Realtors hope to see green as real estate market rebounds
The real estate industry, still reeling from the nationwide slowdown in the housing sector, hopes that the grass is greener on the other side – literally. Realtors are targeting green and environmentally friendly homes, a sector that the industry is embracing as the housing market continues a slow but promising rebound.
While many of those homes may not even have grass -- opting instead for water-conserving landscaping themes -- it’s expected that new construction of green homes will be in high demand when housing construction emerges from the doldrums. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), home buyers are showing greater interest in homes with green features such as energy efficient appliances and energy saving heating and cooling systems. A recent survey conducted by NAR revealed that 73 percent of potential home buyers viewed homes with energy efficient appliances as being very important.
“This is a trend that has really grown over the last few years,” says NAR spokesperson Michelle Wardlaw. “The demand for green homes is a win-win situation. It allows people to save money over time while also helping the environment.”
Green sells, too. A recent survey of the Atlanta real estate market by NAR’s Green Resource Council revealed that green homes were on the market an average of 31 fewer days than traditional homes. They also sold for 3.6 percent closer to the asking price.
It’s no wonder, then, that Realtors are rushing to take advantage of what is anticipated to be a green home movement in the not-too-distant future. In the 18 months since the NAR began its Green Designation program, 4,500 Realtors have completed the 18-hour course. Another 2,200 are in the process of gaining certification. The Green Designation program has become the fastest growing certification program in the history of the NAR. The highest concentration of real estate agents with the certification has been in Texas, New Jersey, Florida and New York.
Andrew Norton, a real estate broker for Re/MAX Distinctive in Arlington, Va., and a member of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors’ green task force, says that most home owners are very aware of energy efficient appliances and heating and cooling systems. Awareness drops when it comes to options like green windows and insulation. After that, homeowners’ knowledge of green features typically plummets.
“People are aware of energy efficiency options for heating and what is available now in new homes,” says Norton, who has one green listing that has thus far attracted little attention from the market. “When you get into other areas like green carpets and low-VOC paints, there is substantially less awareness. When you start to talk about issues like sourcing materials within a few hundred miles of the home site, I don’t know if the general public understands that concept yet.”
Green awareness slow to grow
Just as there are green topics that consumers are aware of, there are green pockets throughout the country that are more concentrated on sustainable living. Oregon, Washington and California, for example, have long been considered leaders in the green housing movement. The same holds true for the Carolinas and Colorado, while Texas is gaining a strong reputation in green homes, especially when it comes to alternative energy sources.
“You have segments of the population that are very dedicated and live green from cradle to grave, and then you have middle ground people that recycle and save energy when they can,” says David Syring, manager and founder of ListedGreen.com, a web site that only lists homes that have a certain amount of built-in green features. “Then you have the people that could care less. But the biggest segment is the people that want to save on energy costs knowing it isn’t going to get any cheaper.”
Syring has 134 listings from around the world on ListedGreen.com. That number is growing, albeit slowly. “We’re still taking baby steps,” he says of the green home industry. Builtgreen.com contains a mix of newly built homes and those that have received green renovations. Syring reviews each applicant to assure that it qualifies as a green home before granting a listing on his website.
Clearly, the green home segment is one that Realtors are putting more emphasis on. With that in mind, NAR released its green MLS tool kit on Earth Day in April, with the goal of helping agents and brokers add a green initiative to their local multiple listing service (MLS).
“Realtors are the best source for real estate information and have access to the most comprehensive data in the world,” says NAR president Vicki Cox Golder, owner of Vicki L. Cox & Associate in Tucson, Ariz. “NAR research has consistently shown that there is a considerable and growing market for green buildings. The approach of Earth Day on April 22 only underscores the fact that many of today's consumers want homes and communities that are sensitive to the larger environment."
The NAR tool kit provides an overview of the green home industry, outlines why adopting a green initiative for MLSs is important, and offers strategies for effective changes. It contains a number of resources to help NAR members plan the process of greening their MLS, such as case studies of MLS systems that have completed a green initiative, and examples of forms and strategies from several MLSs that have gone green.
“Without question we are seeing far more buyers who say that energy efficiency is very important,” says Norton. “In my experience and those of others I know, there are somewhat more green homes available, but I would hardly call this a movement.”
At this point, it seems to be the architects and builders who are driving the market. Quite often, if a building plan does not call for green features, architects -- most of whom are LEED certified -- will try to influence a greener building plan.
“The builders seem to be way out in front of the buyers,” says Norton. “Builders are going all out to try and build homes that are tighter and more energy efficient, using low VOC paints and installing roofs that are longer lasting and won’t end up in landfills. They are doing things that builders were not sensitive to years ago.”