the builder to land up to 15% above the agreed square footage, a size increase you have to match with your wallet. Of course, the percentages will vary based on your specific contract.

Usher cites a case where his client’s condo builder added additional square footage as a thin balcony surrounding the living room’s high ceiling. This space was unusable and the homeowner was not interested in it.  They still had to pay thousands of dollars more for the additional square footage. Usher’s final advice is to be wary of price adjustment clauses and employ an experienced legal professional to help you understand the specifics of the contract. Buying your home is the most expensive and critical purchase of your life, so don’t cut corners when trying to get an accurate square footage measurement. 

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Ellysa Chenery

Ellysa has a Master's Degree in English Literature from the University of Toronto. You can find her in the wilderness with her tenacious dog.