New Green Tools of the Trade

By Laura Reedy Stukel

In 2009, “green” real estate was white hot – a bright focus during a down market. But as the economy and the local real estate market tried to right-size itself this year, the green trend seems to have stalled a bit.

But in many ways, this is a good thing. I see the trendy side of green falling away, and signs of a more lifestyle-driven green movement taking shape. Instead of defining green by “what,” it is beginning to be defined also by “how.” It is a movement from consuming the coolest green products or having the hippest green home, to a mind-shift to use what we have more responsibly.

New tools are evolving for real estate agents that will allow us to further drive this shift. Agents who understand this shift can offer additional value during the transaction and strengthen the long-term loyalty of their clients.

Agents can start the process by getting clients to think beyond what is in the home they’d like to buy to how they are going to live there. It begins with great questions on everything from environmental allergies to budget planning for items like utilities and commuting.

A wealth of tools exist or are evolving that will equip agents to ask great questions and help clients seek the answers. Since we are not entirely out of the “what,” or product-driven green trend, third-party certifications are an important first tool. Any product can be spun with clever marketing to sound green. The antidote for “greenwashing” — or describing a product that is green that really is not — is a third-party certification. From home build/design, to light bulbs and paint, there’s a certification for everything. Makers of the best green products take the time to have their product certified. Always remind clients to look for third-party labels to confirm certification status.

Last year, MRED rolled out a Green MLS, or collection of green fields, which is another critical tool for helping clients answer big-picture questions with potential green implications. The rollout included four fields that allow users to find homes with certain green build certifications or features. But the real magic happens with a simple field that asks, “Green Disclosure on File?” Homes that answer “yes” have a document attached, accessible to you or your clients, that provides nearly unlimited options to describe the green features of a home. In most cases, space is provided for details on third-party certifications to backup the information. The design allows for the marketplace to define what it means to be green. Sellers can enter as much detail as they want and a buyer can zero in on the details that interest them the most, and then verify if it meets their needs and expectations.

In the long-term, these tools will allow us to help clients have a more true picture of the costs of homeownership and there is a definite green connection. This spring, the Center for Neighborhood Technology provided an excellent resource to help consumers see how location choices impact the cost of owning a home. Their Housing + Transportation interactive mapping technology uses bold colors to help clients see how lower priced homes in one area might translate into higher overall budget constraints due to typical transportation expenses for the area. Less transportation needs can be good for the wallet and the planet!

Another important tool to help clients get a true understanding of the cost of owning a specific house involves getting a picture of energy use for the home. A standardized tool in this area is still a long way out and potentially controversial. For example, the Department of Energy this month released a proposal for a national approach to give homes a label based on their energy use. Such a label, along the lines of a “miles per gallon” sticker on a car, would allow buyers to make a true comparison between homes based on energy usage. But questions still remain about how energy use is calculated, who is equipped to figure it out, how you can get to an apples-to-apples comparison between homes in different climates and how many homeowners would actually step up to participate in the voluntary program.

While consumers are still curious about green products in a home, their expectations are starting to shift toward understanding how such a home will help them live better or for less money. New tools are evolving that will help us help clients answer those important questions and at the same time make the planet a little bit happier in the process!

Laura Reedy Stukel is an EcoBroker Certified Realtor specializing in “solutions for the not-YET-green home.” She is a speaker and consultant on home energy-efficient topics and a guest blogger on green topics for the Mainstreet Organization of Realtors and Chicago Agent magazine. She can be reached at l.reedystukel@lwreedy.com.

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