By Ralph Fox

As people call for greater transparency in the real estate industry and its practices, one of the anomalies that continue to slip beneath the radar is the reporting guidelines surrounding the square footage of a listed property for sale, especially in condominium sales.

Currently, a seller can state an approximate estimate of their property’s square footage (to the best of their knowledge) and that estimate will then translate into a wide-spread range on the Toronto MLS listing for potential buyers to review. The trouble here is not only the ambiguous figure that is being used in the marketing materials but the possibility that this range is incorrect – with little to no repercussions to the seller agent if this is the case.

A condo is a housing commodity that is generally priced and traded on a price-per-square-foot basis. That is how potential buyers and their agents will ascertain a property’s value, especially in a scenario where a property is set up for multiple offers (listed at a very low price).

Why is it that when listing a condo on the Toronto MLS, it is acceptable to list a property for between approximately 500 and 600 square feet, as an example? Often many of these properties can be far less than their approximate advertised range. The purchaser may be completely unaware of the exact size or price per square foot that they are paying.

In some instances, due to the lack of guidelines, consumers may intentionally be misled. While it is the sellers’ and agents’ responsibility to ensure it is stated that the “measurements are to be verified”, this is not always explicitly stated.

Currently, there are no guidelines in place to require a seller or their sales representative to provide third-party verification of the exact square footage of their listed property. What is even more interesting is that as the sizes get larger for condos listed on the Toronto MLS, so does the range for stating square footage. As an example, anything below 1,000 square feet has a 99-square-foot spread (for example, 400 to 499 s.f.) while properties listed over 1,000 square feet move into a 200+ s.f.  spread between ranges (1,000 to 1,199 s.f., for example).

Can you imagine walking into a developer’s showroom to find they are charging $1.4 million for a pre-construction condo that may range between 1,200-1,400 square feet? That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

The Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board’s MLS does not utilize the square-foot “range” at all and as a result, all its listings uniformly state an explicit figure. While this figure can still be an estimate from the seller, the measurement is typically accompanied by a note as to whether the measurement needs to be verified.

As more people search for properties online and call for greater transparency, wouldn’t consumers and the Toronto real estate industry be better served by stricter guidelines surrounding the disclosure of the exact size of a property for sale? I believe we would all be better served and hope this is something we can start to see soon.

Native Torontonian Ralph Fox is the broker of record at Fox Marin Associates. Alongside business partner Kori Marin, Ralph established Fox Marin Associates to bring his business-oriented approach to residential resale, development and long-term real estate investment in the central Toronto area.
  • John Grasty

    Why can’t the finished dimensions of the unit be the responsibility of the land surveyor used by the developer and established as/when built? Allowing a developer to use approximations when marketing is where the discrepancies first arise, so why not fix it by doing it right the first time? It will also require the standardization of what is considered “habitable space.” Should habitable space include patios/decks, front steps, staircases/landings (and storage areas under stairs/landings), etc? There are probably a few other definitions which need to be standardized at the same time, e.g., dens. Perhaps this is something CREA could get their teeth into and lead.

  • I agree with Brian, and don’t know why my comment I posted a couple of hours ago disappeared as I said that if we REALTORS®️ want to be respected as professionals we need to not hide behind range measurements which according the article were still out of their allowance for error. I as well commented that in Manitoba we MUST measure our listings and not rely on even a trusted previous agents measurements and as well not a survey or tax assessment number. I’ve been an agent going on 26 years and measured all my listings whether in the midst of a pile of bloodthirsty mosquitoes or when the snow was almost as high as my 6’1″ frame with weather in the negative range almost the equivalent of the Arctic. We have a +/- 5% margin for error. With condo’s we must get that from the Exerpt of Plans as condos can vary based on how it was registered and by common area (indoor balconies for example). The media is and has torn our industry apart and issues like this give them fuel for more. We are paid very well for our work, we need to work for that pay. It surprises me how many agents get so lax and even when it comes time for Annual Relicensing Education wait until the last few classes rather than get in early to be on top of the industry, and when in class are on their tablets and smartphones not even listening to what is being presented. People like that give the industry a bad name. People like that are likely as lax in their business practices.

  • Jim Datlen

    I agree exact square footage should be a requirement for MLS Listings, and should be applied to all property types. The only caveat is that there are the very occasional errors in MPAC or Land Registry (GeoWarehouse) so the info may have a slight chance of being incorrect. Still, I think it’s worth it, as their records are infinitely more accurate than agents measuring on their own.

    • Brian Martindale

      Jim:
      Your comment that “…their records…” (being MPAC’s and Land Registry’s) “…are infinitely more accurate than agents measuring on their own.” is an indictment against the lack of professionalism inherent within the majority of practitioners licensed as real estate sales persons. The square footage information possessed by institutions like MPAC and Land Registry etc. is gathered by equally fallible human beings who work for a salary. Thus they can take the appropriate time to get it right; they do not work in a mad rush to upload a listing or to close a deal, contrary to how a Realtor might be—likely is—motivated. “Time is of the essence!” is the Realtor’s mantra. Thus your assertion is accurate, and we all know ‘why’ it is accurate.
      Realtors ‘can’ get it right almost all, if not ‘all’ of the time, if, and only if, they take the time to make it a priority to do so…themselves. One must want to be a professional first, a Realtor second, and finally a financially successful Realtor as the result, not the other way around. It’s all about attitude.
      Attitude begets behavior. Behavior begets results. Results beget reputation. Reputation begets income…for better or worse.
      Get off of the key board, Realtors, and get back out into the field where you belong. Get your hands dirty; feel the earth and the improvements thereon (remember the definition of “real estate/real property etc.” that you were schooled about on the first day of real estate university? The public does not like lazy Realtors who spend more time blowing stale air through their pie holes than they spend actually physically, methodically doing something. Jeff Stern is my kind of Realtor, and I am now just another member of the public with an opinion on this subject. Realtors need to stop thinking about how they are viewed by other members of this what-should-be-a profession but which currently it is not, and pay total attention to how they are viewed by those from whom Realtors want to extract commissions…members of the public. That requires an attitude change from short-term thinking to long-term planning. It ain’t easy, but anything acquired with ease has no intrinsic value, because no real price has been paid. Therefore, one must be prepared, nay willing, to pay the price. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. It’s time to get back to basics.

      • Carolyne in Canada

        Google: definition of terms Canada define square footage – and discover “https://www.superbrokers.ca/library/glossary/terms/square_footage.php”

        And a link called: https://www.superbrokers.ca/library/glossary/terms/square_footage.php

        and see for yourself how wrong a definition in the industry area of expertise can be: (and wonder how come the public is confused?)
        ===
        They provide this —
        Definition of square footage: “The area within a building or structure that is calculated by measuring each rooms by length and width and adding the total.” (Can you believe this is the definition of an “expert?”)
        ===

        When subdivision plans are presented to a city they are approved as “general guidelines,” nothing more or less. The drawings are not meant to be relied upon for any purpose specific for any reason whatsoever. And actual floor plans are given a “subject to change” status. Closets can end up in a different place, stairwells in reverse position. Bathrooms not where shown on plans. And HVAC systems can be repositioned inside out, upside down and backwards, when they ought not to be, in relation to hydro panels and wiring, and drainage in regard to pre-plumbed extra basement roughed in bathrooms etcetera. Nothing in the building industry is carved in stone, and is often approved with the help of a mysterious case of beer in a trunk.

        When there is a grading problem producing a water logged yard, and the city engineer says he can’t comment until he reads “the bore hole reports,” after spending countless hours not being able to get the problem solved through the builder, and weeks go by with no further conversation, and you place the call to find out why, and are told: “can’t say.” “Why?” Answer: “because there are no bore hole reports.”
        “The City has none for that location.”

        How to proceed? Have to contact “Freedom of Information Act People, and, pay for it yourself.”

        Carolyne L 🍁

  • Brian Martindale

    Realtors:
    Hmmm…Let’s see now…A professional Realtor can’t figure out on his/her own how to determine the accurate square footage of a condominium suite…within a five percent margin of error?
    When I was working as an appraiser, I could not/would not rely on anyone else’s or any institution’s (MPAC’s or builders’ estimates etc.) figures in order to establish an accurate assessment of a building’s or a condominium suite’s square footage. The points of demarcation are available, in the case of a condo unit, for anyone to access…and make use of. I had to sign my name to every bit of information that I provided on every appraisal document associated with my opinions of value. I was in effect guaranteeing that my information was correct. I could be successfully sued in the event that any tidbits of information that I based my opinions of value upon were proved to be incorrect. Should not the standard of professionalism for Realtors be equally high?
    I found more often than one might imagine that MPAC’s and builders’ estimates of square footage to be off, often by more than five percent…upon measuring/calculating subject properties for myself. No way would I rely on someone else’s information/misinformation, because that would be the lazy person’s way of doing things. I could never be sure that what I was putting on paper and signing my name too was in fact accurate unless I measured things up myself. Neither can any of you when you don’t do your own due diligence.
    Realtors: Get the damn tape measure—you know, that long coiled-up skinny thing with numbers on it (not the electronic gizmos which can malfunction)—out of your tool box and do your job; measure the damn property yourself…twice over for good measure. I believe that real estate university licensing courses still teach you all how to do that, don’t they? You are dealing with real things, not cyber stuff. You are dealing with reality, not virtual reality. Keep that in mind when you receive your real live paper commission cheque instead of a virtual reality version.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
    P.S.: In the case of lazy Realtors: May the farce be with you.

  • windsortraveler

    You cannot rely on MPAC. You cannot rely on ‘estimates’ by the seller. Measure it yourself (the proper way) and put it in the listing. It should not be allowed on MLS without this information.

  • The Square foot should be in the MLS Listing, and could be pulled from MPAC…

    • Carolyne in Canada

      Best disqus profile seen to date. No question about it. If I were still practicing, this is the sort of thing I would do. Your profile is comprehensive and easily understood, not just for would-be clients, but for colleagues needing referrals for their own clients relocating to or from your area.

      It might seem like a small thing to many but I can attest to having done such over nearly four decades brought me, consistently, as many as 35 transactions per year that just fell as low-hanging ripe fruit from a well-laden tree. All the hard work was pre-done. No pre-qualifying, either coming or going. The fastest way to earn a paycheque. And most agents just don’t get it; or do it. If I hear of anyone, even colleagues, needing services in your location I will surely pass along the information.

      Sincerely,
      Carolyne L 🍁

  • Jeff Stern

    To say I am shocked is an understatement. In 1 breath we want to be considered “Professionals” yet, it is considered okay to provide measurements the seller unverifyably provides and as this article goes on to state and the “allowance for error” is not even adhered to? In Manitoba we MUST physically measure every property we list and have a +/- 5% margin for error (never even take the measurement a previous agent stated, even if we trust that agent) not relying even on tax assessment records or a survey which both have been found inaccurate,… especially with condos. With condo’s it even goes further that we must consult the registered excerpts of plans for what the unit is in accordance with the common elements. A couple of decades back, when I was on a board committee we discussed square footage range marketing using Toronto’s method as an example and as I recall, while it was protective of us we felt it was not how we wanted to do things.

    I may get some readers knickers in a knot by saying this but, how can our industry ever change the public perception of us if we are doing things such as this. The media alone has a great time exposing such things and then it is turned to a special segment on our industry in a consumer protection show.

    We are very well educated on law as it pertains to real estate transactions, we are educated by the University of Hard Knocks in dealing with people and transactions, we are entrusted by complete strangers to handle their largest asset… often at times they are facing some difficulties like death, illness and financial, yet this kind of thing is thought to be how a pro would behave. Imagine if lawyers or tax accountants did similar things in their profession leaving their clients to do their own due diligence.

    We are selling Real Estate and real estate has details like size, type of construction and foundation etc. We market the real estate using these details yet we trust a lay seller for something as important as this. That said, in Manitoba we don’t price resale based on dollars per square foot as there are too many variables in play (upgrades and updates etc) to make this inaccurate method.

    In the end, we are paid very, very well for our expertise. Is it too much to expect we verify or at least qualify each statement we make on behalf of our seller client so they and the buying public can have confidence in us? Hey as I said I am from Manitoba and nothing is more difficult than trying to measure a building in January with snow as high a my belly and the temperature as low as the Arctic but we do as we must.

  • Jonathan Angevine

    PDF of the Residential Measurement Standard (RMS) in Alberta if anyone is interested – not perfect but certainly better than it was before. https://www.reca.ca/industry/publications/PDF/Guide-to-the-Residential-Measurement-Standard-Alberta.pdf

  • Robert Ede

    Yes, Banish the approx Sq Ft tick-boxes on TREB condominium listings.

    They are a throw-back to when buyers bought because of how a “space/room/home/property” felt while they walked within it. The size per se didn’t matter as much as function. Live-ability mattered more than price/ft, so we purposely de-emphasised SF as anything more than a ‘rough guide” (like turn right 2 miles past the grocery store)

    The rough-approx guide was a sop to the “most condos are on One-Level” crowd who promote 1200 Sf on 3 levels as “big”. Once gain proving un-interpreted “facts” can be misleading or dis-informative. An knowlegable Realtor de-tangles those non-pertinent facts/benchmarks and helps consumers from making pro/con decisions based on raw data alone.

    Yes a throw-back to a time when people actually walked through a property and imagined themselves living there (warts and all) …while they were physically visiting the “immeuble”.

    So yes banish the tick-box and give back that white-space for …….. (member input required) Merry, Jolly & Happy! rce

    PS President Tim Syrianos cited the quote ” 3 things you can’t do online, Get Married, Make a Baby and buy a house.

    • Jeff Stern

      I love your President’s quote. That is so awesome and so true :)

  • Joe Perri

    We use a Registered Measurement Standard (RMS) in Alberta.

  • Rita Giglione, Broker

    This is not necessary.
    Having a range for sq ft between 500-600 sq ft is ok.
    The buyer has an obligation to his client to verify all information on MLS listing .
    Even if there is exact sq ft showing on the listing, the buyer rep has to verify it in order to protect his clients interest.

  • Patrick Smith

    It costs ($2.50) 2 Dollars + 50 Cents to obtain this data from (MPAC) Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, which is nothing compared to the (2.5%) of a Sale Price of a home. So, why is it not mandatory? And why don’t the Professionals conduct themselves accordingly? Misleading advertising a better way to make more $$$$

    • Yvan Rheaume

      It’s now $5 + tx but it’s worth it.