I recently checked out a few homes for sale, and I got a feeling during one visit that the actual square footage of the place didn’t match the listing information. How do I know if the listings I see are accurate?

It’s good that you’re not taking everything at face value. Home listings, depending on where you see them, can sometimes be misleading when sellers estimate, rather than measure the square footage of their properties, reuse information from old listings or exaggerate to attract as many buyers as possible.

For instance, a condominium might be described as a co-op, a one-storey unit as multi-level or a townhouse as a detached house. Photos in a listing can make properties appear larger than they are. A listing is a snapshot of the major features of a home, and it should be used in combination with other sources of information to get a full mental picture, especially if you have specific requirements, needs or interests.

The short answer to the question is that listings that involve a real estate salesperson should always be accurate. But mistakes, including honest ones, can happen. Real estate brokerages, brokers and salespeople have an obligation to be accurate in any advertising or listings they produce. The seller’s representative is expected to confirm any claims that are made about a property. If a detail about a home can’t be verified, it should be excluded from the listing — or qualifying statements, clarifications or disclaimers need to be added.

Both the buyer’s and seller’s representatives are responsible for verifying material facts about a property on behalf of their respective clients. The agents understand the importance of accurate information, and that they have a professional obligation to provide it under their code of ethics. Failing to do so can result in disciplinary action, including fines if they don’t do their due diligence.

Still, you should ask your representative to confirm that information in a listing is accurate. For example, if you own a grand piano, you’ll need to know if it will physically fit through the front door. I strongly recommend getting guidance and advice from your rep when you begin the process of buying a home. This includes getting your agent to ask the seller some key questions.

If you’re buying, it’s a good idea to perform your own due diligence and verify everything before you sign a purchase agreement. That includes arranging for a personal inspection of the property. There is no substitute for having a first-hand look at the home and the neighbourhood to make sure your piano or sofa will actually fit.

It’s also a good idea to bring a qualified home inspector, experienced general contractor or a structural engineer. These professionals can give you candid assessments of the home’s key systems: roofing; floors and walls; doors and windows; foundation; plumbing; electrical; heating, ventilation and air conditioning. They can tell you if the wiring is up to code, or if a crack in the wall is anything to worry about. To quote an old proverb that was popularized by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan in the late 1980s: “Trust, but verify.”

Increasingly, buyers and sellers are also hiring floor plan measurement specialists. Here at RECO, we’ve seen condo units that included the balcony, basement or garage dimensions in the square footage. If you’re not sure how big a room is or what the listing says, take your own measurements.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.


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