GLA - Buyer Beware

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GLA – Buyer Beware


One of the most important features of a home is its size, better known as GLA (Gross Living Area).   If you are in the market to own a new home, you should be aware of how GLA is reported on MLS (and related real estate websites) and by the town assessor. 

When you are acquiring a new home, you want to make very sure that you are A) able to get the correct above grade GLA (gross living area); and B) comparing apples to apples vs other homes when it comes to GLA.  Often times when a home is listed for sale, the GLA will include the living area from the basement in the total GLA for the home.  In fact, it’s common and an acceptable real estate sales practice.  However, Real Estate Agents should be disclosing this in the “Living Area Disclosures” section of the listing (ex. The GLA includes 500 sf of finished basement area, or something to that affect).  Most times, using Plymouth as an example, the GLA (gross living area) is taken directly from the Plymouth Assessor’s Field Card.  The total GLA reported on the Plymouth assessor’s field card (which is used for assessment purposes) includes basement finished space (check out their website Plymouth Assessor and see photo below:)

Plymouth Field Card

If you take the time to look at the assessor’s field card you will be able to see this, and also calculate the GLA breakdown for any house you are looking at including what the actual above grade GLA is.  Go to Plymouth Assessor to access Plymouth assessor’s field cards.  Once there, click on the INTERIOR tab, then click on the Building Sq. Footage tab. A graph of the living area breakdown will appear.  The first line on the graph is BMT (basement).  You will notice there is a Sketched Area and a Finished Area.  If there is a finished area, you want to note this and deduct it from the total SF of house (listed as Finished Area (SF) on summary page of field card).  This will give you the total Above Grade GLA.  Having this figure will help you compare apples to apples vs other comparable homes that have recently sold or are currently on the market.  See photo below:

Plymouth Field Card LGLA breakdown

The reason to consider doing this is simple: Is an 1,800 sf colonial listed as 2,500 sf on MLS, due to 700 sf of finished area in basement being included in the total GLA, a true apples to apples comparison vs a 2,500 sf colonial that includes no finished basement area?   Not to mention, often times the town’s reported square footage of basement finished area can be wrong and/or the finish quality of the basement area could be inferior to the rest of house.  Having the experience of personally measuring a 1,000+ properties throughout the south shore, I have seen this firsthand.  The above grade GLA listed by the town could also be wrong, but more frequently you will see an incorrectly reported basement finished area as it is generally tougher to calculate, plus you may have unpermitted finished space, etc.

Another item to look out for is when a property listed for sale includes finished basement space in the total GLA of that house, then in the GLA Disclosure section a statement saying it does not include the GLA from basement.  For example, the listing might even say there is an additional 700 sf in basement.  This is what I call “double-dipping”, and can be very misleading.  It is often seen in Raised-Ranches (split-levels) for one reason or another. 

The point is, if you are looking to own a new home, you may want to pay special close attention to the GLA that is reported and find out exactly what that includes (usually it is disclosed appropriately).  As a buyer, you want to be able to know precisely what you are buying (size wise), and again, be able to compare it to other properties appropriately when making a buying or selling decision. 

Another consideration is real estate appraisers separate living area into above grade GLA and below grade living area (basement) in appraisal reports.  They are two separate line items on an appraisal.  In fact, Fannie Mae, who essentially writes the appraiser rules for mortgage work, requires it.  They only allow deviation in the most unusual situations…which is a blog post for another time.  You want to avoid having any surprises two years after a purchase when you decide to refinance, and the appraiser reports a GLA hundreds of SF lower than what you thought it was due to the basement living area being separated from the above grade living space. 

The next time you are shopping around for a home, pay special attention to the GLA reported.  If you need to take that extra step by going to a town assessors’ website to view the property field card GLA breakdown, I would highly recommend doing so.  A resourceful Buyer’s Agent should be checking this stuff for you and pointing it out.  If you are extra cautious, bring a tape measure or laser measurer along with you when you are purchasing a home, and confirm some or all of the measurements yourself.


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