I grew up in a one-story ranch home with a large finished basement. We have two bedrooms on the first floor, which share a full bathroom, and a guest room in the basement which also had access to its own full bath. A nice, suburban 3 bedroom home, right?
Wrong. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the group that defines home appraisal standards, only counts bedrooms that are above grade. What does above grade mean? As one appraiser put it:
“[I]f you put your foot on the floor of any given level and any portion of that floor is below the grade of the ground, it is considered below grade space.”
That means that my family home can only list 2 bedrooms if we sell our house. If you have a split level and part of your bedroom is underground, that can’t be counted either.
The rules for bedrooms get even more specific. It must be of “adequate size” – defined as more than 90 or 100 square feet depending on who you ask. It must also have adequate access a full bathroom. Adequate access is a fuzzy metric, but by most standards that means the bathroom must be on the same floor as as the bedroom, so that attic bonus room with a half-bath can’t be counted as a bedroom. Likewise, there can’t be another room, save a hallway, between the bedroom and the bathroom for it to count.
A lot of these same rules apply to determining the square footage of a home. ANSI defines the finished area of the home as “an enclosed area in a house suitable for year-round use, embodying walls, floors, and ceilings that are similar to the rest of the house.” Not terribly helpful.
As a general rule, below grade space, finished or unfinished, doesn’t count in the total area of the home, so while your large finished daylight basement may be a big selling point of the house when buyers come for a showing, it won’t be counted in your total square footage on the MLS listing. The same goes for garages and porches; unless you could comfortably spend all your time in the room in both the middle of the summer and the middle of the winter, it won’t be counted towards your finished squared footage.
In Georgia, real estate agents aren’t allowed to make their own assessments of a home’s size for the listing. We have to rely on builder documentation, an appraisal, or the tax record for that information. When we help our clients sell their Atlanta area homes, we always ask for this documentation before we put the home on the market.
If you have a large home but are concerned that a lot of your space won’t “count” in your listing, don’t worry – buyers focus a lot more on the listing photos than on the home details when deciding whether to visit the property, and there are no rules on what spaces we can show in the photos. Just one more reason that Properly includes professional photography and walk-through video for every single listing. Even when we can’t legally include that basement game room in your home’s square footage, we can still show off that massive pool table to draw in buyers.
Disclaimer: None of the above is meant to represent legal advice. If you need an official measure of the size of your home, hire an appraiser or refer to the builder’s documentation on your home.