Sarah Anderson is a REALTOR® with The Smallwood Team with RE/MAX Advantage Realty who specializes in green features for both new and existing homes. Before joining The Smallwood Team she led her previous brokerage to become the first recipient of Howard County’s Green Salute Award in recognition of the marketing and education efforts she led surrounding a newly built green home. We checked in with her to hear her advice for working in this field and to find out what the most popular green trends are these days.
What have you learned about marketing a green home versus a traditional house?
You have to take a slightly different approach. Most people haven’t seen some of these systems before (e.g. tankless water heaters or solar panels) so I would recommend doing an educational event. For the home where we won the award, we had over 300 people come and see the house. Take people through on guided tours and explain how things work. That means agents have to educate themselves too.
Are there any challenges to marketing a green home?
You get into this position where there will be green features, but you can’t necessarily say it is a green home. That’s something that we’re going to have to develop as an industry. There are various third-party green certifications that exist in other states, for example on the West Coast they have Built Green Certified buildings. But right now on the East Coast there are really only two ways of classifying a whole house to be “green”. Either through a LEED Homes Certification or EnergyStar Certification. There’s this misconception among real estate agents where they think that energy efficient equals green or recycled/sustainable materials equals green. Really, no one has clearly defined what the whole package is for this area. You can say a house is green if it energy efficient or has sustainable finishes, but as soon as you say “green” you’re going to have a lot of people pointing fingers and saying it isn’t really green because it still has too large of a carbon footprint for other reasons that the home might not contain the entire “green” package—green can mean a lot of things.
What are some of the most common must-have features that buyers are looking for these days?
The one thing that I’m seeing come up that is becoming absolutely essential is the seller needs to disclose a year’s worth of utility bills. Energy usage is one the top features people are asking about. Even just disclosing the usage info gives people a sense that the seller is backing up their claim with numbers. As nice as green is we’re still seeing all of these things be cost driven. It can be green on the environment side, but it has to be green on the money side too. Green construction itself isn’t necessarily more expensive, but sometimes the upfront costs of products themselves run higher. But many of them are less expensive to run over the course of their lifespan, so there are cost savings longterm.
It can also be advisable for sellers to get a home energy audit and provide to prospective buyers. This can create a very clear picture of how the house uses energy and can even identify which upgrades and repairs will save the most energy and provide the quickest return on investment.
You are an expert on renewable energy and solar energy specifically. What are some things most people don’t know about this topic but should?
There are still several tax incentives that exist for people if they have solar panels installed. We see a lot of solar leases which people need to read carefully. If you’re doing a solar lease and decide that you want to sell your home a couple years into the lease the sale of your home can be subject to the leasing company approving your new buyer. Not a lot of people know that. You also have to get an appraiser that understands how solar adds not only extended value to life of your roof, but it also increases the monetary value of the house because you produce your own energy. There is a formula they can use to quantify the value of the solar panels and the power that they will produce over their useful life. Also, solar panels don’t necessarily have to be installed on the roof. They can be ground-mounted which is proving to be more and more popular with homeowners.