What is Gross Living Area (GLA)?

Dave Towne

Dave Towne

Certified Residential RE Appraiser at Towne Appraisals
AGA, MNAA, Accredited Green Appraiser - Licensed in WA State since 2003.
Dave Towne on e-AppraisersDirectory.com
Dave Towne

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What is Gross Living Area and What Does it Include

What is Gross Living Area and What Does it Include?


There are certain properties where aspects of Gross Living Area (GLA) might not be obvious. It’s more confusing when the selling real estate agents lump all “living space” together, because that’s what they are selling, or when the county assessor includes basements with upper level areas.

These include homes with a detached ADU, additional rec room or sleeping space above a garage, additional living space with roof attached to the primary dwelling via covered breezeway, basement living spaces with separate entry, etc.

Fannie Mae has a giant book called the Seller’s Guide, a portion of which describes how they expect living spaces to be annotated, as do Freddie Mac, FHA, VA, USDA, etc.

For this discussion, here is the FNMA guideline:

B4-1.3-05. Sellers guide.

Gross Living Area

The most common comparison for one-unit properties, including units in PUD, condo, or co-op projects, is above-grade gross living area. The appraiser must be consistent when he or she calculates and reports the finished above-grade room count and the square feet of gross living area that is above-grade. The need for consistency also applies from report to report. For example, when using the same transaction as a comparable sale in multiple reports, the room count and gross living area should not change.

When calculating gross living area

  • The appraiser should use the exterior building dimensions per floor to calculate the above-grade gross living area of a property. (measuring process also applies to below-grade area)
  • For units in condo or co-op projects, the appraiser should use interior perimeter unit dimensions to calculate the gross living area.
  • Garages and basements, including those that are partially above-grade, must not be included in the above-grade room count. (See ‘exception’ below)

See ‘exception’ below  – only finished above-grade areas can be used in calculating and reporting of above-grade room count and square footage for the gross living area. 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.

Rooms that are not included in the above-grade room count may add substantially to the value of a property, particularly when the quality of the finish is high. For that reason, the appraiser should report the basement or other partially below-grade areas separately and make appropriate adjustments for them on the Basement & Finished Rooms Below-Grade line in the Sales Comparison Approach adjustment grid.

For consistency in the sales comparison analysis, the appraiser should compare above-grade areas to above-grade areas and below-grade areas to below-grade areas.

The EXCEPTION….Pay attention to this >>> The appraiser may need to deviate from this approach if the style of the subject property or any of the comparables does not lend itself to such comparisons. For example, a property built into the side of a hill where the lower level is significantly out of ground, the interior finish is equal throughout the house, and the flow and function of the layout is accepted by the local market, may require the gross living area to include both levels. However, in such instances, the appraiser must be consistent throughout the appraisal in his or her analysis and explain the reason for the deviation, clearly describing the comparisons that were made. (This means you CAN include below grade living space and room counts with the above grade GLA & room counts as necessary. I have done so numerous times with no problems. But doing so requires an explanation in the report, and treating all properties the same.)

Separate ADU’s: should not be included in the home’s GLA

Living space(s) not directly connected to the home’s primary heated envelope: should not be included in the home’s GLA – such as are sometimes found above garages accessed via a built stair (not the pull-down type) from within the unheated garage, or in below main floor locations accessed from a separate exterior entry not connected to the main floor

Bonus rooms (typically above garage) within heated envelope of dwelling: included in GLA

Living space(s) in outbuildings: should not be included in the home’s GLA

Living space(s) in converted garage space: this is probably the hardest to figure out. Some jurisdictions do not consider these areas to be ‘living space’ unless “permitted” when constructed; others don’t care. Some lenders want to be sure about “permitting” and demand rip out (or no value given) if not, and others don’t care. An issue of concern is dwelling insurance liability; without a permit in place the insurer may not replace that space as it was before the damage, or if it can be proven the damage started within unpermitted space, there may not be any insurance coverage to the entire structure. Secondly, proper code compliant egress may not be in place in these extra garage areas. The appraiser probably should check for jurisdiction permits. Converted garages into living space are not always apparent from the exterior. Appraisers need to be very careful with this type of situation and probably should communicate with the client up front before proceeding with report write-up and completion – especially when the finish appears to be as good as the home interior.

Upper floor areas with space ‘open to below’: if you can’t walk on it, it’s not GLA! (angel wings don’t count!)

Interior stairs between levels: are counted in the GLA to the floor from which they originate (per ANSI Z765-2003).

  • Stair area between main and second floor: GLA applies to both floors for that space (& floors 2 & 3, etc.)
  • Stair area from main level to basement: living space applies to basement level
    NOTE: architects and building designers do not have a consistent way to calculate stair areas. I’ve seen many variations.
Dave Towne

Dave Towne

AGA, MNAA, Accredited Green Appraiser - Licensed in WA State since 2003. Dave Towne on e-AppraisersDirectory.com

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10 Responses

  1. Really appropriate and well written article. Timely.

    I recently reviewed a case referred to the American Guild of Appraisers (AGA) involving one of the types of exclusions noted in the article. While the net size difference was not huge (about 150+- sf) and the value conclusion was not significantly affected, it did provide a vehicle for that appraisers state regulatory board to really come down hard. Simple error turned into a license threatening case by a state apparently trying to demonstrate its new found muscle, after years of not doing anything.

    I doubt many underwriters or more likely, their review ‘clerks’ catch the exceptions part of your explanation.

    Readers should also assure themselves as to the specifics for VA; FHA, Freddie Loans.

    Your site and its useful news is especially helpful to appraisers that may not be members of professional peer appraisal groups. They can also find helpful advice one on one though the American Guild of Appraisers, OPEIU, AFL-CIO. Link through http://www.appraisersguild.org


  2. bubba jay bubba jay says:

    awesome article, and thank you Dave!

    its nice to see an informative article for a change, instead of being constantly reminded of all the doom and gloom we face on a daily basis. i always enjoy learning something, and i did take away a piece or two from this article, however the majority of it i already knew. articles like this serve well to educate and remind everyone, and its always greatly appreciated and a brief breath of fresh air.

    the bleeding however, continues . . . . .


  3. Avatar Randall R. Davis, SRPA, SRA says:

    ADU? Had to look that up (Accessory Dwelling Unit) as I have never heard of that term in our market area. It’s not that we are slow here in Michigan but when did cell phones loose their antennas?  Anyone have an eight track player they want to sell?


  4. Avatar HeNalu says:

    Recently had a two story with area open to below of 200sf. Builder sold same model  homes with open area and assessor recorded them as 2,000sqft including the “open” area. (If you can’t walk on it it ain’t GLA).  On site measurement indicated subject GLA to be 1,800sf without open area included and 2,000with added loft.  Subject had added a loft area over the open space (also 1 recently sold model match did the same). Realtor for the sold model just added the 200sf to the builders/assessors figures and voila! 2,200sf which now became the new norm for this model.  I explained to borrower for my subject that he had bought “open space” and by adding the loft only got value added for utility/room count since now he had his 2,000sf that the builder sold him. As far as comparison to the other models available the above conditions remained constant across the adjustment grid.

    Borrower complained, another appraiser agreed with homeowner and “target” value was achieved. I lost the account. No good deed or amount of accuracy goes unpunished. Good article though helps to confirm that we can be conducting our business in a professional manner.


    • Retired Appraiser Retired Appraiser says:

      The profession is full of weasels and rodents; who typically win. Never beat yourself up over sticking to a higher standard of ethics. Your family will end up eating far more beans and rice than the weasels and rodents but in the end you know you did the right thing. I suggest finding a profession that values quality and ethics and pays you for the effort HeNalu.


  5. Avatar Greg says:

    For Gross Living Area you are saying that a first and second floor stair is counted for both floors. But stairwells that extend above with no connecting treads are not part of upper floor GLA.  Just read the reference. The ANSI Z765-2003 is important doc for all to understand. Gross Living Area not to be confused with Gross Leasable Area (GLA)….. used in commercial construction/real estate leasing.   


  6. Avatar Ray says:

    My name is Ray,

    I’m a home owner that recently had an appraisal done. I have a single story house it has 5 bedrooms 4 bath, 3 rooms and 2 baths are separated by a breezeway the appraiser said the 3 rooms are not part of the GLA. The rooms have their own heat and air covered by the same roof. I’m trying to find in the fnma guidelines where it states that this would it be considered  an adu. Any help would be helpful


    • Mike Ford Mike Ford says:

      Hello Ray, The article above is from the FNMA sellers Guide.

      Living space(s) not directly connected to the home’s primary heated envelope;

      Living space(s) in outbuildings: should not be included in the home’s GLA

      You didn’t indicate whether the breezeway was fully enclosed, and/or permitted living area heated  by the same source as the main living area; whether it is heated at all, or open to the weather aside from it’s roof.

      Are ALL five of your bedrooms permitted as bedrooms? You don’t disclose what the separate three rooms are comprised of. Is one of them a second kitchen?

      Whether its GLA (primary) or an ADU area or simply ‘other’ permitted area doesn’t mean it is or is not considered to contribute equally in your local market. Respectfully I think you are looking for universal one size fits all type labels for areas that may vary with local custom. It seems unlikely the appraiser would not have accounted for that area in his or her report whether in GLA or as ‘other’.



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What is Gross Living Area (GLA)?

by Dave Towne time to read: 4 min