Home Buying in Reston>Question Details

Lf Morris, Home Owner in Reston, VA

What is the difference between square footage total finished and tax living area? Looking at condos in Reston, VA and I noticed different numbers.

Asked by Lf Morris, Reston, VA Sun Dec 19, 2010

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Tough question with a not so simple answer. When I started in this business over 20 years ago, we in northern Virginia did not use square footage, except in condos where we took the info from the tax record as a "guesstimate". If you talked with builders, there was no standard way to measure a home structure and each did it their own way. A number of years back there were discussions on developing a standard measurement - I don't believe it ever came to pass. Within the past couple of years, MRIS started to use the TLA from the local tax rerecords - is it correct; maybe and maybe not. Lots of good discussion here as to what it may be comprised of. So -- "deemed accurate, but, VERIFY".
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
Hi Lf Morris - The Tax Living Area is straight from the public tax records and usually input at the time that the property was built - the tax assessors don't visit the inside of a property again unless if there is a permit for an extension or something of that nature. Square footage normally does not include basements (which would not be relevant for condos).

The SQ Footage Total Finished - this may be the one that is input by the listing agent - I am not sure exactly how Trulia draws their data.

The important thing to remember is to take square footage with a grain of salt - don't base decisions solely on what either of these numbers says. There are many different nuances and rules for the calculation of square footage and everyone does it differently. The best thing to do is, if it's in the ballpark, take a look at the space and see how it feels.

Let me know if I can show you any of those condos - I am VERY familiar with Reston condos.

1 vote Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
My colleagues give you some excellent advice. If the property in question is an apt. style condo or even a townhome style condo...and you really are looking for solid numbers on square footage..I suggest going to the association and asking them. Typically they have floor plans available and can tell you the condo fee for say an "Aspen" model vs. a "Vale" model.

If you are trying to do a square footage comparison for pricing..I would not go too deep into it as there are certainly other variables with greater impact on price than square footage. Hope this helps and if you need some professional guidance feel free to contact me.

Kind Regards,

Erik J. Weisskopf, ABR,CDPE,CRS,GRI
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Dec 20, 2010
tax living area is only the first and second level of the home and does not includ the basement. Total finished square feet is all levels that are finished added together. Hope this helps 571-201-3204 call if I can show you anything.

0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
John Fitzgerald made an excellent point - condominium is a form of ownership where the condominium owner owns only the space within the walls, but NOT the building itself nor the land under the building.

Condominiums can be town houses and even single family homes - very different from Fee Simple form of ownership for a typical townhome or single family home.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
As a retired home builder, I can add one more element where government tax records go wrong: they are based on basic plans furnished for building permits. In a condo, if someone purchases, just for instance, the enclosed sun room option to convert the standard balcony, then, more often than not, the tax records will not reflect this option choice by the original purchaser. In a fee simple home, enclosing a breezeway or a porch, or buying the finished basement option, will frequently not show up as finished space in the tax records.

By the way, in Northern Virginia, there are at least two condominium single family detached home developments, and many town house developments.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
I agree with Kathy, and Sonal!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
Taxable square footage is any finished space above grade and would not include basements (even if it's not completely undeground). The same thing happens with appraisals.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
Lf Morris,

You may also want to keep in mind that some builders count the square footage of 2 story Entry Foyers and Family Rooms TWICE ( as the main floor and then the upper level, even though the upper level is not an actual living space) and report it as such in the tax records.

A better way is to measure the rooms (especially bedrooms) and compare with other floor plans - furniture should fit comfortably, assuming the correct use of the rooms.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
Hi LF Morris

One thing to note right off the bat is the tax living area is auto filled by the system from the public tax record, but the square footage total finished is filled in by the Realtor therefore it is not as exact. These numbers are typically similar but sometimes an agent knows from the Owner that the tax records are wrong (Government wrong what a shock) and enters the correct info in the system. You will also see many times square footage total as zero as some agents are concerned about being accused of misrepresenting it so they just put nothing.

Hope this helps. Are you currently working with a Realtors in your search. Perhaps he/she can better explain the differences in a specific listing. If not forward me the address of an actual listing and I will see what I can find out.

Kathy Stark
Weichert, Realtors
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
In most cases, the "tax living area" includes the finished square footage on the main 2 living areas of the home, ie: the kitchen/family room level plus the bedroom level, but not including any finished square footage in the basement. However with a condo, which is normally only 1 level, they should be about the same.

Keep in mind, often times the tax records are incorrect, but then again so are listing that are entered by the listing agent.

If you have any specific examples, feel free to reply or send me an email at matte@kw.com and I'd be happy to do some due diligence for you. I live and work in Reston.

All the best,

Matt Elliott
Town and Country Group
Keller Williams
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
Total square footage and tax living area should be the same however if the home has 2 story open space or was added on to, there can be a variance between the 2 numbers. Typically, the tax records are very accurate if the home is new but if it has been expanded and not reported through a building permit from county, there can be a difference. Hope this helps! Check out my website at http://www.michelegibson.com for more helpful tips and real estate search engines.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
Don't even try to use the square footage numbers in the MLS or tax records as a gauge for buying a condo or home. There are lots of inaccuracies in both sets of numbers. Total square footage finished can include storage spaces, garages, attic, etc and living just actual living spaces. Also if a property has multiple levels the tax living may only include "above" ground space and a basement isn't included. Focus on whether the condo you are considering meets your needs for size, amenities, terms, conditions etc.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Dec 19, 2010
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