Do Buyers Really See Value in Going Green?

July 27, 2017

Even as Americans become more environmentally aware, it remains a challenge to convince home buyers that energy efficiency boosts the value of a home, housing and sustainability experts said Wednesday during the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2017 Sustainability Summit in Washington, D.C. Real estate professionals can demonstrate to buyers that their actions matter by speaking to them about how their purchasing decisions affect environmental preservation, NAR President-elect Elizabeth Mendenhall said.

From left, Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of Shelton Group Inc.; Craig Foley, associate broker and chief of energy solutions at RE/MAX Leading Edge in Somerville, Mass.; Lauren Hansen, president of the Council of Multiple Listing Services; and Sandra Adomatis, CEO of Adomatis Appraisal Service in Punta Gorda, Fla., discuss how to talk about energy efficiency with clients during a panel session at the 2017 NAR Sustainability Summit.

“Their interest [in energy efficiency] isn’t solely because they’re looking to cut down on household expenses,” she said. “It’s also because more and more Americans have developed more consciousness about what’s environmentally friendly or not.” Mendenhall noted that consumers are becoming more interested in controlling heating and cooling costs and installing energy-efficient appliances and lighting. To that end, 71 percent of REALTORS® consider it important to promote energy efficiency to their clients, according to an NAR sustainability report released in April.

But while consumers express desire to affect positive change in the environment, that sensibility is often set aside when deciding to buy a home, said Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of Shelton Group Inc., a Knoxville, Tenn.–based marketing communications agency that focuses exclusively on energy and the environment. “There’s all this desire, all this interest: ‘I want to be seen as green. It’s important to me. It matters. I want to be seen as behaving this way in my life,’” she said. But instead of evaluating how much water or electricity a home might use, buyers tend to base their purchasing decisions on items such as the kitchen design, Shelton added.

“We have trained Americans that beauty is what matters in our homes, not energy efficiency. Therefore, that’s what people prefer to spend their money on,” Shelton said. “We don’t talk about R4 insulation. We talk about the granite countertops.” A central reason home buyers tend to overlook energy efficiency when shopping for a property is that green features often produce only modest savings, she said. People have simply come to accept that high electric bills are part of modern life.

When talking about energy efficiency with buyers, practitioners should help them understand the benefits of a green home beyond lower energy bills, Shelton suggested. Such benefits include better control over heating and cooling, cleaner air, and being a good steward of their community’s well-being. “You may not be presented with a client who’s like, ‘I want a green home,’ but the odds are that they do want a green home. They’re just not going to say it like that,” Shelton said.

There are other challenges to communicating about energy efficiency for real estate pros, said Lauren Hansen, president of the Council of Multiple Listing Services. Few MLSs provide specific data fields for listing information about a property's green features, which makes it more difficult to highlight such options for buyers who are searching online, she said. The real estate industry also needs to reduce the use of jargon that people may have difficulty understanding, Hansen added.

Craig Foley, GREEN, a sustainability expert with RE/MAX Leading Edge in Somerville, Mass., said introducing the topic of energy efficiency to clients can affect transactions in both positive and negative ways, depending on your preparedness to explain the subject wisely. To mitigate problems, practitioners should get specific training on how to sell energy-efficient homes, he advised.

—Sam Silverstein, REALTOR® Magazine