Basement Square Footage - to be or not to be?

Real Estate Agent with Joy Daniels Real Estate Group, Ltd.

Do you wonder why you see a home that you know is not larger than yours is listed as having square footage much bigger than you "know" that house really is in size?  Zillow and other website will combine the Above Grade Square Feet and the Below Grade Square Feet for a total number that is confusing and deceiving.  In PA and many other states, these numbers are required to be separated. 

I have a tale of two basements in otherwise comparable houses. One is a finished basement with a den, bedroom, and full bathroom. The other basement has some drywall, an exposed toilet, and a painted floor.  The listing for the first house reflects the basement and number of bedrooms, including the one in the basement space, in its total square footage and price.  The second house only includes the square footage of the main floors and does not count a 200-square-foot bedroom in the basement. So, which listing correctly shows the square footage for a basement? the short answer is: both.   This is a confusing determination for both the Buyer & the Seller!

In Pennsylvania, Listing Agents and appraisers must distinguish between above grade Square Feet and below grade square feet.  This basement space, whether finished or unfinished would not be included in the total “gross living area.”    One of the questions I am most often asked is why a basement or level that is partially below grade is not counted in the “gross living area.”   There is a value given to below grade space, it’s just included in the total. 

Fannie Mae considers a level to be below-grade if any portion of it is below-grade, regardless of the quality of its finish or the window area of any room. Therefore, a walk-out basement with finished rooms would not be included in the above-grade room count.  This would be given value as a finished basement.  The overall square footage will factor into the financing of a house. Your appraiser must generally appraise the house for the sales price, or higher, in order for the lender to provide the funds.   They must follow the rules of Fannie Mae. 

Unlike commercial real estate, homes are generally not priced strictly on square footage. So whether a basement is included in square footage or not, a nicely finished basement will add to the value of a home,

While the price per square foot for a swanky basement isn’t not as high as main-level upgrades, an appraiser or potential buyer will certainly appraise the home’s value as higher with the additional living space of a basement. This is true whether the basement is a walk-out or below ground.  If the home with the finished basement wows a buyer, it probably will obtain a higher price!  


Posted by


Joy Daniels, GRI, ABR, CSP, e-PRO
2793 Old Post Road, Suite 200
Harrisburg, PA  17110

(717) 695-3177  office - Call TODAY and let me help you find your dream home! - Email TODAY and let me help you find your dream home!

What is your home worth?  Find out at MLS Market Snapshot

  facebook icon   Goolge icon twitter icon  linked in  youtube icon


Comments (2)

Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello Joy - there's typically a story to be told behind any "numbers" reported.  Intelligent investigation matters.  And so does well-informed real estate representation.  

Jun 27, 2022 03:50 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

We definitely need to know what is included in the square footage numbers - it can make a huge different regarding value.

Jun 28, 2022 04:39 AM