Energy Efficient Homes Sell For More

When a seller decides to make improvements to get their home sold for the highest price, painting, landscaping, de-cluttering and staging are the things they are most often told to do by their real estate agents.  After all, most buyers don’t examine the insulation in the attic or check for drafty doors and windows when they’re looking at home. But since buildings use 40% of all fossil fuel energy in the United States, the idea that sellers can quantify energy use is becoming a more marketable factor in home value.

Occasionally buyers will ask what the utility costs are when they have seen a home they would like to consider. And occasionally sellers will proactively display monthly utility costs if they happen to be pretty low. Since the cost of utilities is a recurring monthly expense just like a mortgage it make sense to think of the utility bill as part of the overall cost of home ownership.

Just like buying a car, homebuyers are looking for something physically attractive.  In other words, they aren’t going to buy a house that is unattractive to them just because it’s energy efficient.  But surveys show that energy efficiency is becoming more and more important to buyers.  In fact 39% of all homebuyers say energy efficient is a very important factor in their home buying decision.  New home building codes are mandating higher levels of energy efficient standards.  However, older homes have no such requirements.  So a seller who consciously improves the energy efficiency and has an agent who knows how to market these improvements can expect more interest in their home and possibly a better price if the home has the other attractive features a homebuyer is looking for.

In order to assess the energy efficiency of a home the homeowner should first have an energy audit performed by a reputable auditor.  Once the report is in hand the homeowner can proceed to systematically make the improvements necessary to make the home more efficient.  And the improvements don’t need to be cost prohibitive or so expensive that the seller won’t recoup the investment.  For instance, windows don’t necessarily need to be replaced if they are old and single pane. Simply caulking and/or new storms can dramatically improve efficiency by cutting down on drafts.  On the other hand, if the home won’t be sold for a number of years, new windows may be worth the investment.

If the HVAC system in a home is more than 15 years old it might be worth replacing even if it hasn’t broken down.  In 2006 the SEER rating (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) was mandated to be at least 13, which was a fairly dramatic increase in energy efficiency.  Today HVAC systems with SEER ratings between 18 and 23 are available.  The lifetime cost of operation for a 23 SEER rated HVAC system is half that of an older 8 SEER system.  The cost for a new HVAC system is much less than a complete kitchen remodel for example, and if properly marketed in the sale of the home, may be a better investment.  After all you can’t account for someone else’s taste in kitchen design.  But knowing you have a new furnace that will save you hundreds of dollars in energy costs over the course of a year, and is good for the environment because of lower greenhouse gasses, is certainly a good selling feature.

Insulation is a biggy and a very cost effective improvement.  Using an insulation material that is free of formaldehyde, which is not good for  the indoor air quality in a home, adds yet another marketable eco-friendly feature.  This article from the Sierra Club Green Home has some great tips on insulation.  If you’re thinking of replacing older appliances to add value and appeal to your home be sure they’re Energy Star rated.

A Realtor who understands the importance of marketing energy efficiency and eco-friendly features of a home can add thousands of dollars to the seller’s bottom line.  To often when I preview or show homes I recognize features that I point out to clients, but that are nowhere to be found in the marketing material, either online or in print.

EB-Certified-Logo-for-web2GreenLogo_CMYK[1]

Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@gmail.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 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.

EB-Certified-Logo-for-web2GreenLogo_CMYK[1]

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.

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.

EB-Certified-Logo-for-web2GreenLogo_CMYK[1]

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.

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.

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.

EB-Certified-Logo-for-web2GreenLogo_CMYK[1]

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


EB-Certified-Logo-for-web2GreenLogo_CMYK[1]

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.

Beware–The Air You Breathe At Home Could Be Hazardous To Your Health

You may assume that air pollution is what is going on outside your home–smog, gas fumes, pollen, etc.  A number of years back we heard about “sick building” syndrome where some employees got sick working in large windowless, ventilation poor office buildings.  But you probably don’t think of air pollution as something that’s found in your home. The truth is, that you are in far more danger from what you breathe inside your home than outside or at your workplace. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is not something most people think about when they are buying, selling or living in a home.  The health consequences of not being mindful of the quality of the air that family members breathe inside the home are becoming more and more important.

ASTHMA

May is Asthma Awareness Month.  More than 20 Million people are affected by Asthma in the US.  Rates have risen steadily over the last 30 years, particularly among children aged five to fourteen.  And believe it or not, many of the environmental triggers are inside your home. Indoor air pollution sources release gases or particles into the air and are the primary sources of IAQ problems. Asthma can be triggered by things like mold on your shower curtain and dust mites in pillows and blankets and even children’s stuffed animals!

FORMALDEHYDE

Another indoor pollutant that many of us that most people aren’t aware of and that can greatly exaserbate asthma and other allergies is formaldehyde.  Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, and household products.  There are concerns, but inconclusive evidence that formaldehyde may cause cancer.  The EPA points out that:

In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Pressed wood products made for indoor use include: particleboard (used as sub-flooring and shelving and in cabinetry and furniture); hardwood plywood paneling (used for decorative wall covering and used in cabinets and furniture); and medium density fiberboard (used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops). Medium density fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product.

RADON

How Radon Gets Into Homes

One of the most dangerous pollutants–one that can’t be seen, smelled or tasted, is radon gas. A little known fact is that radon gas causes approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.  As a Realtor, I am appalled by the number of agents who do not advise their buyers on the importance of having a radon test at the time of the home inspection.  Some time ago a woman from India who taught Yoga in her basement for years, was diagnosed with lung cancer and eventually died. When she was diagnosed she was mortified and ashamed.  She had never smoked and had been a healthy vegetarian all of her life.  I have always believed that radon gas was responsible.

Radon is a naturally occuring gas formed from the breakdown of uranium found in nearly all soils.  It is estimated that nearly 1 in 15 U.S. homes has elevated levels of radon. Radon can AND SHOUD be mitigated if the levels reach or exceed the current EPA recommended levels of 4 pCi/L. Have your home tested if it hasn’t been.  And test every couple of years.  Here is a link to the EPA’s Home Buyer and Home Seller Guide on radon. The graphic t shows how radon gets into homes:  1. Cracks in solid floors 2. construction Joints 3. Gaps in suspended floors 4. Gaps around service pipes 5. Cavities inside walls 6. Water supply.

In April of this year, the Presidential Cancer Panel called for better action on Radon.  The 2008-2009 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel, entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We can Do Now”  has been released and highlights the risks from radon and states that “the cancer risk attributable to residential radon exposure has been clearly demonstrated and must be better addressed.”

Indoor air quality is such an important topic that I will continue it in my next blog.  Meanwhile check out the interactive  IAQ Tour of a house to see the dangers that lurk in your home.

EB-Certified-Logo-for-web2GreenLogo_CMYK[1]

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.