As a new writer on the EcoHome staff I’m learning a lot about green home building—by many accounts the singular bright spot of the U.S. construction industry. But I’ve been dismayed to find that not all sectors of the housing industry value eco-friendly homes to the same degree.
While Americans are becoming savvier about the benefits of living in a green home, some professionals who sell, appraise, and finance these houses need a lesson or two in Green 101.
“We’ve got to change the way appraisers and lenders value our homes,” Pulte Homes’ director of strategic marketing Walter Cuculic told attendees at an educational session during the Greenbuild Conference last month in Boston. He said some of his company’s green homes have a HERS rating of 70--much better than the Energy Star standards--“but we won’t see a dollar of that in the appraisal.”
Builders big and small across the country face similar challenges when their banks or appraisers fail to find value in green products and technologies. Plus, the sinking U.S. economy, stagnant construction industry, and tight credit market are making it harder than ever to get top dollar for green projects.
But there is some good news on the horizon: A new training course is helping home appraisers recognize and valuate residential green building features. The Appraisal Institute program will demonstrate how eco-friendly building techniques affect a home’s cost and how to make sales comparisons of green homes.
This new way of thinking about green houses could even trickle down into the lending industry. After all, borrowers with lower utility bills should be able to afford higher mortgages, and this may encourage lenders to offer bigger loans to buyers of sustainable houses.
But lenders and appraisers aren’t the only ones who need to adjust their thinking. During Greenbuild, I heard unfortunate stories about Realtors who aren’t familiar with the LEED for Homes certification or healthy home attributes, and about outdated real estate listing services that don’t include criteria for sustainable or energy-efficient features.
Thankfully, I also learned that in some parts of the country things are changing. Earth Advantage, a Portland, Ore.-based green building certifier, compelled local MLS representatives to expand the area’s listing service to include information on energy-efficient and green homes. Earth Advantage also developed a training program for local real estate pros. The Sustainability Training for Accredited Real Estate Professionals (STAR) program focuses on the benefits of green homes and gives Realtors tools to communicate these advantages to their clients.
Now, real estate agents in the Portland area can describe a property's environmental qualities or tout its green certifications. They can help buyers search for specific eco-friendly products such as high-efficiency gas furnaces, heat pumps, or solar systems.
Across the country, healthy, sustainable, and energy-efficient houses are emerging as some of the most sought-after properties on the market. Many Realtors now can easily pinpoint homes with these features, and they’ll look smart doing it. It’s one step on the long road toward a strong, vibrant housing industry.
Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor, Online, for EcoHome.