A listing agent’s source for the square footage of a property listed on MLS is getting much attention from the NC Real Estate Commission. After a couple disciplinary actions against the license of listing agents in 2015, this issue is now included in the Commission’s General Update Course and the BIC Update Course for the 2016-2017 licensing year.

The Commission’s 1999 publication, Residential Square Footage Guidelines, commonly known as the “Yellow Book” is widely quoted in both courses. The material largely focuses on acceptable and unacceptable sources of square footage.

ACCEPTABLE SOURCES

An agent’s personal measurements (non-complex)

The Commission’s Guidelines and update courses recommend “that listing brokers personally measure dwellings to obtain accurate data, particularly if the dwelling is not complex or unusual.”

Someone with greater expertise, if complex and for the current transaction

The Commission’s Guidelines and update courses provide that, “it may be appropriate with complex dwellings for an agent to rely upon measurements and calculations made by someone with greater expertise in determining square footage…so long as the calculations are made in connection with the current transaction.” On complex dwellings, some listing brokers will engage a more experienced or more competent broker or a competent appraiser to assist with square footage. Some listing brokers will do so on every listing. As a listing broker holding yourself out to the public as a knowledgeable, competent, real estate professional, do you really want to routinely concede that someone else has greater experience and competency that you on every single listing?

UNACCEPTABLE SOURCES

The Commission’s update courses list the following unacceptable information sources:

  1.  The property owner
  2. Tax records
  3. Listing, appraisal, or survey information from a prior transaction
  4. Blueprints or building plans (unless the broker discloses that the estimated square footage is based off the plans and then measures the dwelling upon completion and reports the actual square footage.)

Also of importance, the Commission’s Guidelines and administrative rules specifically require that “brokers must retain for at least three years all sketches, calculations, photos and other documentation used or relied upon to determine square footage.” Don’t be surprised when the Commission’s regulatory staff requests this information while investigating a complaint.

In short, listing agents must put in the effort to personally and competently determine the square footage of a property or engage someone more experienced to do so for that particular complex transaction. They must retain in their files specific documentation of how the square footage was obtained. Listing agents who cut corners and merely rely on unacceptable sources are risking civil liability and disciplinary action by the Commission.