Listing agent’s duty to provide accurate square footage information

QUESTION: I am representing a buyer who is interested in seeing a particular property listed in the MLS, in part because the reported square footage is in the size range that my client is looking for. However, under Agent Remarks, it says “Buyer’s agent responsible for verification of square footage. Square footage is per tax card.” I thought the Real Estate Commission required listing agents to provide accurate square footage information. Has that changed?

ANSWER: No, that has not changed. According to the Real Estate Commission’s Residential Square Footage Guidelines, “[a]lthough real estate agents are not required by the Real Estate License Law or Real Estate Commission Rules to report the square footage of properties offered for sale (or rent), when they do report square footage, it is essential that the information they give prospective purchasers be accurate.” The Guidelines also state that when an agent reports square footage, he or she “is expected to provide accurate square footage information that was compiled using these Guidelines or comparable standards.”

The Guidelines make it very clear that reliance on tax information is not appropriate: “Some sources of square footage information are by their very nature unreliable. For example, an agent should not rely on square footage information determined by the property owner or included in property tax records.” In our view, the listing agent is opening himself or herself to potential disciplinary action by the Real Estate Commission for reporting the square footage of the property as listed on the tax card, even if it turns out that the information is reasonably accurate.

What should you do in this situation? According to the Guidelines, “if there is…a red flag regarding the reported square footage, the agent working with the buyer should promptly point out the suspected error to the buyer and the listing agent. The listing agent should then verify the square footage and correct any error in the information reported.” If the listing agent refuses to do so, or if the listing agent does measure the dwelling and you aren’t reasonably satisfied that the square footage information is accurate, we think you should measure the dwelling yourself or have it measured by another professional with expertise in determining square footage.

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