The days of “us” and “them” are fading. Through old-fashioned relationship-building, along with new business practices that target green-conscious buyers, a growing number of real estate agents, appraisers, and lenders have discovered they can boost their bottom line by partnering more closely with green home builders and sustainable community developers—and they’ll contribute to the growth of the green revolution while they're at it.
Bridging the Industry Gap
Danielle Johnson, who holds EcoBroker and Healthy Home Professional designations and is broker and owner at Infiniti Real Estate and Development in Seattle, Washington, is making cross-industry partnerships a priority as she supports her community’s move toward a more sustainable future. “The biggest benefit of our relationships with specific builders is staying up-to-date on new approaches, systems, materials, and advances in certification programs within the sustainable building field,” Johnson says. “The secondary benefit is obviously being able to assist them, or clients they refer us to, when there’s a need to buy or sell a green home.”
Cultivating relationships across the green industry has expanded Anna Altic’s real estate business, too. “I have developed relationships with green builders, energy auditors, third party verifiers, green architects, green landscapers, city services such as recycling, and local farmers markets,” she says. Altic, an independent real estate professional at Village Real Estate in Nashville, Tennessee, with EcoBroker, GREEN, and e-PRO designations, is a long-time promoter of the green building movement, and believes that agents and builders both benefit from stronger partnerships. “There is a real disconnect between the consumer and the builder,” she says. “Builders struggle with how to market features the average consumer can’t see or even fully understand, even though pricing is often at a premium.”
Lenders are also getting involved, whether it’s funding sustainable communities, green home purchases, or energy efficient upgrades to existing residences. Houston, Texas-based Green Bank enthusiastically embraces sustainability. “I believe there is strong support among lenders for green projects in general,” says Carolina Maynez, Green Bank’s commercial banking vice president. Her team networks with individual builders as well the Greater Houston Builders Association, and is taking on projects such as “financing the construction of energy efficient single family residences in one of Houston’s most historic neighborhoods.”
Al Medina, director of the National Association of Realtors’ Green Designation, says it’s important to “network within the green industry. This includes meeting community planners, developers/builders, architects, energy raters, and other green industry professionals.” He stresses that gaining the attention of green-savvy buyers requires the right networking and marketing, and says, “This network of contacts will not only expose [agents] to the local green scene, but it is also a source of potential business.”
Connecting Buyers and Builders
The poor economy and tanking home values have pushed the green issue down on consumers’ priority lists, and Johnson reports that sustainability no longer ranks as a primary concern for most of today’s home buyers. “Price and location are back on top, but if a green option exists and the home fits their needs amenity-wise, it will definitely be a top pick.” Agents and lending organizations are often the link between home buyers and green builders, and experts say that crafting a sustainability message that gets attention in the current economic environment requires good collaboration. “Green builders and developers definitely appreciate our focus on sustainability,” Johnson says. “They know we understand what they’ve built, and are confident in our ability to convey their story—and the features and benefits of their project—to all potential buyers.”
According to John Beldock, PhD, executive director of the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals, which awards the EcoBroker designation, consumers may see “green” as a loaded or overused term, and are now being more cautious about using sustainability as a comparison tool when shopping for homes. “The good news is that we're constantly hearing our membership report that people prefer better homes, better quality, better operating costs, and health-sensitive features,” he says. “This bodes well for the high performance building industry, where energy and environmental features in residential buildings can now often be found in the same price points as those homes with less focus on performance, health and safety, and comfort.”
Frequent and ongoing exposure to buyers’ questions and concerns gives agents a valuable perspective on which green home features pluck the “buy” chord, insight that may help builders fine tune their offerings. Among the amenities likely to appeal to sustainability-minded consumers, Altic says that “incorporating innovative design features such as systems for easy recycling of everything from household trash to electronics” are attractive points, along with “systems for rain catchment, composting, vegetable gardening, storing bicycles, and managing phantom power.” She believes these features strike a good balance between builder costs and consumer demand, as they are likely relatively inexpensive to incorporate but would boost the “cool” factor for consumers and generate more traction for builders
Agents and appraisers hoping to garner more green-conscious clients might look to Johnson’s in-depth service offerings, which go beyond what buyers have traditionally expected from agents. “We offer healthy home assessments, third party energy audits, and a homeowner’s maintenance guide to all our buyers,” Johnson says. “We also have an extensive list of professionals we can refer them to for everything from sustainable moving companies to solar installers.” The assessments and audits her team provides help buyers to understand how a green home’s features, such as incorporation of natural light, use of low-VOC finishes, and efficiencies through passive solar heating, will affect their long-term energy and maintenance costs, as well what kind of health and comfort buyers can expect from their home.
Going the extra step may be a determining factor in how seriously buyers view an agent’s commitment to sustainability. Altic helps clients evaluate local statistics to determine how green homes are performing in a particular area, along with identifying which features are fetching higher prices and quicker sales. She also weaves a lifestyle of sustainability into other aspects of her sales approach. “This year I have incorporated a bicycle into my transportation plan,” she says, “and can take buyers out on bike to view homes and evaluate a neighborhood in terms of how pedestrian-friendly it is.”
A Darker Shade of Green
Lending organizations interested in becoming more involved in the green revolution should look to their core values for guidance. “A key part of Green Bank’s culture is our commitment to support sustainability projects and make a difference within our community,” Maynez says. She suggests that other lenders keen to become players in the green revolution take a practical approach. “Get familiar with the various programs that support green initiatives at the local, state and national level,” she says.
Focusing on green real estate may seem overwhelming—there’s a wide variety of professional designations available, dozens of organizations to join, and a lot to learn—but Johnson says that a genuine inner passion can help guide you. “Find out what it is about sustainable building and green homes that really speaks to you, and focus on learning more about that,” she says. “When you are passionate and knowledgeable, that authenticity will attract the kind of clients you really enjoy working with.”
Altic echoes the importance of being genuine when she describes her connection to her clients. “The bulk of my buyers have found me online because my core values resonate with them,” she says. “Often they aren’t in the market for a green home, but upon learning more about options in their price point, [they] are more than willing to go in that direction.” Even when sustainability isn’t a top priority, clients can envision a green home as part of a more efficient and environmentally-friendly lifestyle.
To view this article as presented in our September 2011 issue including additional photos and graphics, please click here.