Learning the Language

Words matter. As a CIPS designee, you’re already sensitive to language differences. However, if your global business also includes a green component, it’s helpful to follow a few more communication tips.

Your property descriptions should speak to a home’s benefits and create a picture of living in its spaces, including the home’s hidden assets.

1. Different standards, expectations, and desires.

People tend to prefer what is familiar. In Germany, for example, there is a keen interest in low-energy homes and appliances. When visiting the U.S., German buyers may be disappointed that many properties don’t reflect the same priorities. 

If you’re working with a buyer who is accustomed to different standards, it’s essential to be able to discuss |their desires and help them understand what is and isn’t available in the local housing stock. 

Ideally, you should also be able to introduce them to local resources that could potentially help them retrofit a home to their standards. 

Also, keep in mind that buyers have many different reasons to purchase a green home. Some are motivated by health issues and a desire to improve the quality of their home environment. Others are more focused on a desire to consume fewer resources like power and water. 

In addition to pinpointing priorities, it’s essential to avoid assumptions about their underlying intentions. For example, if energy efficiency for cost savings is a top priority, don’t gush about their efforts to save the planet. 

2. Speak to the benefits. 

Above all, real estate professionals must understand the perceived value of various green home features and know how to communicate those benefits when marketing listings and writing property descriptions. 

Homebuilders share similar concerns. When U.S. builders were asked which terms are most effective in describing green features to market new homes, the top three results were operating efficiency, long-term utility cost savings, and quality construction. See page 5. 

Your property descriptions should speak to a home’s benefits and create a picture of living in its spaces, including the home’s hidden assets. 

For example, the presence of extra insulation, triple-pane windows, and radiant heat all contribute to a home environment that’s incredibly cozy, quiet, and energy-efficient.

3. Avoid green jargon. 

The building sciences behind green homes make extensive use of technical terms like R-values, SEER/AFUE ratings, and xeriscaping. These and other phrases will sound intimidating to many buyers, especially if their native language uses different terms. 

“When writing a property description, you don’t want to be too green and scare people away,” advises Joanne Douds. “But it IS essential to note a home’s key characteristics in the appropriate green MLS fields, so buyers who are interested in certain features can find your listing.” 

4. No greenwashing. 

When marketing property, the REALTOR® Code of Ethics requires the honest and truthful promotion of a home’s assets. In the case of resource-efficient homes, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has specific guidelines against greenwashing (making unsupported claims that a product is environmentally friendly). 

Scrutinize your marketing materials and sales pitches and eliminate any claims that stretch the meaning of a term (such as “LEED-type home”) or make unsubstantiated claims (“a healthier home”). Fuzzy language and vague claims like “all-natural” should also be avoided.

Bar chart: Most Effective Terms for Describing Green Features

The Role of the MLS 

Across the U.S., Multiple Listing Services are implementing a common language to capture homes’ eco-friendly attributes. 

It’s a development that delivers benefits to industry stakeholders (real estate professionals, appraisers, lenders) as well as anyone buying or selling property. 

The new MLS data fields fall into three broad categories:

  1. Updates to existing MLS categories to highlight appliances, heating and cooling systems, and other features that have earned the ENERGY STAR® rating. 
  2. New fields that spotlight special features, such as a home’s architectural style (e.g., passive solar), the presence of smart home devices, electric car charging stations, etc. 
  3. New fields for green building verification programs, such as HERS Rating, Home Energy Score, ENERGY STAR®-Certified Home, and LEED for Homes. 

Some MLSs are still in the process of incorporating the standardized green data fields. Where available, agent adoption may be an issue. You can be part of the solution by learning the terminology and incorporating these fields, when appropriate, in your listings.

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.


About Global Perspectives

Global Perspectives in Real Estate is a resource for global professionals, aimed at helping them globalize their local markets. Produced bi-monthly, this newsletter serves as a how-to guide and is full of useful and actionable tips. A free subscription is given to all Certified International Property Specialists (CIPS) designees.

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