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The Autobiography of Russell
Life from a different perspective
New metrics for comparing potential dwellings?
The longer I stay in Seattle the clearer it becomes we need a new metric to evaluate housing with. Giving the square footage or price isn't enough to easily evaluate the difference between places.

Lots of quotes about square footage is given as absolute space from one far wall to the other, irregardless of what is between (walls? doors? whatever). Some even go so far as to include a percentage of a public area, like a courtyard.

A better metric that comes to mind off hand would be functional square footage. This is space that can actually be used for things beyond walking from point A to point B. For example, if the front door leads into a 6 foot hallway then all of that space is non-functional. You can't put a table there, a chair, tv, computer, or anything else, without blocking the way. The reason for this metric is that I've seen numerous studio apartments where the layout looks open but the kitchen or a closet is on the opposite side of the room in different corners so to get from the front door to that area a path has to be clear between the two. This essentially lops a side of the room off as non-functional for walking space.

Price per square footage is also a poor metric. I see a lot of places that are charging premium prices for the location or amount of (non-functional) square footage yet have really poor quality otherwise. Many places are getting away with it because of 'premium' location and a lack of good ways to compare quality between places.

Another metric would be quality of apartment or building. My current domicile has very thin walls, a very squeaky floor, no dishwasher, low water pressure, unreliable hot water, old stove, wildly inaccurate oven, degraded tile counters, and a really old style thermostat. All of these combined would generate a terrible score for quality.

Any other ideas for better metrics to compare rentals?
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zimzat From: zimzat Date: April 15th, 2014 08:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
That could work once the number of places is narrowed down. It wouldn't be a good way to start an apartment search, though, without knowing what address or complex name to look up first.

There's such a high margin of potential profit in the purchase price of houses that a lot more people are willing to put forth the effort to rate and make good tools for comparing houses and putting up decent descriptions, but rentals have a considerably lower margin for secondary markets so few resources are willing to put forth the effort to centralize those sorts of comparisons. :(
legolastn From: legolastn Date: April 16th, 2014 02:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
The problem with "functional" square footage (or the generic "quality") is what is your objective standard? People's ideas vary. Your useless hall entryway is somebody else's ideal spot to put their shoes, hang their coat, or even put a small media storage case. o_o Exactly how much space should be lopped off the studio room for walking will differ from person to person. More to the point, how are you going to score these things? Have inspectors go around to each newly available apartment or house to evaluate them? I think this is where a visit, up-to-date pictures, or at least a floorplan come in handy for figuring this stuff out.

Similarly, I think PpSqFt is only telling you something about quality in a vague sense and mostly at the extremes. In general PpSqFoot is most useful as a grouped metric - looking at the range of PpSqFt gives you an idea of the cost of housing/living in an area and a place that is at the bottom of the range is probably low quality (but possibly a bargain to snatch up) and a place that is at the top of the range is probably high quality (but the quality that is "high" may not be what you're looking for - for example, for many people location IS the "quality" they're looking for and other things aren't very important - or it could just be price gouging). Here again, a visit or up-to-date pictures can often help decipher what's what.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: April 16th, 2014 07:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Pretty much any metric can be considered subjective from a social sense and for reasons of personal likes and dislikes. Does that mean we shouldn't have them? No, I don't think so. Does that mean they need to be followed to the letter with no room for give or take? No, I don't think that either. If I did then I would be a hypocrite because I don't think a college degree is necessary for all forms of work (my own career is a prime example of that). Guidelines and indicators, though, can help shuffle through a lot of cruft.

Keeping both square footage measurements would allow people to contrast and compare based on the two. If someone wants some hallway space for a mirror or shoes then they might accept a higher percentage of it being non-functional space.

The objective standard would be to the basics. The functional square footage would be based on basic path requirements, potential usages, etc. The quality would be an increasing number, rather than a absolute percentage or range, so as better quality items came out the old wouldn't have to be retroactively recalculated but simply increase the maximum. It could, possibly should, be broken down by area or room function (e.g. kitchen versus bathroom versus living room quality scores).

I've seen floorplans that don't include measurements to base off of, often aren't for the unit actually on the market, etc. I suppose if we can't even get landlords and management agencies to put up accurate and measured floor plans then what hope do we have of getting more details than that? *shrug* But if we don't at least try then things will never improve.

The biggest problem with basing things off price (especially as an aggregate!) is then we, as renters and possibly even buyers, are left up to the whims of the landlords, management companies, and real estate agents. Instead of ever being satisfied with an amount of rent that covers mortgage, administration, and repairs they perpetually increase the price year after year until they finally break the back of the economy and workers and are conceded to lower the price. I see it happening all over the place here in Seattle, especially in my current neighborhood, which isn't as centrally located for public transit as it would like. I see people living two (non-involved) to a single bedroom just to cover the rent increases. I was just having this same argument on /r/Seattle a few weeks ago about how every year renters are telling themselves that's the average price and so we should be glad to pay it, and every year it increases and we keep paying it.

*shakes head* That's why I've chosen to leave the area and move further out to somewhere not jacking up prices so fast. Give 5 years and if there isn't another general economy collapse we'll likely see some insane housing prices in the immediate vicinity of Seattle.
acutegirl From: acutegirl Date: May 11th, 2014 01:00 am (UTC) (Link)
In commercial property, buildings are classified into Class A, B, or C (http://www.squarefeetblog.com/commercial-real-estate-blog/2008/07/06/a-guide-to-office-building-classifications-class-a-class-b-class-c/). While there are no universally accepted standards for classification, there are some general guidelines. If we adopted the same thing to apartments, we could then classify apartments according to a quality measure beyond square footage. It wouldn't necessarily get at "functional square footage," but it would be easier to measure.
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