The definition for the gross living area published by the Appraisal Institute’s Dictionary of Real Estate 4th Edition is: “The total area of finished, above-grade residential space excluding unheated areas such as porches and balconies; the standard measure for determining the amount of space in residential properties.” In short - the available space left for living or the surface of the building without the walls, that is suitable for year-round use. To better understand the definition of the gross living area, real estate agents must learn from the appraisers what areas are not included in the final figure. They also must learn to compare apples to apples. So, garages, basements and unfinished attic areas do not count as living space, especially if they have earth adjacent to an exterior wall on that level. So, any room below-grade is not included in the gross living area and it is priced differently than the above-grade area. When comparing two properties with the same square footage, the one that has more below-grade square footage will sell for a lower price.
Real estate agents are not required to provide the square footage of the property, but when they do, they should use the ANSI standard or a similar one. Fiberglass measuring tapes are the most common tool used by appraisers. It may stretch, and the measurements might be “almost” accurate, but there is no risk of scratching the walls or the furniture. So is the case with laser measurement tools (Disto) - the appraiser will point the red laser and find the exact distance to the red dot.
The gross living area is an important measurement not only for the future owners but for the mortgage companies as well. Consequently, Fannie Mae has issued some guidelines on measuring the gross living area, too, since appraisals are often undergone before a loan is secured.