By Erik Fowler
This is the third article in a series designed to help you make sense of the green landscape as a real estate professional. REALTOR® Magazine's Styled, Staged & Sold blog and I are excited to be covering green home trends in America. In the previous article, I provided an overview of green homes and real estate. Here, we'll highlight green buyers and sellers, and the listing and marketing of green homes.
When talking about a green home, it's important to avoid generalizations and stick to specifics. For instance, when working with a buyer and discussing his or her interests and needs, the subject of utility bills or other costs associated with a home purchase will often come up. This is a perfect time to discuss energy efficiency and how utility bills are affected by how well-built and how well-insulated a home is.
It is important to understand that the purchase price is a major, but not the only, cost consideration. Utility bills and home maintenance contribute to monthly bills as well.
Is it an Energy Star Home?
If your client is considering new construction, you may want to search for an Energy Star Qualified home. Energy Star homes must be tested by a third party and are designed to be at least 15 percent more energy efficient than baseline new construction (do not confuse Energy Star appliances with an Energy Star home).
The point here, of course, is that agents should be informed about energy efficiency and green home trends, but should not represent themselves as experts in this area.
When a client mentions specific issues of concern or interest to them, the first reference point should be your state's disclosure notice from the seller. In the case of energy efficiency, if the seller markets his/her home as "green" or "energy efficient", then it is our job as real estate professionals to ensure that the buyer has as much specific information as possible from the seller or builder, and from reputable third-party sources.
For instance, you might mention to your client on a resale that they consider an energy audit along with an inspection. An energy audit will show that specific home's total energy performance (known as a "HERS" index or score), as well as show where energy improvements can be made.
Further, you will want the seller to provide the specific design, materials, or features that contribute to the home being "energy efficient" or "green." Also, verify whether the seller has any documentation or receipts of work or tests performed.
Reach Out to Vendors
The process, you may notice, is not unlike helping your client with any other type of real estate transaction--we facilitate, educate, and offer resources. Start now and develop a local list of vendors--beginning with the names of local companies that perform home energy audits and quality builders that certify their home under an established green home building program. (These rating systems will be discussed more in the next article.)
Be Prepared to Answer Customer Questions
What if a client mentions concerns over indoor air quality or has children and mentions concerns over health and safety? Suppose a client wants environmentally preferably materials? Less commute time? Some clients may just mention wanting to know more about "green homes".
In all cases you will want to provide your client with access to resources mentioned here, as well as the various Web sites.
Mention that the meaning of "green home" varies depending on the definition used, and that the client should rely on rating systems from established third-parties, which require testing. Examples include the LEED for Homes rating system from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the National Association of Home Builders (NHBA) green home guidelines, or the private label Environments for Living, for example.
Green, as we have discussed, means different things to different people. For some, indoor air quality and health concerns are important. For others, environmentally preferable materials or sustainable design are significant. For others, energy efficiency tops the list.
Is the home Energy Star-rated? Does the new home or major renovation carry a certificate from one of these rating systems and if not, why?
Delving further into green home purchases reveals differing motivations for buyers. For instance:
- Economizers may be looking for well -insulated homes and Energy Star (or better) energy performance.
- Investors may want to know what rating system was used and how maintenance will be reduced. Health-conscious purchasers may be looking for low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and formaldehyde-free adhesives used in carpets and wood.
- Idealists or eco-conscious clients will want to feel like they are reducing their impact on the environment.
- Image-oriented buyers may seek to make a statement and demand a reputable rating system or perhaps solar panels to show off their choices.
- Skeptics will likely require proof of claims or simply be unaware of the benefits of green built homes.
The Seller Side
With sellers, the process is not much different. Encourage sellers to disclose all known defects, not to exaggerate green or energy efficient claims, and to provide specific features (facts), and potential benefits (seller opinion).
Does the home have a green rating? What specific features are worth mentioning make it so? What documents provide evidence of this (such as a LEED certification or Energy Star certificate)? Has the home had an energy audit?
Upgraded windows and extra insulation are great features and should be noted, but that doesn't necessarily make the home green.
Avoid at all costs "green washing," a term used to describe exaggerated, erroneous, or vague statements about environmentally friendly attributes.
In the next article, we will review in more detail green rating systems (including Energy Star), and also discuss some of the things you can personally do to green your home and your real estate practice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erik Fowler is a REALTOR® with Greenwood King Properties in Houston, Texas, with 10 years of residential real estate experience. He is a national member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a board member of the Houston Chapter, an instructor for GREEN (National Association of REALTORS®), and a certified Eco-Broker®. He maintains a green building and sustainable growth consultancy, working with select organizations, builders, and brokers (and home owners) to create value and market leadership through energy efficiency and green building practices. He has made a lifelong commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, and he speaks and writes regularly on these topics. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.