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

The Reduce-Reuse-Recycle Approach To Giving Your Home a New Look

WITH A HOME STAGER

Let’s face it, at some point many people feel their home needs a face lift.  If your first inclination when this happens is to go out and buy new furniture or at the very least all new accessories, pictures, etc., think again.  One of the most important tenets of sustainability is to buy and use fewer things that deplete the planet’s resources or wind up in the world’s landfills.  The fewer things that you are responsible for disposing of in landfills, the lower your carbon footprint will be. repurposing is a powerful word and can also save a lot of cash. A keen professional eye can help us to rearrange furniture, accessories, art work etc. to create a home with a whole new look.

Many people know the concept of home staging either because they watch HGTV or because they’ve sold a home in the last few years.  As a real estate agent I was staging listings long before the recent popularity and profitability of staging.  We think of staging as something you do when we’re selling a home and want it to stand out and shine.  And it works.  Staging a home for sale will almost always cause it to sell faster than an un-staged home.  Often after we staged a home the sellers commented, “maybe we won’t move now” or “will you come and stage our new house.”

So recently I had an idea.  Just because we don’t go out and hire an Interior Decorator when we want a change doesn’t mean we couldn’t benefit from a little professional assistance of a less expensive kind.  Why not have a home stager do exactly what she/he would do if you were selling your home.  The idea of staging is to use what you already but arrange it in a more attractive way.  Sometime stagers will have you add extra lighting or accessories but first they work with what you have. Often they have you remove things that you may love but that make your home look cluttered or don’t necessarily add to it’s attractivness. The stager is not attached.

I asked a stager friend of mine about staging homes for people who are not selling and she thought it was a great idea. I’m going to take my own advice.  I live in a small space and have nice artwork, sculptures, pottery, etc. that I’ve collected over the years–too much, I admit, for my small space. I’m also bored with the the way that I arranged my furniture 5 years ago when I moved.  I don’t really need anything new but I desperately need a new look. So this spring I’m going to just do it.  I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’ll take some before and after photos.

BTW, not all home staging is equal.  A good home stager doesn’t make it obvious that the home is staged.  The home should still look livable and lived in.  Occasionally I go into a staged home with clients and they start laughing–at the table set for four with fake food on the plates, or the outdoor furniture used to “stage” the living room.  All stagers are not equal, so if you want a good one, call me.  If you’re not in my area, ask to see homes they’ve staged. Stagers cost $85-100 per hour for consulting.  They can simply tell you what to do or they can also help you to do it.

The Before and After in the photos above was borrowed from www.homestagingexpert.com

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

What’s in a Footprint?–A Growing Market for Smaller Homes

A smaller house is a greener house, plain and simple–even if it doesn’t have EnergyStar this and EnergyStar that–even if it doesn’t have foam insulation, solar panels or a tankless hot water heater.  It’s greener because it’s carbon footprint is smaller.  A small house in a walkable neighborhood is even greener.

I have an adorable 1931 completely remodeled home listed for sale in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, VA.  Clarendon is one of the most “sought after” neighborhoods in the city because of it’s proximity to shopping, metro, restaurants, night life, etc.  Because of it’s desirability, it’s a fairly pricy neighborhood.  The house has just under 1200 square feet–so not large.  But it has been opened up so that there’s a wonderful flow.  It has large windows and amazing light. The landscaped yard is lovely and low maintenance. And the fact that this small house was not knocked down to build a larger house makes it greener still.

Part of the neighborhood has a dense concentration of high rise condominiums. A condo with comparable square footage could run nearly $600,000 with a condo fee of over $400 per month.  Buildings use 40% of all of the energy used with high rise buildings using the majority of that.  Most high rise condo buildings are not very energy efficient.  So their carbon footprint makes a giant sucking sound.

Why I wonder, would someone be okay living in a high rise condo paying nearly $600,000 for 1100-1200 square feet and a $400 a month condo fee but feel that a 1200 square foot house with no condo fee is too small.  Now I have nothing against condos and I understand that condo living fits a certain lifestyle.  But I do wonder if there is also the perception that a house has to be bigger than a condo or apartment?  If so,  that perception is changing according to all recent studies.  The small home movement is growing.

When I was a child, which was admittedly a long time ago, the first home my parents bought had three bedrooms, one bath, a living room, dining room, kitchen and a big backyard with an apple and walnut tree.  There were four kids and I don’t ever remember thinking our house was too small.  I do remember yelling at my siblings to hurry up in the bathroom and I remember the nightly bath schedule.  By the time I was 13 we had moved to a house that had 4 bedrooms, one and a half baths and a den.  We thought we were living in the lap of luxury!

For many decades most families lived in homes about the size of the homes I grew up in.  Now there is a clearly defined trend towards smaller homes. The changing demographics of the average home buyer shows that  single women made up 21 percent of the homebuyers in 2009.  These women are professional with busy schedules and no time for the maintenance of a larger home.

The National Association of Homebuilders is reporting that the average size of new homes has been declining for the last four or five years and young people and empty nesters are flocking to smaller homes.  And the Wall Street Journal Development Blog reported just this month:

Gen Y housing preferences are the subject of at least two panels at this week’s convention. A key finding: They want to walk everywhere. Surveys show that 13% carpool to work, while 7% walk, said Melina Duggal, a principal with Orlando-based real estate adviser RCLCO. A whopping 88% want to be in an urban setting, but since cities themselves can be so expensive, places with shopping, dining and transit such as Bethesda and Arlington in the Washington suburbs will do just fine.

“One-third are willing to pay for the ability to walk,” Ms. Duggal said. “They don’t want to be in a cookie-cutter type of development. …The suburbs will need to evolve to be attractive to Gen Y.”

So my little beauty of a listing is right in line with the national trend. Small is beautiful! Have a look.

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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.

Selling and Appraising Green Home Remodels: 2 Identical Homes-2 Different Remodels

Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Mr. and Mrs. Smith live in identical split level houses build in 1968.  They’ve been neighbors since they bought their homes in 1980. Both homes have been well maintained. But both families are empty nesters now, and in the last couple of years they’ve been doing  upgrades and remodeling projects in anticipation of retiring and selling the houses.  The houses have generous room sizes so neither feel the need to do an addition.  Both believe more than likely, a young family will buy their home. Their remodeling approaches are very different, however.

Mrs. Jones leaves all the remodeling decisions to her husband. Mr. Jones figures buyers are wowed by modern bells and whistles and first impressions.  Mr. Jones is very frugal so his goal is to spend the least amount of money to create the illusion of modern and updated.  So he does the granite countertop and stainless steel appliance thing in the kitchen, paints the whole house in one neutral color, puts in new neutral carpet in the bedrooms. He paints the existing cabinets an puts on new brushed silver hardware. Over the years the Jones had put in hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms, replaced the linoleum kitchen floor with tile, and updated the baths about 10 year ago.  BUT his HVAC system is 15 years old. It’s still working but doesn’t meet the latest energy efficiency standards.  The windows are original but the Joneses have all the storms and screens. Frugal Mr. Jones decided that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  And even though Mr. Jones notices heating and cooling bills rising, he figures they’ll  be in Florida by the following winter so best to leave well enough alone.

Mrs. Smith, on the other hand watches all the HGTV “green” shows and assures Mr. Smith that their house will be worth more, and better for the environment, if they make sure their upgrades meet the current demand for energy efficient, money saving and eco-friendly features.  Mrs. Smith works for the EPA and is concerned about indoor air quality.  The Smiths also replaced their existing kitchen appliances with stainless steel one but made sure the refrigerator, dishwasher were EnergyStar rated. They  put in granite countertops like the Joneses.  They replaced their washer and dryer and got a front loading, more efficient washer.  They had already replaced their windows in 2009 with windows that met the Dept. of Energy’s  standards for the U factor and SHGE measurements; and got a nice federal tax credit on their 2009 tax returns.  They decided to add a programmable thermostat and ceiling fans to enhance the efficiency of their 12 year old HVAC system.  Although they had updated their baths a few years ago, they put in dual flush conversion kits and low flow shower heads to improve water efficiency.  Like the Joneses, they painted the whole house, but used low-VOC paint and carpeted their bedrooms using recycled content carpet.

Which of these  homes should sell and appraise for more?   Given the cosmetic similarities, the extra energy and eco-friendly improvements the Smiths made should add value for the buyers and the corresponding appraisal required by the lender.  However, it’s crucial that their real estate agent aggressively market the green features to buyers, and that the appraiser has the knowledge to appraise green features. Fortunately sellers can now look for agents who have either an EcoBroker certification or an NAR Green Designation (or both) to market their home.  But appraisers have been slow to adjust to the changing market of existing homes with green remodeling features. There is now a  new Appraisal Institute book called An Introduction to Green Homes. The book teaches “appraisers on how to estimate values for popular “green” home features, such as energy-efficient appliances, toxin-free flooring and insulation and vegetated roofs.”

My solution is to meet the appraiser at any home I list where the sellers have green improvements.  I basically go over all the features with the appraiser and tell them what the cost savings and advantages of the features are.  I have yet to have a home not appraise.  I feel that educating buyers, sellers and appraisers is part of my job as a sustainability focused 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.

Green Building Market Grows 50% in Two Years despite Recession, Says McGraw-Hill Construction Report

A bright spot in the news about the building and real estate market.  It’s heartening to know that even for purely economic gain, there is a growing understanding of the need for a green economy to foster future economic growth.  This is a great article.

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/green-building-market-grows-50-in-two-years-despite-recession-says-mcgraw-hill-construction-report-107547978.html

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.


Do We Still Want Such Big Houses?—Space and Efficiency VS. Square Footage

Thankfully, in my opinion, the days of Hummer Houses, McMansions and Super-Size Me homes are numbered.  The housing trend that began in the 90’s toward larger and larger houses for smaller and smaller families is reversing itself.  This has something to do with the fact that in this economic climate, people can’t afford to buy or maintain ostentatious mini-mansions.  Keeping up with the Jones is a time-honored tradition in the US.  So until the housing bust, people were buying the biggest houses that a lender would give them a loan for, whether or not they needed or could  afford it.  But the downsizing also has something to do with a greater consciousness about how large our ecological footprint is, or should be.

Since the average family has declined so dramatically over the past half century, why do people want such big houses? The average American home swelled from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,349 square feet in 2004!  According to census data the average household size in 1950 was 3.37 people giving each household member 292 square feet person.  By 2006 the average household was 2.61 and the average square feet of a home had jumped to 2,349, giving each family member 900 square feet!  Is this progress?  Is it our God given and Constitutional right to take up more of the planet than we need?  I’m just asking.

 

 

I think what most people really want is a feeling of spaciousness, not necessarily humongous square footage.  As I show homes around the Northern Virginia area it’s impossible not to show older homes built anywhere from the 20’s to the 70’s that have closed in, crampy rooms with lots of walls separating each room from the next.  Without a doubt, buyers today—especially young buyers want open and flowing floor plans.  They want a kitchen that opens into a family or great room and the formal living room, in many cases, has gone the way of the model-T.  Why not use that space for a library, office or spare bedroom.  Buyers want a kitchen that has lots of counter space and maybe an island but it doesn’t have to be gigantic—just super functional.

Now I’m not saying there’s no justification for bigger homes.  More people work at home part or full time.  So they need an office.  Relatives no longer live next door, around the corner or on the other side of town.  They may live hundreds or thousands of miles away and space is needed to accommodate family visits.  But this doesn’t necessarily have to translate into thousands of extra square feet.  For example, that formal living room that’s no longer needed is now the office, which can house a pull out sofa or futon to become a guest room as needed.  Since most of us use laptops, we can have a portable office located in the kitchen desk area or on the extended kitchen countertop.

Wouldn’t looking at a home from the standpoint of higher performance in terms of space usage and efficiency rather than number of square feet make more sense?  Remember the first cell phones carried around in vinyl or leather cases, that were bigger than today’s land-line phones?  Cell phones got much smaller, with higher performance and much more efficient—oh, and less expensive too.  I mean, nobody wants a bigger phone, right?  Or remember the first laptops—expensive, large and heavy.  Fast-forward to today’s smaller laptops, netbooks and the Ipad.

Fortunately, builders are getting with the program and consciously building smaller but very space efficient homes, both for financial reasons and because they are seeing the same trend.  And counties around the country are putting the skids on overly large homes with new zoning regulations, higher taxes for homes over a certain size and/or using a green building checklist that the builder must adhere to.

All in all this trend and the changing model for home sizes is good for the home buyer’s wallet and for the fragile planet that we share with 7 billion other people.

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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.