Deceptive advertising - Including Garage SF in Home SF in the MLS?

Asked by Douglass Mcneil, Palo Alto, CA Sun Nov 17, 2013

I notice a lot of homes in PA (particular remodels and new homes via tear downs properties) include the garage SF in the home SF. From the description in the MLS, it's not clear whether the agent is including the the garage SF or not. You can't rely on the county records, because often it hasn't been updated before the home is listed. It's only after I visit the property (or read the disclosures) where I understand the true #s.

Question: Isn't this deceptive advertising? Aren't there regulations that prevent agents from doing this?

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Juliana Lee…, Agent, Palo Alto, CA
Wed Nov 20, 2013
The numbers may not be intentionally deceptive. Most older homes take the square footage from the assessor's records which gives the living space. New homes may not have accurate assessor records but do have a permit issued for enclosed space which provides the larger number. Seldom does an agent want to make themselves liable for measuring and reporting a number. They want to provide whatever official records are available. Look at the reported source for the numbers.

When judging a home you always want to visit it and not just to verify the "facts". Usable space can vary tremendously from home to home even if they have comparable numbers. Number only provide a starting point.

Palo Alto home values can be viewed at

Juliana Lee
Top 2 agent nationwide at Keller Williams Realty, the nations largest
Cell 650.857.1000

Over 20 years experience
Over 1,000 homes sold in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County
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Marcy Moyer, Agent, San Ramon, CA
Sun Nov 17, 2013
What Terri says is correct. There are often notes in the agent's portion of the MLS that give an explanation of the square footage differences between county and or city records and what is actually there. As far as illegal or against regulations the key is the term "living space." If someone says square footage, they may mean any square footage with a ceiling or roof, so that could mean, garage, basement, and or the actual home. If the term is square foot of living space it is only supposed to mean the space in the house, not the basement or garage. It is very common in Woodside, Atherton, and Portola Valley where the lots are large enough to have guest houses, 5 car garages, and barns for the mls to say 10,000 sq ft under the sq ft data and then in the agent notes say 6000 sq ft home, 750 sq foot guest house, and 3250 sq foot garage. As long as the 10K sq ft is explained they are probably ok.

City, county, and appraisal records for square footage are rarely the same, so if square footage is important to you do not rely on what you see on the mls, in an ad, or what comes out of the listing agent's mouth. While people have won law suits over square footage mistakes, that is not really a productive use of anyone's time.

Since you have been looking for a home for a while I am sure you have seen that not all agents are equal in their descriptions of properties. Since there is a lot of leeway, do your research. I realize it means kissing a lot of frogs before you find the prince, but unfortunately there are no shortcuts, unless you are using a really great agent for yourself.

Marcy Moyer
Keller Williams Realty Palo Alto
Cal BRE 01191194
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Thanks Marcy. But in the Palo Alto examples I provided below, there is no breakdown of the living space and garage square footage. Unless it was in the agent notes that I can't see. Definitely not in the general description.
Flag Mon Nov 18, 2013
Douglass Mcn…, Home Buyer, Palo Alto, CA
Sun Nov 17, 2013
Thanks for the perspectives.

Let me provide a specific examples over the past 6 months:……………

Each of the above homes are i) new construction from teardowns; and ii) have the garage SF included in the SF. Sometimes the MLS listing has a reference to the garage (often ambiguous); other times there is no mention at all. County tax records were not up to date (numbers were for the original teardown property).

I recently attended an open house for 3377 Ross in Palo Alto.

The property is described as 2860 SF (no mention of garage SF included in the 2860). When I spoke with the listing agent at the open house, she acknowledged that the garage SF was included in the advertised SF. She justified it b/c it is a "generally accepted practice" to include garage SF in new construction. Really?

She said the SF breakdown was all in the disclosures, etc. So I doubt someone actually buying the home wouldn't know all the facts before closing.

Nonetheless, I still find the practice a bit deceptive...
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Stu Carson, Agent, San Jose, CA
Sun Nov 17, 2013

Well, I just spent over an hour researching this question. The MLS Regulations state that there will be financial penalties for putting deceptive or misleading information into the MLS. And for each offense the fine increases. So is including garage space in the listing's total sqft misleading?

I would yes, because of the following facts:
- The standard practice for the county is to include livable space not space allocated for parking
- The standard practice for 98%+ of Realtors in this area has been and continues to be to not include the garage, even if it has been converted to living space, unless that conversion was permitted by the city or county.
- There have been law suits in CA filed by Buyers that bought a home and later found out the advertised sqft of the home was grossly inaccurate. Grossly to me would be anything beyond 5% of total sqft, because such a deviation would have a significant impact on value.

Our MLS regulations and other overseeing entities need to make the answer to this question easier to reference. As part of the "Luxury and Country Team of KW" vision to play a role in redefining professionalism in the practice of Real Estate, I have already contacted the appropriate folks to make our standards for accurate listing of sqft very clear.

If you are thinking about Buying or Selling.. HIRE the Best! The right Realtor can make all the difference.

Stu Carson
"Luxury and Country" Team Leader
Keller Williams Realty
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Terri Vellios, Agent, Campbell, CA
Sun Nov 17, 2013
Many agents will allow the information from the Tax Records to auto populate the MLS. Then in the comments or agent private comments will make mention of any variance. The reason could be that certain items may be non conforming without permits and the listing agent doesn't want to waive a flag for a possible "red tag" by the city.

Now that isn't always the case. Some agents do take certain liberties, and as much as we would like them to be as accurate as possible, it can be a challenge. However, sq. ft. of unpermitted and non-livable space should not be listed in the MLS in the total sq. ft. Agents are not to report incorrect information and sometimes the information they use comes from a source other than them, and they do not verify that information. That is why you always see disclaimers for Buyers to investigate to their own satisfaction.
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John P. Lauer, Agent, Palo Alto, CA
Sun Nov 17, 2013

I am glad you always do your due diligence as a Buyer. Listing Agents usually reference the source of the Square Feet numbers, whether from the City or County, or Seller.

Of course there are laws and regulations that apply to deliberately deceptive advertising.

Please make an appointment with me to serve your Real Estate needs. My Clients always come first.

John Lauer, Realtor
Keller Williams - Palo Alto
650.387.6378 Cell
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