Blocks & Lots

Square footage in NYC: Separating fact from fiction

In New York City where real estate can be exorbitant, square footage is as precious as fine jewelry. Postage size rooms can add hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars on to the price of property. It’s little wonder that sellers try to claw every extra inch to increase the value of their dwelling. Buyers often have a tough job seeing beyond the smoke and mirrors of creative measuring of the marketing material. With so much at stake determining accurate square footage is vital for all parties.

What is considered livable square footage?

Livable square footage is, not surprisingly, considered anywhere in a residence that is habitable (kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, living, dining rooms and the areas connecting these rooms).

What is not considered livable square footage?

A back garden does not qualify. Neither do exterior hallways, stairwells or elevator shafts. In a townhouse a finished cellar, is not considered legally habitable if it “has at least one-half of its floor-to-ceiling height above curb level or the base plane,” according to city guidelines. In simpler terms, to be legal living space, the floor-to-ceiling height must be more than 50 percent above grade. Even if the place has been turned in a luxury subterranean man-cave it won’t qualify and being habitable.

Also, living space cannot be where the building’s mechanicals are housed in multi unit property. A basement, conversely, is usually the garden floor of a townhouse and is considered livable. Thus, the difference between a basement and cellar may seem negligible to some but it can amount to millions of dollars. 

Can I increase my livable square footage?

Yes, livable square footage can be increased in NYC. Crucially for townhouse owners or those owning a condo or co-op on the top floor of a building, roof rights can purchased to build additions. This would add livable square footage to their property and thus increase its value. Also, if the property next door is purchased (either a townhouse or condo or co-op on either side or above or below), the square footage of a property can be increased when the two apartments are combined.

Square footage can also be increased by building additions which qualify as livable space. This is obviously easier in single family homes where extensions, dormers and ceiling heights can all be added or increased.