Real Estate 101

4 tips to get accurate square footage measurements

How does a buyer or seller get their hands on accurate square footage measurements? We'll tell you
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As there are no official national standards for square footage reporting in Canada, relying on the square footage measurements provided by a real estate agent or listing could end in disaster. Buyers need to receive accurate square footage measurements, and sellers need to ensure that information is available for any interested parties. However, finding this information from sources that have accurate information is always the difficult task.

These four tips can help consumers and agents understand how to measure the square footage, where to find accurate square footage measurements and how to get proper assessments of the property done.

1. No measurement is perfect

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While it may seem counter-intuitive, Kevin Klages, co-founder and CEO of Planitar, a company that intends to find solutions 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 all come back with 20 different measurements.” Klages also 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.

Instead, 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 this technology, provided by Planitar. The iGuide, a tool that makes 3D virtual tours of a home and measures the square footage, is only one example. If you are going to invest in this technology, make sure it is capable of producing fine measurements. Unlike many other technologies, the iGuide it has a very high confidence ratio of 99.6%. When using such technology, be sure to question the real estate agent about what they or the technology measures. As Klages warns, “a number that isn’t substantiated is meaningless.”

2. Hire a professional to measure. Seriously

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During a presentation to Toronto-area Realtors, Klages suggests the agents learn how to take their own measurements by walking around a property with a laser measurement or measurement tape to record each wall, and graph paper to note the information they find. 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

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Perhaps you are buying 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 also writes that he has developed three rules and that 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. Consider a price adjustment clause

Though you may have your square footage in writing, 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. Though this was unusable space the homeowner wasn’t interested in, 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 foot measurement. 

Ellysa Chenery
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.