IS PUBLIC RECORD SQUARE FOOTAGE ACCURATE?
Lenders and Appraisal Management Companies (AMCs) assume that building square footage reported in tax records is permitted living space. The Public record information comes from Assessor records which indicate all of the improvements, known to the Assessor, whether permitted or non-permitted. Just because the public records reported by the title company indicate a certain square footage for your subject property, that does not guarantee that all or any of these improvements are permitted as living space.
In a recent national poll of appraisers conducted by Appraisalport, 5346 responded to the following question:
How accurate is the reported square footage from the tax records in your area?
- Very accurate for most homes - 16%
- Mostly accurate (about 3/4 of the time) - 46%
- Hit and miss (about 1/2 of the time) - 27%
- Not reliable (accurate less than 1/4 of the time) - 9%
- The tax records do not usually show the square footage in my area - 2%
The results indicate that in almost 40% of the geographic areas surveyed, public record data is inaccurate at least half of the time. In my opinion, the Big Bear Valley, which is comprised of: Big Bear Lake, Big Bear City, Fawnskin and Sugarloaf, falls into the hit and miss category with some discrepancies in actual vs reported square footage noted in about 50% of the public records.
These discrepancies occur for a variety of reasons.
Individual appraisers measure improvements differently. In particular, upper floors with sloping ceilings and stairway spaces on multi floor dwellings are included by some and omitted by others.
Prior to the 1950's building records in the Big Bear area were not well maintained.
Some permitted additions have not been accurately added to the public record data, and occasional math errors contribute to inaccuracies.
In some cases, permits were issued but either expired or were never signed off on a final inspection. Some areas might have been permitted as storage space, and later finished by the owner as living area, but without the appropriate permits or inspections for livable space.
Getting finished areas approved by either the City of Big Bear Lake or the County of San Bernardino, after the fact, can be a difficult task often involving opening up walls to inspect plumbing and electrical systems.
it's a good idea to look at public record square footage with a skeptical eye. You may want to look deeper. Perhaps get a copy of a previous appraisal from the homeowner, but be careful, some appraisers "fudge" the dimensions to match public records in order to avoid Lender/AMC hassles. If you are concerned or have doubts, there is no substitute for due diligence. This would include measuring the home and checking on permits with either the City of Bear Lake or County building departments.