New eco-friendly home features like EV charging stations are capturing the interest of buyers coast to coast. Here’s what you can do to beef up your sustainability knowledge and guide these clients.
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When Christopher Matos-Rogers took the plunge into the sustainable homes niche in Atlanta—a city not known as a bastion of environmentalism—it helped that he and his husband both drove electric vehicles and were proponents of an eco-friendly lifestyle. “We were shopping for a home, and we could not find anyone that understood what we needed in a home,” says the team leader of the Matos-Rogers Group with Coldwell Banker. “Seven years ago, I got into this business because no one else was doing it in Atlanta.”

Matos-Rogers, AHWD, GREEN, and his family wanted a home equipped to handle EV charging and solar panels. No single agent he spoke with knew how to help him meet his family’s needs. While that may not seem surprising for the South, there are pockets of sustainability-minded people popping up in every corner of the country as the issue gains significance, Matos-Rogers says. “My husband and I are members of this community, so we know how vast it is—but the real estate industry in Atlanta was missing it completely,” he adds.

No Better Time to Get Started

If you haven’t thought about building sustainability into your business, Matos-Rogers says, now is the time. After all, more than half of REALTORS® say their clients are interested in green home features, according to National Association of REALTORS® data. The place to start getting acquainted with sustainable practices, Matos-Rogers advises, is in your own life. And doing so doesn’t have to be costly or require great personal sacrifice.

A former marine biologist, Matos-Rogers says he didn’t make much money in his erstwhile career, so affordability was important to him when learning to incorporate sustainability into his daily life. “I was making $38,000 a year when my husband and I switched to electric vehicles,” he recalls. “At the time, there was a $5,000 tax credit in Georgia, and there were federal credits available. The car payment was the same amount as my old payment, and we zeroed out our tax and gas bills. We were able to take the credits and buy a home on an FHA loan.”

For Matos-Rogers and his family, switching to EV has boosted his ability to build wealth rather than cost him extra. “We had to fight the misinformation, though,” he says. “Right now, we in the real estate industry are our own biggest obstacles. When it comes to this topic, we tend to answer from an uninformed place because we haven’t done it ourselves.”

With personal experience and knowledge, real estate professionals are more prepared to dispel myths and misinformation about sustainability and help their clients see how their needs align with green values.

Stand Out to Agents and Clients

In areas of the country where sustainability isn’t as widely accepted, agents interested in selling green homes might not know where to find these properties. Promoting your brokerage’s involvement in the sustainable home market could help agents and clients find you. “It’s been a huge recruitment and growth tool,” Matos-Rogers says. “Agents are looking for this, and it’s a great recruitment tool for people who are millennials and Gen Z and have more loyalty when a company aligns with things that they value.”

He also says that sustainability-minded clients tend to be extremely loyal and excited to send referrals his way. “When you help someone live a better life and build wealth, they're going to be loyal to you. This adds value to what we do as REALTORS®, too.”

The cost-saving power of sustainable homes also may present new homeownership opportunities for budget-conscious buyers, especially with high fuel and energy costs weighing down the economy. Solar panels, home EV charging options, and rainwater barrels can help lower the costs of homeownership and make it more accessible to historically disadvantaged groups. But greater awareness is necessary, Matos-Rogers says. “The people accessing the benefits of sustainable real estate because they have the correct information are disproportionately white and wealthy. But the people who need it the most are also the most energy-burdened.”

Black and Hispanic populations are the most energy-burdened and susceptible to health and financial ramifications of climate change, according to a recent EPA study. Real estate professionals focused on bringing the knowledge of the cost-effectiveness of sustainable homes to a wider audience can play a role in bridging the racial homeownership gap.

How to Build Sustainability Into Your Business

At the 2022 Broker Summit in Phoenix, Matos-Rogers provided a wealth of action items to get brokers started on implementing sustainability into their business models:

  • Create a culture around sustainability by starting with yourself.
  • Create content around sustainable real estate that your clients and agents can consume, including videos, blogs, and social media posts.
  • Recruit agents interested in the green-home market.
  • Offer green education classes to your agents and team. Start with NAR’s GREEN designation. Check out what the local association offers.
  • Check with local green building associations in your area to see if they offer training or information.
  • Hire sustainability staff. Bring in sustainability experts, like a trainer or officer, that your agents and staff can use as a resource.

If your brokerage is already on the path to green business and you want to take things a little further, Matos-Rogers advises looking at your office building and amenities.

  • Complete an energy audit on your building to increase efficiency and comfort.
  • Add renewable energy generation onsite.
  • Add EV charging stations for agent and customer use.
  • Explore resiliency improvements such as water management, fire- and/or impact-resistant roofing, and keeping debris cleared. 

If you’re ready to help interested clients navigate sustainability, start with:

  • Using the MLS green fields when they are available.
  • Having a preferred list of green-competent vendors ready to go.
  • Being aware of green-certified appraisers and green lending options to provide to clients.
  • Finding out when you don’t know. Seek answers from people who do know.

What’s most important, Matos-Rogers says, is that if you’re interested in building sustainability into your business, it needs to come from a place of authenticity and be in service to your clients and agents. Sustainability, after all, is a long game. “Every year, we reach a new height of visibility and acceptance, but we are still not meeting the demand,” he says. “There's infinite growth in this space. In the long term, sustainability will be the norm, so every business will need to have some kind of competency in the space. But right now, it is still primed for folks to stand out.