What Is Green Residential Real Estate and What is a Green Realtor

You’re certainly not a tree hugger. But you have been thinking a lot more lately about energy costs, and you were taught the old addage of waste not want not as a child. Recently you’ve kind of bought into the idea that resources may be more finite than you  previously thought, and global climate change just might not be a lefty conspiracy to deny you your God given right to consume.  You may be thinking about buying a home or  making some upgrades to a home you live in or may be selling.  This could be an opportunity to put some of your new ideas about your carbon footprint into practice.

But like any new fad, navigating the world of “green” hype, spin and downright misconceptions, and distinguishing them from really useful planet sustaining choices might prove difficult and frustrating.  So just what is “green” real estate and what should your real estate agent know about it?  How will you know that a choice you may make that costs more now, will pay off in saving money over time–and how much time?

Here is the US Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide definition of a green home: A green home incorporates smart design, technology, construction and maintenance elements to significantly lessen the negative impact of the home on the environment and improve the health of the people who live inside. No matter your location or living situation, the opportunities for living a greener life at home are limited only by your imagination.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what a green home isn’t. A home with poor insulation, leaky casement windows that has all new Energy Star rated appliances cannot be called green.  A home that has new Energy Star rated windows but that has a twenty year old refrigerator, furnace and A/C unit is not a green home.

But if you are buying or selling an existing home that has all new energy efficient appliances or windows these are excellent features, and should definitely be highlighted by the listing agent in the marketing materials.  A buyers agent should be on the look out for environmentally sustainable features in any existing home that she shows you.

There are currently two designations for real estate agents to be certified as knowlegeble in listing or selling real estate with a focus on sustainability. The EcoBroker Certified designation is the one that I consider the most comprehensive both in terms of the scope of the training and the learning materials.  The National Association of Realtors rolled out their Green Designation last November. I think eventually the training may evolve to be as comprehensive as the EcoBroker training.

There are agents who are calling themselves “green” Realtors who have no certifications. But there are agents with certifications who are just not  “walking the walk”; and their knowledge is sketchy when it comes to serving clients looking to make a signifcant lifesytle change in the purchase or sale of real estate .  As a consumer you should know what questions to ask an agent if sustainability is important to you. Here are a few examples:

1. How can you help me to sell my home once I have made upgrades to make the it more desirable and sustainable?

2. Can you help me to know what features in a home I’m considering buying are energy efficient or sustainable?

3. Will you be able to make suggestions to me about sustainable improvements that I might make once I move into my home?

4. Do you have green vendors that you can recommend?

5. Should I have an energy audit? (Yes)

Hint: A Realtor driving a gas guzzling SUV is probably not “walking the walk” no matter what “green” designation she  has.

It is true that some green upgrades such as high energy efficient furnaces or A/C units cost more initially than their less energy efficient counterparts.  But the longterm savings if you live in the home or getting  a higher sales price  if you you make sustainable improvements far outweigh the potential additional expense. This DOE website will give you a good idea of cost versus savings.

Tom Zeller of the NY Times writes a great blog on greening his sixty year old home.