Home Buying in Land Park>Question Details

Guy, Home Buyer in Sacramento, CA

Official Square footage of a home?

Asked by Guy, Sacramento, CA Mon Apr 14, 2008

My wife and I have made an offer on a home in Land Park. (2br/1.5ba – 1700 sq ft) During the process, we have learned (through an appraisal we commissioned via angieslist.com) that one of the additions does not have any permits and the other only has partial permits. In addition, the appraiser told us that since one of the additions is an enclosed patio and the other is only accessible from an outside stairwell, it cannot be counted in the homes sq footage (reducing the sq ft to 1280 sq ft). My question is what determines the “official” square footage of a home? The seller’s agent tells us that the two additions are “grandfathered” in and should be counted as square footage.

Thank you.

Help the community by answering this question:


The appraiser is correct. The official square footage of a home is the amount reported in county assessors records. Small differences are usually ignored due to rounding when measuring. Large differences are researched and verified for correct measurements and permitted additions. It is part of the appraisers job (and regulation requirements) to measure the structure for accurate square footage and compare to what is recorded in county records. If no permits were issued or no final inspection by the building inspector was done, the additions cannot be included in the total square footage. If the additions were grandfathered in, it would be reflected in county records or the owner needs to provide proof that any additions have been approved and should be included in what is recorded. The selling agent (as Elizabeth stated) cannot pretend to be an appraiser and comment on what should be included in the square footage (or provide an value or value range for that matter - only an estimated selling or purchase price) unless they have an active appraiser license issued by the state, which can be verified on the state and national level.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sat Apr 19, 2008
I would suggest getting out a good measuring tape ( a laser measuring tool can be helpful, too) and some graph paper. Measure the entire house and then plot out the house plan on the graph paper in scale.
There are some nifty low cost computer programs that can be used instead of graph paper.

Add up all the enclosed square footage. then subtract out square footage that is not heated or cooled, ( screened patio), subtract out garage and carport footage. Compare this with the "official" square footage at the county and compare it to the claimed square footage from the seller. A small discrepancy such as 5 to 10 % could be explained away by measuring techniques and criteria. 1700 sq ft down to 1280 sq ft is a 25% drop (or 33% increase if you look at as going from 1280 SF to 1700 SF)

You mentioned what the sellers agent told you, and what the appraiser told you. but have not mentioned your buyers agent at all. If this is because you are working with the sellers (listing agent) agent when you view and offer on property, you have just provided one more example of why it is often a good idea to enlist the services of an agent to represent the buyer before the home shopping turns serious.

If you don't already have a buyers agent on the Land Park house, please consider using one of the Trulians such as Erin A. to be a buyers rep on your next search.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sat Apr 19, 2008
Jim Walker, Real Estate Pro in Carmichael, CA
Hi Guy,

If only the listing agent was upfront re the real sq. footage.. Good Luck on your new search.

0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Apr 22, 2008
Sometimes county records are in error. I represented a Buyer for a home listind as 1400+ sq ft. It did not seem like 1400 --more like 1080 or 1100! County records confirmed 1400+.

I mentioned this to our appraiser, and he confirmed that there was sq ft that could not be counted in the structure--there had been two porches enclosed that had ceilings too low to to count as living space. There was also a detached studio, accessed by a covered walkway, that was being counted.

The county had erroneously allowed this. The county confirmed the appraiser's findings, the Seller reduced the price to meet the appraisal, and the Buyer got more fair price.

To agree with previous answers, the inspection and the appraisal are done to benefit the Buyer and are paid for by the Buyer. You can choose any professional you want to deal with; however, in the case of the appraiser, it must be one that your lender will approve. Usually, in Washington State, the lender orders the appraisal and chooses the appraiser.

I hope this helps! Linda
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Apr 22, 2008
Guy - You're welcome.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Apr 22, 2008

Thank you for your answer. Other than the seller's agent, we (our appraiser, agent and me) all agree with your assessment that the property should not include those areas originally counted by the seller.

I did some research on the house and discovered that the "grandfather"ing in the additions is a myth if there was structural, electrical or plumbing done. As the City explained it, they have never made it a practice to grandfather anything in with the exception of "zoning" areas.

I also mentioned to the City building and permit folks that I spoke to that the county assessor has the property listed as 1700+ sq ft. I was told that the County doesn't care if the additions are legal as long as they can count it has taxable footage.

Lastly, I was happy that I called the City. They were really helpful and actually helped me discover more about the property than I was asking. They even faxed over old permits, maps and other helpful information.

In the end, we were too suspicious about what we didn't know about the house and the seller's agent was so rude, we moved on. It is a fine house, if you're willing to take on the risk of non-permitted additions.

Thanks again, David.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Apr 22, 2008

Thank you for following up. I truly appreciate your advice.

This is a confusing process. Our appraiser actually visited the City's building department and was only able to determine that the downstairs addition (enclosed patio) did not have a permit on record and the second story addition did not have a final permit. The appraisal indicated that the tax records confirmed the seller's square footage claim (1700 plus sq ft), but our appraiser said that only 1200+/- could be counted. It appears our appraiser could not use the additional space in his calculations due to its permit status of the enclosed patio and the location of the other addition that is only accessible via an outside staircase.

In any event, I plan to visit the City and see what they can tell me about the home.

Again, thank you for your help.


I think, and I am not 100% sure, that
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Apr 15, 2008
Hi Guy,

To elaborate on some of the other answers...the city and county records only go back so far. I sold a home that was built in the 1930's that had a 1960's era addition. The city had no records dating back that far, however the seller (who was the original owner - yes its true!), produced all of the records pertaining to the construction. I also once sold a commercial building that was built so long ago that the county assessor's records did not go back far enough for the buyer to research the original construction date of the building, which was and still is unknown.

So just to play devil's advocate, occasionally this information on older homes is just not readily available. You might consider paying a visit to the City Building Department offices (just off Richards Blvd) to do some Q&A regarding the process for future work on that property. They can pull the known permit history for the house and let you know if there are any holds on that parcel for new permits, or open permits that must be closed out. Also, you might contact an architect to review that process with you. Good luck to you! Whether you purchase that house or another one nearby, Land Park is a wonderful area!
Web Reference: http://www.erinattardi.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 14, 2008
Erin Stumpf…, Real Estate Pro in Sacramento, CA
Hey Guy,

The best thing for you to find out for sure is to go to the assessor's office of your City Hall.If the modifications were done with permits they should tell you and also if they have been grandfathered too. I have clients now that have encountered the same situation and we have gotten different numbers from MLS and from the appraiser until we went to City Hall and got the official number. Good luck.
Web Reference: http://www.leonardoteam.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 14, 2008
Hi Guy,

If I were in your shoes, I will follow the county records. If the square footage was grandfathered as the listing agent claimed, there should be a record. I dealt with this type of situation before and the city was able to pull the additional square footage that need not be permitted as it was not required during that time.
My biggest concern is the listing agent getting upset. It is your prerogative to hire your own inspector, appraiser. and other individuals that were not mentioned in the contract as "seller's choice". As far as I am concerned, the listing agent has not been forthcoming with her disclosures and this is one of the DRE
no-nos. Please have your agent negotiate the price on the official county/title square footage and if the sellers don't agree, consider it a blessing since the other party are not upfront in their disclosures.

Good Luck,
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 14, 2008
Thanks for letting us know what you know! It always helps us to hear others experiences.

But couldn't the county tell you the process to get it grandfathered in, or what it would take to get the 'final inspection' done now? I would think the biggest challenge is when it needed an inspection before the walls were put up. That would require you to maybe take some walls down and that would be terrible. It sounds like you just need the 'final' and maybe that wouldn't be so difficult.... Would love to hear how it turns out for you. Good job doing all the homework up front!
Web Reference: http://www.suearcher.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 14, 2008
Thank you Sue, Elizabeth and Laarni.

Our appraiser already visited the City to determine the permit status. However, he was unable to determine if it has been grandfathered in. The only thing I know for sure is that, based on the appraisal, no final inspection was performed.

This is our first house and I want to do everything possible to ensure we don't get ourselves into any permit issues should we decide to update the house down the road. I really appreciate your comments. The seller's agent was upset that we would get our own home inspector, appraiser, etc and that we didn't use real estate agent-friendly people.

You have restored my faith in agents.

Best regards.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 14, 2008
You can go to the county building office and they will give you all the specifics of what was permitted, what is considered as part of the square footage based on being grandfathered in, etc. Taxes will be assessed based on purchase price so it doesn't affect your taxes to be paid on a new purchase. However, when the person was building the addition, they would have had an increase in their tax assessment which is why they sometimes try to avoid getting permits. Find out how you can get the actual square footage corrected, what costs the county would charge to have the additions included (which may mean some inspections etc.) prior to buying if you can. The square footage will affect market value of the home for future resale, and many buyers do not want to consider homes with unpermitted areas.

Go directly to the 'source' (those that issue the permits) rather than relying on information from an appraiser or realtor, in this case. Whatever documentation you have on the remodeling done would be helpful in your discussion.
Web Reference: http://www.suearcher.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 14, 2008
Dear Guy,
Due to the current credit tightening, your appraiser might have gotten a new set of guidelines from the lender and being conservative on the total sq. footage. The accepted way is anything that is permitted so you may want to check with the county or through the preliminary title report on the square footage that is in the book. Unless there is a record that the additional (+,-)500 sq. footage, I will follow the county record.

Good Luck,
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 14, 2008
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