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The Ups and Downs of Stairs

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How many steps have you taken in your life? How many steps do most people take in a lifetime? I’m sure that there are many factors that impact this. According to some studies, the average person will take 70 million steps in their lifetime. How many of those steps are on stairs? That will also depend on many factors.

Some may find stairs to be a source of recreation. There are many types of stairs. There are straight stairs, L-shaped stairs, U-shaped stairs, spiral stairs, winder stairs, curved stairs, cantilever stairs, split staircases also known as bifurcated stairs (many appraisers dislike the term bifurcated… don’t ask), ladder stairs, and drop stairs.

Here are some pictures of these types of stairs. Can you figure out which one is which?

If we don’t have any major health issues, we probably don’t think a lot about traveling up and down stairways. That is until something seems a little off. It could be the size of the steps, the angle of the stairway, or even the height of the ceiling above the stairs.

Here’s a little video with some things to think about when it comes to stairs.

When it comes to stairs, what types of things must appraisers consider? Let’s talk about some of them.


Not too long ago, I saw a loan officer post on their Instagram that FHA no longer requires handrails for stairs. That is not completely true. Here’s what HUD’s 4000.1 Handbook says about handrails: “Cosmetic or minor repairs are not required, but the Appraiser must report and consider them in the overall condition when rating and valuing the Property. Cosmetic repairs include missing handrails that do not pose a threat to safety…”

Therefore, if the appraiser considers the missing handrails to pose a threat to safety, then it becomes mandatory that they be added.

HUD goes on to say, “The Mortgagee must repair damaged or missing handrails or stair treads on elevated exterior porches, patios, decks, and balconies where the distance from the finished floor to the ground surface is greater than 18 inches. If repair is not feasible, the Mortgagee must provide temporary rails, fencing, or other means to prevent or mitigate falls.”

That’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of selling your home to buyers who may want to use FHA financing. Even if the home is not going to be appraised for FHA financing, if missing handrails are posing a safety issue, the appraiser must address this in their report.

Speaking of handrails here is a cool video that discusses meeting handrail codes. If you wonder if your handrails meet local codes, I recommend calling the building department of the municipality that you live in.

Of course, like stairs, some may find handrails to be a source of entertainment as well.


What about ceiling height? Beginning in April of this year, Fannie Mae will require appraisers to measure homes using the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z765-2021 Standard for measuring homes. ANSI does have ceiling height requirements for stairs. According to these Standards, the ceiling height under stairs must have a minimum of 6’4” of clearance where there is no specific height requirement; or where the ceiling is sloped. Additionally, if a finished stairway leads to an unfinished area like an attic, according to the latest ANSI Standards, we will include those stairs in our square footage.

It is also good to know that ANSI Standards require including the stairs in the finished square footage of the area from which they descend. Think about stairs as though they were drop-stairs. If the stairs were able to be lifted to become flush with the floor from which they descend, they would become more floor area. If that sounds confusing, I understand.

Another thing to think about is the floor opening for the stairs. Often, the floor opening to accommodate the stair width is equal to the width of the stairs. However, if the floor opening is wider than the treads on the steps, the area that is open below would not be included. In larger custom-built homes, I often see the floor opening being wider than the stair width. Yet one more thing to think about. Of course, if you’d rather not think about it, you can hire an appraiser, and let them measure your home for you!

What about spiral staircases? It’s going to depend on the layout of the spiral staircase. Some are very large and can accommodate furniture and the passage of people up and down like other staircases.

However, if the staircase is of a design that no furniture can be brought up and down it and if it does not provide sufficient access for people to travel up and down like a more traditional staircase, it may not be considered as adequate for accessing other above grade finished areas. Here’s an example of a spiral staircase that might be problematic.

According to the Home Measurement Standard Residential Square Footage Guideline, “When the only access to an upper level with finished living area/space is provided by a circular staircase, the entire upper level would NOT be included within the finished living area or GLA.” (Gross living area) “Such space is deemed to not provide the same functionality as the main level by not allowing safe, secure, and sufficient access for occupants and/or furniture; and therefore, such spaces are NOT continued as GLA.”

Those guidelines go on to state that “All staircases must provide a minimum width of twenty-four (24) inches for the space to be included in the gross living area or GLA.”


Every now and then, as is the case with most appraisers, I run into staircases that are problematic. Here’s one example. In this home, the ceiling height from the top step before the first landing was only 4’8″, which means that to go up the stairs, most adults would need to duck down to get under the ceiling just before the landing. I was told that this home was cleared by the building department as not being a code violation due to its being grandfathered.

Here’s an Illustration

While that’s great that it might not violate code due to being grandfathered, in my view, this situation is less desirable than most homes in which one would not have to duck down to get to the second floor. Interestingly, the second floor did have plenty of space for the ceiling to be raised in this area.

This setup does not meet most buyers’ expectations for staircases. I would imagine that over time, it might get old having to duck down every time one traveled up or down the stairs. Sometimes people get tired of traveling up and down stairs even if they don’t have to duck down.

On another occasion, I ran across an even more strange situation. Check out this video.

I have to say, this was one of the strangest staircase setups I have ever seen. It was strange and a little cool in the way that the homeowners added that staircase.

I hope that you learned a little something about stairs that you might not have known before.

Sometimes, no matter how good our stairs are, they can fail us. Or perhaps it is we that fail them.

When traveling up and down on staircases, we must be careful not to break our face on them. There are much more fun ways to break one’s face, like in the video below.

One might say one player really faced his challenges head-on. It was a good old fashion face-off! Okay, I’m stopping now.

Feel free to share your puns about this video, or stairs, in the comments below. Keep it clean though. This is a family-friendly blog. Enjoy!

Have a great weekend!

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I am a member of the National Association of Appraisers. If you’re an appraiser, and you’re looking to join an appraisal organization, please check them out. The NAA is made up of fantastic appraisers from across the country who are working hard to keep their fellow appraisers up to date on what’s happening.

Click here to visit their website.

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

Speaking About Housing In Many Ways With Plenty Of Time On Our Hands – Housing Notes by Jonathan Miller

Predicting housing price cycles isn’t so easy – Sacramento Appraisal Blog

You’re an Appraiser But You’ve Never Heard of Austin v. Miller? Craig Capilla, Esq. Explains All! – The Appraiser’s Advocate Podcast

Understanding The Apprisal Part 1: What is “Adjusted sale price of comparables”? – Birmingham Appraisal Blog

Understanding The Apprisal Part 2: Condition and Quality Ratings – Birmingham Appraisal Blog


To Desktop or Not to Desktop? That is The Question – DW Slater Company Blog

For my readers in the CLE area… here are some articles related to news in our local area. I hope you enjoy these also… 

Buying A Home During COVID, Part 1 – Why We Decided to Move & House-Hunting Experiences – The Mustard Dandelion Blog

Buying A Home During COVID, Part 2 – House-Hunting Tips, tricks & Lessons – The Mustard Dandlion Blog

Taking root: Cleveland’s reforestation efforts bloom in the city’s urban neighboprhoods – Jen Jones Donatelli of Fresh Water Cleveland

Land Ho! The Tall Ships are returning to the Cleveland coast this summer –  Fresh Water Cleveland 

8 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of Stairs”

  1. I was looking for a description of stairways and came across your post, thank you! What is concerning to me is that we’re adding living area that will conflict with comp data. For example, adding a stairway into the GLA of a home I’m appraising at the moment results in an extra 129 sq ft. Now this effects my comp choice; to bracket my subject GLA, but I am aware that comps will not factor in the sq ft of a stairway which makes this seem misleading unless I have a reliable source for a comps stairway specifically. Am I overthinking this or is it a reasonable concern?

    1. Hi Andrea!

      Thanks so much for writing in! I don’t think you’re overthinking this situation. Critical thinking is an important part of our work. Perhaps I can share a couple of thoughts that might give you a little peace of mind on the matter. The truth is that including, or not including the stairway may indeed impact our opinion of the market value of the home we are appraising. Until everyone from appraisers to real estate agents and county assessors start measuring to the same standard, these differences, or shall we say discrepancies, at times will impact our opinion of the value of some homes we appraise. This is unavoidable. Truthfully, this has long been the case. How many times have you measured a home as an appraiser, and your measurements are different than what is reported in the MLS or with the assessor’s office?

      As appraisers, we want to be as accurate as possible in our development and reporting, to be sure! Let’s talk for a minute about the situation you are seeing with the inclusion of the stairway, which adds 129 sq. ft. to the above-grade finished square footage of the home your appraising. This may impact your comparable sales selection. The problem is that the gross living area documented in the data sources we use for our comparable sales might not include the stairways in their reported square footage. But then again they may! How could we possibly know for sure? Most of the time, we cannot know for sure. After all, we cannot go out and measure every home we are using as a comparable sale. What if the reported square footage did include the stairways? We just don’t know. So, your reporting what data is available to you is all you can do. That’s not misleading if you document where you obtained your data for your comparable sales from.

      If we are using ANSI Standards, then we must adhere to those standards. That is also not misleading, because in our reports we clearly explain that we are using the ANSI Standards (that is, if we are). Our reports would only be misleading if we claimed to be basing our measurements on ANSI Standards for the home we measured but then did not include the stairways in the square footage when the standards state that we must. That would be misleading. Also, we would be violating USPAP if we were appraising a home and part of our Scope of Work requires us to use ANSI Standards to measure the home we are appraising, and we failed to do so.

      One other thing to consider is that many appraisers, including myself, typically don’t make gross living area adjustments when the differences are less than one hundred square feet. I have found that the market is just not that sensitive. On larger homes, I might not adjust for differences that are more than that even, depending on what my analysis of that market reflects. In the case of the 129 sq. ft., if you’re not adjusting for the differences of GLA between the subject and comparable sales within a hundred square feet, then you’re only talking about a 29 square foot difference. Just some food for thought. It’s up to you as the professional to make that call.

      I have ran into situations many times where I couldn’t bracket the GLA of the home I was appraising with my comparable sales. But, if at least one of the sales is very similar, an adjustment may not need to be made. For many lenders, the concern is about across-the-board adjustments. But if two homes are very similar in size no adjustment may be warranted. Especially if you’re rounding your adjustments to the nearest $500 or $1,000, which I typically do for most adjustments.

      Just some food for thought. If you explain what you did and why you did it, I do not believe that you are misleading at all! I think many seasoned appraisers would say the same. Hang in there! My best to you! I know it’s been a challenging time in our profession. Call anytime if you would like to visit in person about this situation. I’m always happy to visit with a fellow appraiser!

      1. A very late thank you to your response! That helped me see things in a different way, a more positive perspective about the whole matter. Yes, you’re right, all we can do is work with the information we have and report as is.

      2. You are so welcome! Things really are changing quickly in our profession and sometimes it takes some time to get our heads around it. That goes for me too! Thanks for writing in and for your response. You put a little bounce in my step today. 😃Keep up the great work out there! My best to you!

      3. You are very welcome! Things really are moving quickly in our profession. Some of these changes take time to get our head around. That goes for me too! Thanks so much for your reply! You put a little bounce in my step today. Keep up the great work! My best to you!

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