The answer to that question depends on the kind of home you own, whether it is a condo or a single family and who and how they measure it. Sounds confusing? It is. Let's start with a set of plans which are usually drawn by home designers with CAD expertise and not architects who are required to measure according to specific standards. Popular websites and glossy magazines on the rack identify the square footage of each floor of the plan which need to be converted to Alaska structural standards. One significant discrepancy amongst designers and even home appraisers is how stairwells are calculated. Some count the first floor square footage of the stairwell if it is used for a closet or nook with or without a discount for the low ceiling. Some also add the landing, if there is one. Others will or will not count the opening on the second floor. I've seen square footage vary on the same home by 100 square feet as measured by the designer and different appraisers. This has occurred after the homes have actually been built.

     Plans are submitted to the Municipality of Anchorage for approval. They are valued by the square footage cost of improvements as established by the MOA. The value may vary based upon the reviewer. Pop-outs and cantilevers may or may not be measured. Field changes due to excavation, i.e. the discovery of a potential daylight basement may or may not have a change order. We've recently had a field change where the builder added a cantilever on the second and third floor which resulted in an additional 92 square feet. This square footage most likely won't show up five years from now in MOA records when today's buyer goes to sell the home which is why the square footage in the tax records is not always accurate. In another instance, we recently had a discrepancy of 50 square feet between the MOA taxed assessed footage and a physically measured property by a certified appraiser. In this case, the MOA square footage was actually larger than the appraiser's physical measurements due to a discounted garage pop-out. At current values of $200 per square foot, that difference in value was worth $10,000.

     Single family homes are measured outside wall to outside wall. Theoretically, condos are measured paint to paint, as required by the Horizontal Regime Act. However, we recently saw two identical condos in the same community identified in Multiple Listing Service with a discrepancy of 120 feet. The difference? A disclaimer at the bottom of the flyer by the builder stating how he was calculating his measurements. This builder was reputable enough to identify he was measuring outside wall to outside wall rather than paint to paint. Others may not be so forthright.

     In most areas of the lower 48, garages are included in the square footage of the home. Not so in Alaska. When you are quoted square footage by your realtor or builder, it should only be for the actual living area of the home. Ceiling height is not part of the square footage. Today, builders are building ceilings that are eight, nine, ten, eleven, or twelve feet high. However, there is no "added" value as calculated by MLS in price per square foot. Sheet rockers and builders, however, are well aware of the added cost of volume which has become a "must-have" for many buyers. Take a guess as to which has more value: a two-story living room ceiling or a lower ceiling with a bedroom above? The way measurements are done today, it's the extra bedroom. What do buyers want? The two-story ceiling.

     So how important is square footage? Very. MLS currently identifies the cost per square foot as one of its fields. Realtors doing comparative market analysis use low square footage cost as a selling point, disregarding vertical value and other added amenities as well as the overall general condition of the home. It's a mistake for all of us in the industry to use square footage as the benchmark of value.