How big a problem is there in measuring floor area?

eid2g-02Tanya Powley writes in the Financial Times about the discrepancies in measuring the floor area in residential buildings in the UK.  The discrepancy can be 10 to 15%.  While it seriously affects valuation of properties, it can also impact on the UK’s total floor area, an indicator used in developing its buildings energy performance strategies.  Interestingly, while there are guidelines for measurement by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), estate agents are not bound to use the guidelines and so there is no single way of measuring buildings. With the Buildings Performance Institute Europe planning a new EU survey of the buildings sector, hopefully any discrepancies will be rectified.

 

Estate agents measure and found wanting

Homebuyers risk overpaying for properties by tens of thousands of pounds because of widespread discrepancies by estate agents in measuring floorspace.

Of more than 200 London properties analysed by the Financial Times, more than half of them have floorplans either much larger or smaller in square footage compared with another agent selling the same property. The difference between two floorplans varied by as much as 300 sq. ft.

Several complaints have been made against Foxtons, the London-focused estate agent. One homeowner found that a property she bought through Foxtons last year was recently measured by a new agent at 68 sq. ft. less – equivalent to a small bedroom. The FT investigation found examples of similar discrepancies by several other agents.

Ed Mead, director at Douglas & Gordon, the estate agent, said: “You’d expect there to be a small deviation between measurements but when the error is as much as 10 to 15 per cent then there is something going wrong.”

 

Why is square footage so important?
It has become standard practice in the past 10 years to value a property in upmarket areas of London based on its square footage. Prices in London range from £300 to £6,000 per sq ft so a mistake here could see buyers pay over the odds for their home.

Such discrepancies can have a big impact in the prime London market where it has become common practice to value property based on floor space.

With prices in London ranging from £300 to £6,000 per sq. ft., any mistake could see wealthy London homebuyers pay over the odds, said Trevor Abrahmsohn of Glentree, a high-end buying agent. For example, a homeowner buying a property at £1,000 per sq. foot could overpay by £80,000 if the floorplan was mismeasured at 80 sq. ft. bigger.

“Ten years ago no one talked about price per square foot but now every valuation in London is based on it,” said Jo Eccles, director of Sourcing Property, a buying agent.

No law says an agent must measure in a particular way – although estate agents do have a legal responsibility under the Property Misdescriptions Act that measurements are accurate.

Christopher Hamer of the Property Ombudsman, the main property watchdog, said: “Market practice is for agents to put in a disclaimer that those measurements might not be accurately precise . . . but they cannot use the disclaimer for glaring inaccuracy or to cover carelessness.”

Most agents say they follow guidelines set out by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ code. While the code allows for some degree of difference – about 1 per cent – the FT discovered more than 100 floorplans that varied by significantly more than this.

Jan Hÿtch, president-elect of the National Association of Estate Agents, said: “With the choice and accuracy of measuring devices available, there’s no real excuse for significantly deviant internal room measurements.”

Some in the industry blame inaccuracies on poorly trained staff. The way estate agents measure floorplans varies: some employ specialist floorplan companies, some do it in-house and others use a computer programme.

Toby Berridge, founder of BKR Floorplans, who is often called to arbitrate on disputes about measurements, said the number of inaccurate floorplans is “extraordinary”.

Foxtons said it did not value properties based on floorplans. The company added: “It is accepted within the RICS code and industry in general that floorplans commissioned by different agencies are unlikely to be identical.”

It said the code allowed for flexibility in whether features such as alcoves and stairwells were included in the measurement.

According to RICS, agents must make sure they do not mislead the consumer. If agents are in doubt, they should state clearly what is or is not included, it said.

The findings have ignited calls for a clear industry standard that all estate agents must follow to be introduced and better policing of those guidelines. “Unless everyone measures by the same rules inaccuracies could creep in and that is not helpful to the consumer or agent,” said Mr Abrahmsohn.

4 thoughts on “How big a problem is there in measuring floor area?

    • Hi Hélène

      I know about the law in France and that is why I was a bit surprised by what is going on in the UK. I have heard from Yamina Saheb from the Sustainable Building Centre at the IEA on Twitter yesterday and she said that this is quite a widespread problem. She said “it’s an issue everywhere as the measurement is usually related to the commercial definition of floor area.” Let’s hope it gets resolved.

      Cheers
      Rod

  1. I think you should read between the lines regarding this Financial Times story, which incidentally they published on their front page. The key point is that practically all estate agents do follow the professional code of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, which broadly allows for just a 1 % differential between floor sizes, there is one particular estate agency (named several times in the story) which has a reputation for not being – shall we say? – quite so scrupulous.(Nor for that matter for promoting the energy ratings of the properties they handle).And of course there is no official policing of the accuracy of the floorplan estimates.

    • Dear Andrew
      Thanks so much for this. It is impossible for most readers to fully understand the situation. And I know that coming from France, the measurement is so tightly controlled. It was difficult to know what the situation was in the UK. And with the BPIE going to do another survey soon, it was better to have this out in the open.

      Thanks, Rod

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