Home ImprovementSelling November 28, 2022

How to Figure Out Your Home’s Square Footage—and Why It Matters

One of the first questions a potential buyer will have about any home after learning its location and price is the square footage. Square footage is the easiest way to indicate the size of the home, and it’s the best way to gauge whether it’s a fit for your family.

Of course, homes don’t come with this number stamped across their sides, and in fact, not all real estate listings have an accurate square footage listed. Read on to learn how to find or calculate the square footage of your home and what that means for potential resale.

Finding Your Square Footage

Your home’s square footage can be easily found in a few different places—no measuring required—if you know where to look.

“The Assessor’s Office in a given town typically has this on what’s called a field card, but homeowners may also be able to get that information from the Town Building Department,” says Dawn Ruffini, 2022 President at Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

In other parts of the country, these officers might be referred to as the property appraiser, county recorder, or a fiscal office. If you’re unsure, you can call your country or city officials and ask who might have this record on file.

If you’re about to sell your home or curious about the square footage of a home you’re looking to buy, start by asking your real estate agent for help.

“As a Realtor, I often use the MLS [multiple listing service] to look up a home,” says Lauryn Dempsey, Realtor at Lauryn Dempsey Real Estate. “In the MLS, we can see property tax information, which includes square footage. This information is connected to Core Logic’s public records database, Realist.”

Typical or average square footage will vary widely based on where you are. Ruffini works in Massachusetts, where the average square footage for homes sold in the last year was 1,654 square feet. Dempsey works in Denver, Colorado, where the average size of a home is based on when it was built. She says homes built in the 1950s and 1960s average anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet, while new two-story builds range from 2,500 to 3,500 square feet. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median size of single-family homes completed in 2021 was 2,273 square feet.

How to Calculate Your Home’s Square Footage

While there could be a few places where your square footage is listed, it’s not always accurate.

“As a good listing practice, especially in the dynamic real estate market that we have today, I recommend agents get their listings measured by an appraiser so that the home can be advertised with accurate square footage,” Dempsey says.

To get a more accurate number, your best bet is to hire a licensed appraiser who can come in and measure, Dempsey says. Bret Ceren, an associate broker at Platinum Living Realty, says that some home improvement stores may even offer a service that will come out and measure your home’s square footage for a nominal fee.

You can calculate your own square footage by measuring the size of each room and adding it all up, but those calculations likely won’t count for anything official. Ruffini even cautions against measuring your home’s square footage on your own. (Of course, if you’re measuring it out of curiosity and don’t need that square footage number for anything official, measure away.)

“As far as I’m aware, the town wouldn’t take an owner’s calculated square footage without verifying it themselves,” she says.

That’s because appraisers follow a standard practice of measurement set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). These standards also require that property renderings and dimensions be computer generated rather than hand drawn.

Keep in mind there are parts of your home that don’t factor into your overall square footage.

“Basements do count in square footage, however, not all square footage is equal,” Dempsey says. “Above grade—the main level and higher—square footage is worth more than below grade, a basement.”

Dempsey says that, if two ranch homes are each 1,500 square feet but one has a basement that accounts for half of that square footage and one does not, the home without the basement will be considered more valuable: Its larger above-grade space is more valuable.

The types of square footage that count is different based on where you live, Ceren says. In Arizona, the calculation is called “under roof,” meaning square footage totals are part of the main home. If a sunroom is fully enclosed with windows and ventilated, it would count. But an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) that was separate from the main home would not. In short, make sure you understand how your area does its calculations so you know how much house you’re dealing with.

Why Does Square Footage Matter?

The more space your home has, the more it will likely sell for. But keep in mind that not every family wants a mansion, and some buyers are looking to downsize to a smaller, more manageable home, depending on their stage in life.

“Square footage is like Goldilocks,” Dempsey says. “Too little square footage or too much square footage could mean you’re making another move sooner than if you find the right amount. When I work with buyers, I ask them to imagine what their life looks like in three to five years. This helps them understand and begin to visualize how much space they need and want.”

Regardless of how much space you want, it’s safe to say that the larger the property, the higher the cost.

“Every square foot adds value,” Dempsey says.

More space could also mean higher taxes. When you update your square footage with the local agencies in your area, you will likely see a change in what you owe each year. Additional square footage (even if it’s from correcting an inaccurate measurement) improves the home, Dempsey says, and reported improvements increase taxes.

One square footage–related trend to keep in mind is that a number of Americans are working remotely from home now. As a result, many buyers are looking for homes that offer quite work spaces in addition to bedrooms and living spaces, Dempsey says—and those additional desires often mean buyers are looking for more square footage.

“I don’t see that trend changing for the foreseeable future due to our new working environment,” she says. “In fact, many of my buyers need two offices and a space for out-of-state guests to stay comfortably for an extended period of time.”