Submitted by Northwest EcoBuilding Guild
When looking to buy a home, people are often drawn by curb appeal, big beautiful kitchens, and … building performance? There’s strong evidence of a growing niche in the real estate industry focused on green features like energy efficiency, home comfort, indoor air quality, and natural materials. At a recent symposium, industry professionals and green building leaders discussed this trend of selling and buying homes based on their sustainable features. They concluded that a convergence of better information, public enthusiasm, and qualified trained professionals will deliver a surge in value this coming year.
On Tuesday, October 16th, more than 30 industry professionals came together for the “Green Building Valuation Symposium” in Olympia, one in an ongoing sustainability series (see www.Vision2Action.us) sponsored by Thurston County, the Thurston Climate Action Team (TCAT) and the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild.
“One great barrier to effectively measuring and describing the value of homes with green features has been getting accurate data,” said Fiona Douglas-Hamilton of SEEC LLC, the symposium’s facilitator and main presenter. “Therefore, it’s important that sellers and real estate agents document the details of the green features and deliver those to the appraisers so that they can make an appropriate appraisal.”
The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is the go-to repository for all the information that sellers describe about their homes, and which prospective buyers pour through when deciding what to look at. Our regional MLS, the Northwest MLS, was represented by Doug Davis, and he described how new fields that capture green features are now being worked into future versions of the tool. Currently, there is a check box for an energy addendum, and that is a spot for sellers to describe the energy efficiency and other building performance features of the home.
“These days everyone asks about the miles per gallon of a vehicle they are buying,” said Anthony Roy of Earth Advantage Institute. “Now home buyers can gauge the expected energy use of the homes they are considering, too.” He was referring to the Energy Performance Score, or EPS, which is a numerical measure of the expected energy use of a home. When measured and published, the EPS can be directly compared across houses, giving buyers a virtual “MPG” for homes.
The EPS is available locally as part of the comprehensive HomePLUS Energy Evaluation offered by Thurston Energy, a program of the local nonprofit Thurston Economic Development Council. “With a HomePLUS, a homeowner gets a complete education on how their home performs in terms of energy, so that they can make the most cost-effective improvements to save energy, save money and make their homes more comfortable,” said Ramsey Zimmerman, Thurston Energy Program Director. “And when the EPS score is published and explained as part of a home sale, potential buyers will be able to clearly understand how energy efficient a home will be.”
Lower energy bills translate into more purchasing power to pay for a mortgage, and local lenders are taking note of the interest of local people in making energy home improvements and buying energy efficient homes. Symposium sponsor Olympia Federal Savings offers Green Choice Lending that allows borrowers to fund energy improvements to their homes or the new houses they are buying. Generations Credit Union has seen a flurry of recent activity in their home energy improvement lending. Generations Credit Union members have financed dozens of photovoltaic (PV) solar systems, highly efficient ductless heat pumps, and other projects, all at low interest rates.
The real estate agents and appraisers in the room agreed that certifications and Continuing Education Units (CEUs) were critical to moving the effort forward. There are a host of upcoming training opportunities that offer CEUs, many of them featuring SEEC Solutions as a trainer.
“As for building public awareness, I encourage everyone to send their clients to Thurston Energy,” concluded Barbara Whitlow of OlyFed. “When you walk around during the energy evaluation, you learn so much about your home and how it uses energy. Brent Foster with Northwest Infrared shared his wealth of knowledge with me. It was a great experience.” Local groups like the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild and TCAT mount tours of green homes and solar homes at various times throughout the year.
Over 350 homes in Thurston County already have an EPS score. Soon, some of those homes will hit the market. And as people continue to be environmentally minded and cost conscious, demand for green homes will increase. We may soon start to hear buyers say “I love the house … the front is cute, the kitchen is big and the energy performance is amazing!”