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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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………

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.


If I Want a Green(er) Home Where Do I Start?

There are no national standards for what a “green” home really is.  The USGBC (United States Green Building Council) has the most recognized green building and retrofitting/remodeling  standards in the country.   But there are others—all with different standards.  There’s the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Build It Green and Built Green (yes, different organizations).  Then there are local standards such as Arlington, Virginia’s Green Home Choice Program.  Well you get the picture–whose standards do you use.  But here’s the thing—right now, in the Washington Metro area where I do business, there just aren’t a lot of new homes being built to any particular “green” standards.  Many builders are at least building all new homes to EnergyStar standards.  But as I said last week, energy efficiency alone does not a “green” home make.  And with the exception of USGBC, most of these ratings are for new construction.

So most of my clients are just trying to figure out what things they should do to upgrade and retrofit their older existing homes—either the one they’re buying or the one they’re selling—to make them more eco-friendly.  What is the first thing you should do?  Well I believe reducing your energy consumption is one of the most important and cost effective things to do first.  This isn’t necessarily sexy like putting in cork or bamboo floors or ice stone countertops. But it will have a measurable effect on reducing your impact on dwindling and non-renewable resources as well as significantly reducing utility bills.  Even if your home is only ten years old, it probably pretty energy inefficient.

First, insulate. I know—BOOOORING.  Oh well—so use the money you save on utility bills to buy an Ipad or something.  The cost of heating and cooling a home is 50-60 % of the total energy bill.  A few hundred dollars spent on insulation alone can cut a home’s energy bill by up to 20% per year.  There are many types of insulation and I’m not going to discuss them here.  But there are environmental concerns  to some degree for most of them.  So check out this link that discusses the pros and cons.  Some of the cons do have indoor air quality issues.  I will tell you that my favorite insulation is made from blue jeans. It’s the ultimate in reduce (get rid of some of your 10 pairs of jeans), reuse, and recycle thinking.

Second, air seal–also not exciting.  But like insulation, air sealing stops you from paying to heat and cool the outside of  your home. You can find many leaks simply by feeling the air coming in around doors and windows.  However, many leaks that come from spaces holes in attics, basements and crawl spaces.  These can be harder to find and a much bigger energy waster.  You might consider having a professional energy audit.  Energy auditors use equipment, such as infrared cameras and blower doors,  designed to suss out all the leaks in your house.  Some state energy departments have programs that are free or for a nominal fee, will do an energy rating on your home.

Oh, and by the way– there’s a 30% federal tax credit (up to $1500) on energy efficiency purchases until December 31, 2010. So this is the year to give that home you’re buying or selling, an energy makeover.

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.