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Enhancing listing data with MLS Green Fields

As energy costs rise along with concern for the environment, more REALTORS® are asking for a new kind of listing data from their MLS: information on property energy efficiency and “green” features from Energy Star appliances and high-grade insulation to actual “green” home certifications are being added as categories in MLSs nationwide. Association and MLS executives are working fast to provide this new marketing tool so that members can meet the growing consumer demand.

At the MetroTex Association of REALTORS®, MLS Director Cindy Miller has big plans to green her MLS, and for good reason. “Many new homes that incorporated environmentally sound building practices over the last three to five years have now -entered the resale market, and we see sellers wanting to highlight those features to make their ‘green’ property stand out from the crowd,” she says.

Then there’s also the increased level of general consumer awareness of green building products and the fact that many municipalities in the Dallas Fort Worth area are adopting green standards for both new building and remodeling.

“These factors will mobilize more potential buyers to ask their agents to search for homes that have specific energy saving and environmentally friendly features,” says Miller. “[Our MLS committee] overwhelmingly felt a need to be proactive and provide not only the tools for our agents to identify such features, but also to educate them on what -future prospective buyers will be looking for.”

Consumer Demand

In response to increasing calls for green data, Kria Lacher, a certified EcoBroker in Portland, Ore., approached her MLS about featuring green features and products. Lacher saw many properties’ green attributes go unnoticed by both agents and potential buyers. Green homes simply weren’t selling as quickly or for as much money as she expected.

“I usually work with existing housing stock, and I noticed that one 1920s all-original house was selling for the same amount as another 1920s house that had been updated with Energy Star appliances, a tankless hot water heater, and Energy Star windows,” Lacher says.

To address this inconsistency, Lacher approached Portland’s Regional Multiple Listing Service (RMLS) and worked to have the board of directors approve the addition of green features to the listing database in Spring 2007. The database now offers a drop-down menu to help REALTORS® find energy performance ratings and green home certifications for new homes, such as those given by Energy Star, Earth Advantage, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). REALTORS® can also search for existing homes retrofitted with energy-efficient or sustainable products, such as rain collectors and solar tubes.

According to Natalie Middleton, communications manager for RMLS, “these RMLS capabilities formalize the additional value these features bring to a home.”

Word Gets Out

Once word got out about the new RMLS features, Middleton was inundated with phone calls from REALTORS®, other MLSs, and associations across the country looking to start green campaigns.

The Northwest Multiple Listing Service in Seattle, Mid America Regional Information System in St. Louis, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems in Washington, D.C., the Northern Nevada Regional MLS, and other markets have begun making similar changes.

Sharon Kerrigan, executive vice president of the South Tahoe Association of REALTORS®, incorporated data fields for green features into her association’s MLS earlier this year, which she believes are in keeping with Tahoe area values. “We are in an environmentally sensitive area, and the community is very conscious of environmental issues,” Kerrigan explains of the decision. “We also saw this as the cusp of a new trend. We wanted to be a part of it.”

Metropolitan Regional Information System, Inc. (MRIS) in Rockville, Md., one of the largest MLS organizations in the country with over 22,000 members spread across five states, realized the opportunity as well. As Jeff Jennings, director of product development for MRIS explains, “in the last year, we provided a means for agents to note Energy Star qualified appliances, heating systems and cooling systems. We also made our remarks field searchable for agents, which can help in finding property listings with these [and other] special features.”

But MRIS isn’t stopping there. “In the upcoming year, we will be working closely with green building experts in order to determine how best to capture even more relevant data on green features,” says Jennings. “MRIS intends to be an industry leader in providing green features and content to our subscribers.”

Potential Challenges

Although deciding to add green data fields to the MLS may be easy, implementation is not without its technical hurdles, including reprogramming in-house software or working with outside vendors to redesign the fields.

“We are still working out the kinks,” says Cheryl Murakami, a REALTOR® and association director who played a key role in the South Tahoe changes. “Sometimes it is difficult for users to navigate and find all of the information they are looking for.” She advises working closely with area green building experts to gain a full understanding of the nuances associated with each potential field so that the data can be structured appropriately.

Conversely, Portland’s RMLS had few technical challenges with their in-house integration of green features into its database and search systems. “We coupled the release of these new green options with the annual forms change,” says Middleton. “This reduced the effort needed to update the system with the green information. Overall, it took about eight to 10 staff hours to add the features, edit the reports to display them, include them on search pages, and make it live.”

A word to the wise from Kerrigan: before you do anything, “talk to other MLSs that have done it.”

Education is Key

The final challenge for an MLS system in the process of going green is educating REALTORS® on what the green features are and how they should be used. REALTOR® associations can help by educating members as changes take place.

Proper verification is essential to the integrity of the green information provided in the database. Buyers’ agents should ask for supporting documentation in the form of receipts, manufacturers’ information, energy audit reports, or certificates from reputable green building programs. Sellers’ agents should advise clients to keep and provide any documentation to all potential buyers.

The U.S. Department of Energy sees this issue as an important step toward achieving energy savings in existing homes. Through its Real Estate Initiative, DOE is working closely with the National Association of REALTORS® on a variety of efforts to raise overall awareness within the industry about energy efficiency. One of DOE’s activities has been to reach out to REALTORS®, associations, and MLSs and encourage the MLS changes.

As Middleton notes, “buyers will be able to easily identify homes that incorporate energy-efficient and green features to save energy, money, and natural resources. We really see this as an added service to our members to help them market properties.”

Green MLS fields at IRES, the regional MLS for northern Colorado

1. Solar Domestic Hot Water
2. Solar Hot Water Heat
3. Solar Rough-In
4. Trombe Wall
5. Sun Space
6. Southern Exposure
7. Double Pane Windows
8. Triple Pane Windows
9. Storm Windows
10. Storm Doors
11. Attached Greenhouse
12. High Efficiency Furnace
13. Energy Survey Complete
14. Demand Control Limiter
15. Set Back Thermostat
16. Built Green
17. Energy Rated


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