Laura Reedy Stukel likes to say that her specialty is “we.” As a real estate professional who also serves on the board of Efficiency First, she is indeed a rare breed who represents two industries that have historically been at odds with each other. “There is so much misconception between the [real estate and efficiency] industries,” she says. “I hope to help others realize that a lot of our goals are similar.”
And that has definitely been Stukel’s focus over the last few years. She has helped create portions of the National Association of Realtor’s Green MLS Tool Kit and also serves on the board of the Home Performance Resource Center. She has earned both EcoBroker and NAR Green certification for real estate agents and has done consulting work for CNT Energy, among other companies, through her firm Not-YET-Green.
As she works toward merging the worlds of efficiency and real estate, Stukel believes that the first order of business is finding a way to accurately represent the efficient home in the multiple listing service. “What is the essence that we can put into the multiple listing service that flags the energy-efficient home from the traditional home,” she notes. “How can we bake that into what appraisers do every day and real estate agents do every day so that it just becomes part of the natural real estate process?”
While new construction has both LEED and HERS to verify their energy-efficiency investments, there isn’t a system for the existing housing stock to document improvements that are made. Without documentation, Stukel says the industry is never going to be able to create value out of those improvements. And without value, you can’t transform the market.
Stukel is part of a standards group at the Building Performance Institute (BPI) that is working to develop a “project record” that would document any energy-efficiency improvements made on a house, i.e., what was done, if there were projected or actual savings, who performed the work, what their certifications were, and the year the improvements were done. “It would be an official record that is in a format that is friendly to the multiple listing service,” Stukel explains. “It would be transferred from the homeowner to the new buyer and also shared with the appraiser.”
By capturing the essence of the energy-efficiency improvements, Stukel says it immediately creates a “flag” for the market that there is something unique or superior about a green home. “This is the thing that unites our industries,” she says. “As a real estate professional, it allows me to say, ‘Here are the preliminary things that we know about the home.’ The appraiser and underwriter would be able to do that, too.”
For this to work, Stukel feels the initial push has to come from the construction industry. “Contractors need to step up and say, ‘I was here; this is what I did; and I’m willing to share that with the world,’” she explains.
Of course, Stukel knows there is a lot more to transforming the market than a simple piece of paper. Although she won’t state her position on the SAVE Act, she does think that a good compromise for the efficiency and real estate world would be to factor energy efficiency into Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae guidelines—more of a regulation approach as opposed to legislation.
She also thinks the industry needs to find a better way to calculate energy savings within existing homes. “Long term, we have to get to a way where we can figure out estimated versus actual,” she says. “The efficiency world has to lock in their science.”
Similar to a HERS baseline, she believes that “science” needs to account for variances such as how many people live there and even the types of products that are being used within the home. “Once they can make calculations consistent and accurate, the real estate industry will respond, and there will be a value associated with that,” Stukel says.
Looking ahead, Stukel does feel the industry is starting to move toward market transformation. She points to the recent University of California study that indicates that people are started to see the rewards for making their homes more efficient. Like other disruptable technologies, she feels energy efficiency will follow a bell curve—starting with only a few takers that will see rewards, followed by a high point where “green” will start to become an industry norm, and, eventually, reaching a point where homes will be penalized—not rewarded—for not making energy-efficiency improvements.
“It just depends how fast we come out of the housing crisis,” she notes. “Once we come out of the crisis, efficiency will become a very accelerated focus for consumers.”
Unfortunately, Stukel thinks this focus will be more selfish than altruistic. “People want to get the most for what they are spending,” she says. “Energy efficiency becomes something that stands out and attracts buyers because they feel like they are getting more for their money.”
Stukel also expects the mind-set of home buyers to shift from home acquisition to homeownership. “When the market starts to come back in the next three to four years, I think very quickly you’ll see people understand that energy efficiency is a path toward better operating costs and better homeownership costs,” Stukel says. “It will be from a very selfish perspective, but at the end of the day, what is good for me is good for the planet.”