How to measure the square footage of my apartment

Is it actually as large as advertised?

Maybe not; today’s buyers need to understand true legal square footage when purchasing a Vancouver condo. A condo’s indoor and outdoor square footage are important factors when establishing market value. In fact, the square footage of every strata titled condominium in Vancouver is registered with a legal document at the Land Title Office. This document is used for determining taxes, maintenance fees and if by chance there is a special assessment, this document is used to determine the amount owed by each condominium owner.

Market value for a condo in Vancouver is formulated by certain key factors:

  • location
  • age
  • type of construction
  • view
  • developer
  • square footage

Appraising a condo today is much different than doing so 10 to 15 years ago. Two separate buildings on the same street can greatly differ in market value / dollar per square foot. Neighbourhoods such as Mount Pleasant and Olympic Village can have a diverse cross section of strata titles buildings on the same street. Once the key elements of a building are in place the dollar per square foot is plugged into the square footage of the condo to give current market value.


Why Tenants, Homeowners, and Landlords Need to Know Square Footage

There are several reasons why tenants, homeowners, and landlords should all know how to calculate square feet:

  • Knowing the square footage of a room can help you confirm if your furniture will fit.
  • Knowing the square footage of a specific surface can help you estimate renovation costs. If you’re replacing a kitchen countertop, for example, you need to calculate the square footage of the countertop so you can get accurate quotes for the cost of the job.
  • When you know how to calculate square feet, you can make sure you order the right amount of supplies and materials. If, for example, you plan to paint a wall that’s 12 feet long by 10 feet tall, you need to find the total square footage so you know how much paint to buy.
  • Perhaps most importantly, knowing the square footage of homes and apartments helps you compare prices to find the best value. Let’s say you’re deciding between two similar apartments: Apartment A is $1,500 per month and Apartment B is $1,800 per month. Which is the better deal? Well, it depends on the square footage. If Apartment A is 500 square feet and Apartment B is 1,000 square feet, you’re getting more space for your money with Apartment B. 

Sketch out your space

If you’re planning to rent a one-story condo that’s rectangular, that’s an easy calculation: Measure the width and length, in feet, and then multiply those two numbers.

Since most properties aren’t perfectly shaped, however, you’ll probably need to complete a few steps to get the full picture. Begin by drawing a diagram of all rooms and hallways, and be sure to label each one so you can keep track of the measurements.

If you’re looking at a new rental unit, ask the landlord if you can see the builder plans of your apartment’s floor plan because the square footage is usually already calculated.

Average Home Size and Square Footage Trends

As an interesting side note, houses and apartments have changed in square footage over time. In the US, the average size of a single-family home is about 2,600 square feet. In 1970, the average house size was 1,660 square feet. In 1950, the average home was 983 square feet. (An interesting side note to the interesting side note, while homes are getting larger, family size is trending smaller. In 1940, there was an average of 3.6 people per household, according to US Census data. Today, it’s about 2.5.)

Conversely, today’s apartments average about 1,015 square feet, which is slightly smaller than the 1,117 square feet in 2011. This could be because more studios and one-bedroom apartments are being built and fewer two and three-bedroom units, according to CoStar data.

For some, smaller is better. There’s less upkeep, cheaper utility bills, and potentially less clutter. Perhaps this explains the recent trend of tiny houses and micro apartments, which is in direct contrast to the larger house trend. A tiny house is 400 square feet or less, while a micro apartment is usually between 100 and 300 square feet.

So … how much square footage do you need? Depending on who is living with you, the amount of stuff you have, the size of your furniture, and your personal preference, anywhere between 100 and 2,600 square feet … more or less.

Not helpful? Okay, you’ll probably want to narrow that down a little. When trying to figure out how much space you’ll need to be comfortable in your home, here are some factors to consider:

Why Waste Time Looking at Apartments that are Smaller than What I Want?

Because the listed square footage is not as important as you think.

Have you ever said this to yourself:

“I can’t live in less than X square feet. There is no way my stuff will fit.”

Apartment Space and How You Use It

If you’re only using your apartment as a place to sleep, then a smaller micro or studio would probably suit you better than a large apartment. If you frequently entertain and love hosting dinner parties, you’ll want an apartment with a generous dining space. If your mom visits regularly from out of town and you need a place for her to stay, then you might want to consider a one or two-bedroom apartment rather than a studio.  If you work from home, consider what type of space you’ll need for your office and where you’ll want it to be located.

What to leave out

A good rule of thumb to ensure you’re taking proper measurements is to exclude space you can’t walk on or live in. These types of spaces do not count as “gross living area.”

“Someone might think, ‘If I get the measurement of my first floor and I have a two-story house, I just multiply that by two,’” Day says. However, if that first floor includes a two-story foyer, you can’t count the non-usable space.

Basements and garages, even if they are finished, don’t generally count toward total square footage. Basements are typically excluded because they are built below grade, meaning below ground level. If your state does allow basements to be included in the total square footage of a home, though, you’ll likely need an ingress and egress, or a safe way to enter and exit the basement to the outside.

Finished attic spaces — with some regulations, including ceiling heights — can count toward the total square footage of your home. If you are planning to sell your home, work with a real estate agent to craft a listing that accurately reflects your property.

Add up all your measurements

Once you’ve measured each space, you can add up all your numbers to find out the rental unit’s total square footage.

Different Units of Measurement

Using square feet is the most common unit of measurement in American real estate. But it’s not your only option. For small projects, you might want to work in square inches. For big projects, like landscaping, square yards might make more sense. And in international real estate markets, square meters are the standard for home measurements. 

Whatever your unit of measurement, the formula is the same. Multiply the length times the width to calculate the area of square and rectangular surfaces. Just make sure you’re using the same unit of measurement for your length and width. If you’re looking for square feet, measure both distances in feet; if you’re looking for square meters, measure both distances in meters.

Common floorplan questions

How do I calculate the square footage of an apartment?

To calculate the square footage of an apartment you must refer to the legal strata plan. The strata plan will state the square footage of the apartment and show any limited common property assigned to the apartment.  Further info on strata plans:

Are balconies and any outdoor space included in the square footage?

Balconies / outdoor space are rarely included in the square footage. Any outdoor space assigned to the apartment will be shown on the strata plan as limited common property (LCP).

If you would like further information on this please email me at [email protected]

Written by Don Urquhart Vancouver real estate agent since 1987


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