I Think I Need An “Ask Me About” Button

You’ve seen those buttons that people wear, right?  “Ask Me About” something or other. I think I want an “Ask Me About EcoBrokers” button.  I’ve been an EcoBroker for three years and have had the National Association of Realtors Green Designation for two years. I proudly announce this on my website, on my email signature, on Facebook and Twitter.  But buyers and sellers never ask me about it, or how having these designations make me different from other real estate agents.  Yet they do make me different.  When I’m showing houses buyers don’t tend to ask me about the things that will affect their bottom line once they’re in a home—like “how energy efficient is this furnace or do you think I should replace the windows?”  When I talk about how the home’s orientation will affect their energy use for better or worse that information doesn’t seem to enter the equation.  Likewise, when I discuss walkability and potential resale value there is a clear disconnect.

Yesterday at an open house I had on my name badge and a button that said EcoBroker (not “ask me about” though). I had booklets on energy efficiency and my cards which say I’m an EcoBroker. Not one person asked, “What’s an EcoBroker.  Not one person picked up the energy efficiency booklet or asked about them.  Maybe I’m just nosy, but I would have asked.

Now I’m not expecting buyer and sellers to become tree huggers necessarily.  I mean, they don’t have to build straw bale homes and put solar panels up to bolster their “green” creds.  And I’m perfectly okay with my role as educator—to reach out to my clients and help them to be more informed about the personal environmental consequences of their home buying and selling decisions.  I would like to see the conversation around home buying and selling include questions like “Can you find out if the seller has made any energy efficient upgrades in the past few years or, “Will you advertise the fact that I’ve put in dual flush WaterSense rated toilets and EnergyStar rated appliances?” The answer from me would be YES to both of those questions.

There is no doubt that the future of home building and home renovations are moving toward more sustainable practices, especially in energy and water use.  Buildings make up 40% of all the energy used in the US.  Buyers and Sellers should understand how these new practices will impact their buying and selling decisions. They should also be aware of greenwashing, the practice of making questionable green claims in order to sell a product.  As an EcoBroker and NAR Green Designee, I can help to sort through the new world of thinking sustainably as a home buyer or seller.  So the next time you see me, ask, “What is an EcoBroker?”  Here’s a video of me describing why I became an EcoBroker.

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Gayle Fleming  703-625-1358    www.goinggreenhomesva.com    gayle@goinggreenhomesva.com

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Sunday Soapbox–Does It Really Matter?

Does it really matter if you try to live your life more sustainably?  Will it actually help to stop the destruction of the planet?  Can the little things individual people and families do make a difference when the BPs of world seem intent on squeezing every single dollar out of the earth at the expense of future generations?  Sometimes I wonder.  But to use one of my favorite quotes, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” (Margaret Meade).  I have to cling to the belief that it does matter–and that the collective will of world citizens is up to the challenge of taking back our planet.

And although I write most of my blogs from the perspective of how thinking “green” will benefit buyers and sellers of real estate, it is my desire to assure my grandchildren and all the children of the world, have a sustainable future that is the strongest motivation for my commitment.  I want to get the message out that the simple changes we make in our lives do matter, and can make a substantial difference in the future sustainability of the earth.

There can be no one, I’m sure, who was not horrified by the obscenity in the Gulf Coast. We watched daily, wringing our hands, feeling helpless as BP continued the damage to the environment, the economic stability and the lifestyle and culture of the region.

So does boycotting BP gas stations make a difference?  Probably not– not if we insist on continuing to fill gas guzzling cars at competitors’ gas stations.  Recently I had to drive a rental car after a red light runner totaled my Prius.  The only car the rental company had was a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV.  OMG!  I spent $70 in 10 days.  I’m used to spending $35 in two weeks!  That’s because I get about 38-40 MPG.  When I questioned a few people and asked how can people do this, they responded with what to me were horror stories, of spending $80 a week on their gas guzzling cars.  How can this make sense to anybody–both because we are a  nation in financial crisis but also because oil is ultimately a non-renewable resource.

Little Things Count

We don’t all have to turn into rabid tree huggers to make a couple of small but significant lifestyle changes.  Consider bottled water.  It takes 17 MILLION barrels of oil to make the plastic bottles used in the United States each year.  This doesn’t even count the energy required to manufacture and transport these bottles to market which severely drains limited fossil fuels.  And then there’s the fact that BPA and PETE chemicals in plastic bottles are suspected to have carcinogenic properties as well as the fact that the millions upon millions of plastic bottles that wind up in land fills (despite recycling efforts) generate toxic emissions and pollutants that contribute to global warming.  So what if you make a decision to put a water filter on your faucet or get a Brita pitcher (that’s what I use) and a couple of stainless steel water bottles to take with you.  Can you do that?  Will you do that?  It is a small sustainable change that will make a difference and also save you a lot of money.

I’m happy to see more and more people consciously using reusable bags.  It takes 60 to 100 MILLION barrels of oil to make the world’s plastic bags.  Yes, recycling helps but here’s the rub.  More and more foreign entities–read that China–are buying our recycled plastic bags and shipping them (more oil) overseas to make things in factories to sell back to us.  They are also exposing workers in these factories to toxins that are making them ill because the worker safety standards are lax and not enforced where they even exist.  That’s not an excuse not to recycle everything you can.  Reusable bags are a better choice.

Electronic Waste-A Growing Danger

Our growing reliance upon and obsession with technology is wreaking havoc on the nation’s landfills and thus on the water and soil we rely upon for irrigation, drinking and food production.  Lead, cadmium, beryllium, and mercury are just some of the contaminants we don’t want fouling our ecosystem.   In 2005, according to the EPA, 1.5 to 1.8 MILLION tons of electronic waste was disposed of.  But only 345,000 to 379,000 tons was safely recycled.  If you live anywhere near a Best Buy, a Staples or an Office Depot you can responsibly recycle all of your obsolete electronic junk–anything from computers, to compact discs, to plugs and cords–anything related to technology. I have an Office Depot Tech Recycling box right now that I keep adding too until its full.  Some U.S. counties have E-Waste recycling centers and if not, you can contact Green Disk Services.  You can mail up to 20 pounds of small electronics and electronic paraphernalia for $6.95.  And don’t forget about donating.  Many non-profits can use your old  computers and other technology.

Because of  the current economic climate many of us buying less, thus reducing our consumption.  Our economy should not be so dependent how much Americans buy stuff.  Trying to stick to the Three Rs–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a worthwhile effort to make.

And finally in the words of R. Buckminster Fuller, “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.”

This is one of my favorite videos.  I’ve watched it more than once.


Marketable, Cost Effective, Eco-Friendly Home Improvements

In a volatile and wholly unpredictable real estate market, in order for a home to sell in the fastest time and for the most money it is imperative that the home shows well and is priced correctly.  Nothing new here, right?  We’ve all watched enough HGTV to know this.  Anyone with an ounce of real estate savvy understands this concept…maybe…maybe not.  How much money should you spend, and on what, to get your home ready for the market? Of course that depends on what deferred maintenance and cosmetic updates you might want or need to make.

So let me use a real life example to give you some ideas.  A few months back I listed a 1965 split level home that was solid and in good shape and that had  some upgrades in the ten years since I sold it to the owner.  However it definitely needed some freshening up to put it on the market.  A kitchen addition with an eat in area and butler’s pantry had been added when I sold the house.  But the floor was the same inexpensive vinyl that the owner had talked about replacing when I sold it to her, but never did.  The carpet in two of the bedrooms, although good quality, was stained beyond cleaning and the entire house needed to be painted.

Instead of just saying, “freshly painted, new carpet and flooring”, we wanted to add a more marketable wow factor and use sustainable products.  We wanted potential buyers to feel that the seller cared about their well-being once they moved into the home.  So we didn’t just paint the house with cheap generic off-white paint or put in the cheapest new carpet and kitchen flooring. All of these would have had toxic implications because of the dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that would no doubt be found in them.  Here’s what we used instead.

Low VOC paint: Just a few years ago buying low VOC paint meant purchasing it from a specialty store or from an online seller.  This of course, meant the paint cost substantially more.  Today, Benjamin Moore, Behr, Sherwin Williams for example  all sell low or no VOC paints.  A couple of years ago Sherwin Williams low VOC paint was about $9 more per gallon than traditional paint.  Now–it’s about the same or maybe even a few cents lower.  So why not use paint that has absolutely no paint smell and that doesn’t expose potential buyers and their families to toxins?  Sherwin Williams and Home Depot’s Yolo brand sell for about $35 per gallon–about the same as any good quality regular paint.

Marmoleum Flooring: Marmoleum is one of the best flooring choices you can make.  You may remember your grandmother’s linoleum. Marmoleum is linoleum 2.0.  It’s a completely natural flooring material made from linseed oil from the flax seed, wood pulp and resin and other natural products.  It’s anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and has is non-allergenic.  It cleans easily, resists stains and burns and comes in beautiful colors and patterns.  And it’s much cheaper than, say ceramic tile.  Ceramic tile can cost between $5 and $15 per square foot plus $6-8 per square foot installation.  Marmoleum costs between $5.50 and $7.50 per square foot and around $2.50 per square foot for installation.

P.E.T Recycled Carpet: This carpet is made from the millions of plastic bottles that the world uses.  It’s naturally stain resistant and doesn’t off gas. It’s unbelievably durable and long-lasting.  And, it’s plush and beautiful. A medium grade regular carpet costs about $2.75 per square foot.  P.E.T costs $3.25.  Installation for either is $6 per yard.

The cost to use these materials is not much more, or is equal too using non-sustainable products. But the marketing potential is huge.  Even when buyers aren’t totally knowledgeable about these products, they are intrigued and appreciative.  The house in this example had a contract within 2 weeks.  There were minimal negotiations or counter offers and the seller will net exactly what she expected. Here are some photos from the house.

Pedal Pusher

I got an unusual real estate referral a couple of weeks ago.  A young woman from Colorado who is moving to the DC Metro area requested an agent who had an extensive knowledge of DC area bike trails.  Well, that would be me, of course.  It was the first time I’ve had such a request from a potential buyer.  Leisa will be working at Crystal City and absolutely wants to bike to and from work.  Her biggest fear was to wind up working with a real estate agent who would under estimate the importance of being able to cycle to work.  “When I asked a Realtor friend to refer me to a Keller Williams Realtor in the NOVA/DC areas, the most important request was not gender, not experience, not numbers. My future Realtor had to be a cyclist!  Because I intend to ride my bicycle to work, I wanted a realtor who understands the cycling routes and one who could relate to my bike-minded ways,” Leisa said.

Of course the DC Metro area has some of the best biking routes in the country. On a couple of occasions I have considered moving out of the area and each time, one of the main reasons I changed my mind was the lack of connected and extensive urban biking trails in the areas I considered moving to.

You might be thinking about reducing your carbon footprint or getting some needed exercise by biking to and from work. There isn’t a better area to safely pursue this goal.  I tell people all the time how amazing it is to be able to travel through the entire DC metro area including the states of Virginia and Maryland and the District of Columbia without using the city streets. And if you do have to use the city streets, bike lanes abound, especially in Arlington and DC.  Both Arlington and DC are making a concerted effort to reduce car traffic by increasing bike lanes in the city.  But if you aren’t ready to try cycling to and from work, you might just want to run some weekend errands by bicycle or see some Washington sights without the hassle of traffic and parking.  Sure you could take the metro but you won’t burn as many calories and it’s a much better view.

If you’re selling a home, being near a bike route is a great selling feature and the agent who markets your home should know this.  If you’re buying a home, even if you aren’t going to bike to work, having easy access to the bike trails is a real bonus.  I live about a mile from the W & OD, Four Mile Run and Mount Vernon bike trails.

Figuring out the bike routes is easy. DC has great maps for biking downtown to work.  We all use Google Maps right?  Well you can even map bike routes on Google! Bike Arlington is a wonderful site that features bike sharing, bicycle friendly businesses, all the news on biking in Arlington as well as route maps.

And how’s this for a real estate niche?  There is actually a real estate company that shows properties by biking to them. Petal to Properties is a full service real estate company with offices in Boulder, CO, Sonoma, CA, and Northhampton, MA. Hmmm, this has got me thinking………

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.


If It’s a “Green” Home, Can I Afford It–And What is a “Green” Home Anyway?

So you’re thinking about buying a green home. What does that mean, actually?  Does it mean buying a really big expensive home with “green” features?  Does it mean buying a really small home with a tiny ecological footprint?  Does it mean solar panels and a wind turbine in your back yard?   Does it mean you’re being a hypocrite if you don’t use rainwater barrels and stop driving your car?  Does it mean spending a lot more money than you ever would for a regular house?  “Forget it.  I’ll just buy a regular house.  It’s all to complicated, expensive and politically correct for me to figure out,” you might decide.

Or, you decide to sell your home that needs some work to get it on the market anyway.  So you decide to do all green upgrades.  Well, what does that mean exactly?  Do you have to replace your 5-year-old hot water heater with a tankless one?  Do you have to install all new windows that are triple paned and very expensive? Do you need to replace your oh, so ordinary hardwood floors, with bamboo?  Do you have to invest in solar panels to say your house is energy efficient? Will you recoup the investment?  “You know what, I’m just going to do the old standard stuff—paint, carpet, replace a couple of appliances and be done with it,” you might think.

NO, NO, NO and more NOs to all of these questions.  The myths about what a green home is, and how much it costs are many.  So I’m going to tackle some of the myths in my next few blogs and suggest some articles along the way.

The biggest myth is that buying a green home means buying a home that is many, many thousands of dollars more expensive than a regular home.  ­­First, there are nuances to what a green home actually is and that, in and of itself, is confusing.  Unfortunately green can be in the eye of the beholder.  Most new homes calling themselves green really just have some green features.  Until there are nationally agreed upon standards, what’s green will remain open to interpretation.

Buying a home with better insulation, a more tightly sealed envelope and EnergyStar rated appliances, HVAC systems and windows, does usually add a modest premium to the cost of the home.  But what is ultimately saved in energy costs and energy use, more than makes up for the additional premium.  But these are green features and do not give the builder the right to call the home a green home.  In fact, some new evidence is showing that homes that are tightly sealed but that still have VOC (volatile organic compounds) in cabinets,  carpet sealants, hardwood floor finishes, paint, etc—may be causing damage to the health of the home’s inhabitants!

There are some really great reasons to consider using sustainable standards when you buy or sell a home.  So, the bottom line is—buy or sell your home with an expert—someone who can guide you, advocate for you and protect you from greenwashing.  That would be ME–your EcoBroker certified, NAR Green designated Realtor.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

What’s in a Floor?

If you’re planning to make some flooring changes in your home you can do it using sustainable, earth friendly and IAQ* safe products.  I’d say hardwood floors are  the main level flooring choice these days.  Certainly the majority of my clients want hardwood floors in the homes they buy or want to install them.  They’re not just beautiful and easy to keep clean, but hardwood floors greatly reduce allergens if they’re not finished or stained with toxic chemicals. If anyone in your home has asthma or other allergies, hardwood floors will go a long way towards improving their quality of life.

Many buyers want to know when they purchase an older home that is carpeted, whether there are hardwoods underneath. Recently I listed an older townhouse for sale and the seller was going to replace the carpet that had been there since she purchased it.  When the carpet was pulled up absolutely beautiful hardwood floors were revealed that didn’t even need to be refinished. That was great.  But what if the floors need to be stripped, sanded and refinished?

If the floors need to be refinished, find a company that uses low or no-VOC finishing products. These finishes will not leave highly toxic fumes circulating in your home for months. Osmo is one brand of floor finishes and stains that Universal Floors, a DC metro area hardwood flooring company uses.  CCI  Wood Floor Specialists is a small Virginia company whose owner, Jimmy Stallings, only uses VOC compliant products when he finishes floors. The Green Home Guide has a lot of information on hardwood floor finishes.

If you are installing hardwood floors you should look for FSC certified wood floors. The Forest Stewardship Council is an organization that promotes responsible forest stewardship to reduce the worldwide destruction of CO2 life giving forests.  Look for this symbol.

Reclaimed wood is another way to install beautiful hardwood floors with minimal environmental impact.  This is the ultimate repurposing. Its previous life may have been in a North Carolina tobacco barn or railroad trestles in the midwest.  This wood is generally more expensive because reclaiming and milling it adds to the labor costs. It can have really unique qualities and looks that for some, may be worth the cost. As always, be careful on sourcing reclaimed wood to make sure the company is not greenwashing.

Illegal, unsustainable and unmanaged wood (tree) harvesting is destroying large quantities of the world’s forests in places were the ecological balance of nature is being seriously compromised such as Indonesia and the Amazon.  China, which makes most of the wood products used in the United States, is scouring the world buying up wood because deforestation in China is a huge problem. The World Wildlife Fund reports on the global impact of deforestation.

*Indoor Air Quality


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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

Water–The New Oil

This morning I installed an EcoFlow (Waterpik)* shower head.  Of course I installed it incorrectly the first time because it I’m spatially challenged and it is absolutely impossible for me to complete any mechanical project correctly the first time. But still it only took me 15 minutes to install, even with the mistakes.

So why use an EcoFlow showerhead?  Well, a regular showerhead uses about 20 gallons of water for a five minute shower while the EcoFlow uses about 7.5 gallons.  The EcoFlow showerhead uses 40% less water than a 2.5 GPM showerhead, which is now the minimum standard.  And you can save even more by using the pause button on the showerhead while you lather up.  I love this feature.  Oh, and if you’re worried about not getting a strong water flow, don’t.  The shower is just as satisfying as using a regular showerhead.

Why should you be concerned about water usage, especially if like me, you don’t even pay the water bill because it’s included in the condo fee.  And even if you pay for water, in the US it’s subsidized at artificially low prices, substantially lower than anywhere else in the developed or developing world.  However, safe clean water is becoming a problem worldwide.  Our rivers are at risk, there is diminishing ground water, water pollution and climate change are threatening the world’s water supplies.  In the US the average American uses one hundred gallons of water per day while the worlds poorest people get by on less than five gallons.

The EPA’s new WaterSense program can help you to make wise water conservation decisions and the average family could save about $170 per year by installing water conserving fixtures in your home.  “Giving your main bathroom a high-efficiency makeover by installing a WaterSense labeled toilet, faucet, and showerhead can save your household more than 7,000 gallons annually—that’s about enough water to wash six months worth of laundry.”  Not all water saving fixtures have the WaterSense label because many brands are still being tested for qualification in the program. Currently there are no tax incentives for this program but there are regional incentives listed on the WaterSense webpage.

And when you get ready to sell your home and hire me, the EcoBroker certified and NAR Green Designee real estate professional to sell your home, I know just how to market all of the green and sustainable features to today’s buyers who really care about these things.

If you want to learn more about our endangered water resources, National Geographic’s “Fresh Water 101” is all about water.

Interesting  Water Factoids:

Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh and two thirds of that is frozen. That leaves less than 1% to grow crops, cool power plants, supply drinking and bathing water, etc.

Farms and ranches use 64% of all fresh water.

It takes 4000 gallons of water to produce 500 calories from beef.

*There are other brands of low-flow showerheads. WaterPik is the one I chose.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.