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Is It Gross Living Area or Not?

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Every now and then I like to write about gross living area. (GLA) There are several reasons for this. First, it is often the sole metric by which people, who are not appraisers, use to estimate the value of their home.

Second, while appraisers adjust for other features of a home, gross living area is often one of the most important factors when it comes to value.

Clearly, getting the GLA right is important. Many times, when there is a value dispute, it has to do with a homeowner thinking they have more GLA than they really do. Let’s talk about some specific areas of a home and whether they are  considered to be gross living area. Many appraisers, including myself, use the American National Standard for Single-Family Residential buildings. Specifically, the ANSI Z765-2013 edition, for which the following information is taken from.

AREAS OPEN TO MULTIPLE FLOORS

In many homes, areas of the first floor are open to the second floor. Meaning that on the upper level, there is no floor in these areas, because they overlook the areas of lower level(s). This is common in foyer areas as well as in great rooms. Sometimes public records will include these areas of the second floor, in their second-floor square footage.

Upper Areas Open To Lower Levels Are Not Included In The Upper Level’s GLA

When public records include these upper areas that are open to lower levels, in their GLA, it can be problematic when it comes to the comparable sales used in developing an opinion of value. What if the comparable sales also have areas that are like this, and public records as well as the MLS, include these areas in their GLA reporting?

In these cases, appraisers rely heavily upon MLS interior photos and public records, including sketches from the assessor if available, to determine if the homes being used as a comparable sales, have these types of areas. 

We must report the subject’s accurate GLA in our report. Since we cannot go into the homes of the comparable sales we are using to develop our opinion of value, we must report the GLA of these sales, as reflected in the MLS, public records or other reliable data sources. In this case, an appraiser may decide to only make GLA adjustments based upon a portion of the comparable sale’s reported GLA, or find other sales that do not have these types of areas.

In my experience, when appraising a home with these kinds of “open below” areas, the comparable sales are likely to have similar situations in their design. Ideally, I like to use comparable sales that I have measured, possibly from a previous appraisal. Of course, that’s usually not possible.

If I can find sales with a very similar floor plan, like in a development where the builder has a select number of models they build, sometimes it’s easier to determine if the areas of square footage that are open below are similar. However, when appraising luxury homes, the floor plans are usually custom. So, finding something very similar in layout is unlikely. Whatever the case, the point is that appraisers must address this situation, and do our best to reflect the market, while at the same time providing accurate data on the subject’s gross living area.

THREE SEASON ROOMS

There is a reason these types of rooms are described as “three seasons” rooms. In colder climates, they can be enjoyed most of the year. Some three season rooms are decked out with all sorts of amenities and may even have walls, floors and ceilings that are like the rest of the house, in terms of finish. However, if these rooms are not heated and suitable for year-round use, they are not included in the gross living area. 

FINISHED ATTICS

Finished & Heated Attics Can Be Included In GLA

Finished attics are common in many areas. For them to be included in the GLA, they must be heated. If an attic, is heated and finished, is the entire attic area included in the GLA? No. How much of the area can be included? ANSI Z765-2013 standards state that we must measure five feet up from the floor to where the ceiling slopes.

We do not include the areas of floor space, where the ceiling height of the sloping ceiling is less than five feet, in the GLA. 

Furthermore, at least one-half of the finished floor area must have seven feet of ceiling height. What if the attic has less than seven feet of ceiling height? When it comes to ceiling height, there are a few other qualifiers. While the ceiling height generally needs to have a minimum of seven feet, there are several exceptions. For instance, areas under beams, ducts and other obstructions, the ceiling height may be six feet four inches. Furthermore, there are no specified height requirements for areas under stairs.

Keep in mind that the market may be considering this area to be GLA, even though it does not meet ANSI Standards. This area can be given value. However, if the appraiser is using ANSI Standards, then the value would be addressed separately from the GLA.  

WALK-OUT BASEMENTS

I always get a comment or two about basements when I mention that they are not considered in the GLA. So, let me just say that yes, there are times when a finished walk-out basement may be included in the GLA. For instance, in areas where a home might be on a mountain or cliff, it may be common for the below grade finished area to be included in the GLA. There may be other unusual situations where finished below grade areas are included in the GLA. However, usually they are not.

Generally, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac consider GLA to be finished and heated areas that are completely above grade. (Above ground) Having a walk-out entrance does not automatically mean that the below grade, or partially below grade area qualifies as gross living area.

STAIRS

What about stairs? Are they included in the GLA? The answer is yes! In the first photo above, where you see the area of the first floor that is open to the second floor, the stairs are included in the GLA. What about stairs that descend to an unfinished basement? Even these stairs are included in the GLA, “regardless of the degree of finish of the stairs or the degree of finish of the area around the stairs”, according to ANSI Z765-2013.

AREAS NOT CONNECTED TO THE MAIN HOUSE

What about finished and heated areas that are not connected to the home?

Finished & Heated Area Over Garage

For instance, what if the home has an apartment or heated and finished room of some kind over a detached garage? Or, what if the apartment is over an attached garage, but the only way to access it is by going outside of the main dwelling’s living area?

Any heated and finished area that is not connected to the main dwelling, is not included in the GLA. That’s not to say that these areas do not add value. However, the additional square footage cannot be reported as being part of the subject’s gross living area. The value of these areas is addressed separately from the GLA. That’s good to know if you’re pricing a home based upon its gross living!

What if the apartment or other finished and heated area is attached by a continuous heated and finished area, like a hallway or staircase? In that case, this additional area can be included as part of the main dwelling’s GLA.

BUMP OUTS

Many homes have areas that extend out from an exterior wall. Are these areas included in the GLA?

This window extends away from the exterior wall, but has no floor area.

It depends. If the area that extends away from the wall does not have floor area, it is not included in the GLA. Some homes have areas that extend out from the exterior wall, and offer a cozy little built-in seat, where one can sit and enjoy the view. This area is not included in the GLA unless the window extends to the floor. A built-in seat, like you see in the picture on the right, would not constitute GLA. For an area like this to be included in the GLA, it must have a floor. Therefore, when measuring areas that protrude away from the house, and that do not have a floor, the wall would be measured straight across the area, as if it were not bumped out.

Fireplaces

What about fireplaces? Many homes have fireplaces that extend out away from the exterior wall. Are these areas included in the GLA? When measuring an exterior wall that has an area in which the fireplace protrudes away from the exterior wall, this area is not included in the GLA, just like the picture window with no floor, fireplaces are measured the same way. However, any portion of the fireplace that is inside of the exterior wall, is included in the gross living area.

 

I hope that this post is helpful to you if you’re trying determine whether an area is considered to be gross living area or not. Here is a little video I made a couple of years ago that may be helpful. 

Have a great weekend everyone! Be safe out there! 


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Here are some links to other articles I’ve enjoyed recently! I hope you will also…

We Welcome Danielle DiMartino Booth! – Voice of Appraisal With Phil Crawford

Housing Forecast Accuracy We All Aspire To –  Housing Notes by Jonathan Miller

Photos in Gated Communities Can Be Tricky – Dustin Harris on AppraiserBlogs

Hikia “Coco” Dixon is creating a creative labyrinth inside the 5th Street Arcades – Jen Jones Donatelli of FreshWater

Who’s Hiring in the #CLE: Zygote Press, Metropolitan at the 9, Cleveland Restoration, and more – Dana Shugrue of FreshWater

Can it count in the square footage? – Sacramento Appraisal Blog 

Why Is My Home Appraisal Taking So Long? – Birmingham Appraisal Blog

AMC Fined for Appraisal Order Blast Violation – APPRAISAL TODAY

  • Photo credit to Upsplash & Pexels

2 thoughts on “Is It Gross Living Area or Not?”

    1. Thanks Ryan! I really appreciate your saying so! I loved your article on the same topic this week! Great examples and advice. Honestly, when I read your article, I thought about changing the topic of mine so that we were not overlapping. But, I already had it half written and figured, at least the public will see that appraisers are consistent in our GLA reporting. 😃

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