The Tax Assessor/Records Are NOT Always Accurate

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As an appraiser of 16 yrs 11 of them here in Atlanta one of the most frustrating things to deal with is incorrect MLS Data representing the overall Home Livable Sq Footage or GLA (Gross Living Area). Why is this so frustrating? Most if not all Agents use tax assessor data in their listings which in many GA counties, the tax assessor data completely wrong. You shouldn’t just rely on tax assessor data. In this blog, I will share an example of this, explain what GLA is & how it is measured.

So what is GLA:

GLA is stated as “The Total area of finished, above-grade residential space; calculated by measuring the outside perimeter of the structure and includes only finished, habitable, above-grade living space. (Finished basements and attic areas are not generally included in total gross living area. Now when it comes to Condos, Townhomes, and Co-Ops the GLA is typically measured by using Interior wall to wall measurements and not the exterior dimensions. Also of note as per ANSI Standards, Basements or Terrace Levels are not included in the GLA of the home even though they may be finished. This is a very IMPORTANT aspect to remember. The Above Grade and Below Grade areas MUST be separated.

Appraisers typically follow ANSI Standards ( American National Standard Institute)

Below are the ANSI guidelines for measuring a single family home (not a condo or Co-Op)

ANSI Z765-2018

ANSI looks at the outside dimensions, but also may “extract” a few areas in the interior and provides some additional guidance when it comes to unique properties.

Detached Single-Family Finished Square Footage
For detached single-family houses, the finished square footage of each level is the sum of finished areas on that level measured at floor level to the exterior finished surface of the outside walls.

Openings to the Floor Below
Openings to the floor below cannot be included in the square footage calculation. However, the area of both stair treads and landings proceeding to the floor below is included in the finished area of the floor from which the stairs descend, not to exceed the area of the opening in the floor.


Fannie Mae and ANSI consider 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.

Now let us get into the example I have of incorrect Tax Assessor GLA vs the Appraisers on-site measuring and determination of GLA.

First lest start with some information. I recently appraised a home in Fulton County. I measured the exterior of the home, separated out the garage and came up with a first floor area of 1169.62 Sq Ft and a second story area of 1248.98 Sq Ft for a total of 2419 Sq Ft GLA or livable space.

Now onto the Tax assessors data. The tax assessor had the GLA or livable space at 2922 Sq Ft. A big difference between the 2 correct? Well, it apparently shocked the buyer as well as they thought they bought a 2922 Sq Ft Livable space home. They did not. Here is why.

First here is my Sketch:

Notice the second floor and how there is a missing area measuring 17X13 on the top right. Also, note how the foyer on the second floor has a missing area as well. Both these areas are OPEN to below, therefore, cannot be included in the overall GLA of the home. Also, note how I have included the bay window areas on the first floor.

Now let us look at the Tax Assessors Data.

The first image is that of the residential info where it states there is 2922 Sq Ft of livable space. The second image is that of the assessors’ sketch. Notice any differences in their sketch to mine?

So let us break down the assessor sketch. First off notice how they only give you the first-floor area and not the second. Also, they just square things off. But of major concern is how did they come up with 2922 Sq Ft of GLA or livable space? I’ll tell you how and here is the breakdown.

1) they note the main building as 950 Sq Ft.

2) they note the area above the garage as 440 Sq Ft.

3) they note a garage bat at 14 Sq Ft and overhang at 20 Sq Ft

4) they note a one-story frame or foyer area at 84 Sq Ft

Now we will leave the garage out of this. So let us do some math. 950+440+20+14+84= 1508. Now what they also did was doubled the main area of 950. 1508+ 950=2458. So where is the missing 464 Sq Ft they reported as livable area? Look at the bottom 2 lines. -10 1sFR One Story Frame 256 and -15 FRBAY FRAME BAY 208. Add 256+ 208 and you get 466 Sq Ft. ( 2 SQ FT difference) See these areas should have been subtracted from the 2922 Sq Ft to give a GLA or livable area of 2456 Sq Ftwhich SHOULD be the actual GLA or livable area noted.

So my sketch is at 2419 Sq Ft due to measuring properly and tax records should have indicated 2458 Sq Ft which are very close in measurements.

So now that we have deciphered this example, lets go back to the buyer who got their appraisal and noticed a difference of over 500 Sq Ft from what the realtor stated on the listing and what the assessor stated on tax records, to what I stated in my report. Lets just say the buyer wasn’t very happy and feels like he was misled. So who’s to blame here? The Assessor or Realtor or Both? Did the realtor not understand the tax records and not notice the bottom 2 lines? Did the realtor not get the home measured prior to listing? Is the assessor wrong for stating the wrong info on their site? I don’t have that answer however I know the Buyer was ready to hire a lawyer.

I will tell you this. Many counties especially Fulton & Cobb have large amounts of incorrect data and using that incorrect data can very much hurt your listings. This is almost an every day occurrence. I see listings with wrong inormation almost 99% of the time. It could be wrong GLA, including basements in the GLA, Wrong basement finished and unfinished areas and more.

So what can you do to prevent this? Well one thing is to have a certified or licensed appraiser come out and do a sketch of the home prior to the listing. I know we here at What’s It Worth Appraisal Services offer a home measuring service. Another way is to learn how to measure the home yourself and make a sketch. Take some classes and learn how to use tax assssor records correctly. Dont just assume they are right. Don’t you want to make sure the data you are relying upon is accurate & correct? Don’t you want to give your clients the best information possible? I know I would.

For more information on our Measuring & Appraisal services please email or call 404-421-0055.

Up next: Basements or Terrace Levels: how they should be handled and how tax records is often wrong.

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