2014 Green Real Estate: Working With Buyers

Whether their dream home is a green home, or they're looking to reduce the carbon footprint of their move, environmentally conscious home buyers need your help.

April 18, 2014

Green is no longer a niche; it's a lifestyle. Show your buyers that they can both find an eco-friendly living space and settle into a new home without pouring too many fossil fuels into the environment.

The Search

If your buyers are looking for green homes, you can’t just type “green” into the MLS. You need to help them understand what they're looking for.

“Many buyers don’t really understand” what makes a home green, says Jim Gramata, team leader of the Gramata Realty Group at @properties in Chicago. And that’s where a good buyer’s representative can help explain the benefits of a home that go beyond the cosmetic. “I would argue that we need to look beyond the lipstick," says Gramata.

Gramata teaches the agents on his team — all of whom have earned or are in the process of earning NAR’s Green designation — to think of PITI in a different way. Instead of coaching buyers to examine just the principal, interest, taxes, and insurance (or PITI) on a home that they’re considering, he encourages them to look at the cost to heat and cool the home, as well as the home’s distance from their workplace or transportation options.

“It’s the miles-per-gallon equivalent of what your home is going to cost,” Gramata says. “That’s going to have a big impact on the final decision.”

Gramata and his team have gone a step further and created Healthy Homes Chicago, a group that aims to raise awareness about the environmental health of homes in the city.

Getting There

Once you’ve found some listings for your buyers to look at, think intelligently about how to get to the properties. If the environment is important to your clients, they’re probably not going to want to drive separately, following your Hummer over to the listing. Offer carpooling options, as well as public transportation and even bike routes.

And if you’re looking into buying a new vehicle, consider making an environmentally friendly choice. You can check out our product guide for 2014 automobiles to get an idea of options.

Joe Schutt, ABR, CRS, Green, broker/co-owner of Unit Realty Group in Boston, uses a Prius to get buyers to showings when they decide against using public transportation.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that the Prius is some weird thing,” Schutt says. But when his clients get in the car, he says they’re always surprised at how “normal” it is. Alongside that misconception, Schutt says that too many agents believe they need a big SUV in real estate. But he says his company had no problem going from a BMW X3 to the Prius.

“One day, I had a mom, dad, daughter, and fiancée in the Prius,” he says. “It’s very, very roomy.”

For some practitioners, it’s less about the vehicle used to get there, and more about maximizing the route.

“Planning how you even tour clients makes a big difference,” says Mel Harris, ABR, GRI, Green, owner of Elements Realty Group, LLC and commercial practitioner with Keller Williams Fort Worth, Texas. He stacks up his appointments intelligently, trying to make all of his trips as efficient as possible. He also uses teleconferencing tools such as Skype for meetings that don’t require face-to-face interaction. “There are good productivity tools out there … it adds value back to your timeline as well.”

Property Improvements

Even when you’re in a market with a lot of older, less efficient construction, you can still appeal to the environmentally aware buyer. Schutt says he always points out what’s “rehabbable.”

“We’ll chat about what we can do to save energy here and there,” Schutt says. Even in buildings where buyers cannot control the heating system of individual units, they can always install programmable thermostats. “That’s a really easy, quick fix to save some energy.”

Harris says his role as a Green designee is that of educator for buyers, teaching them about the options that are out there, and then connecting them with engineers and experts in the building science fields: “When you know you’re going to have to go in and upgrade anyway, that’s a good time to approach them with that [advice].”

The Moving Process

Beyond the transaction, there are a lot of ways to make the carbon-costly task of moving to a new place a little bit friendlier to the environment. And if you can help buyers cut the waste, they'll remember you.

The packing process, naturally a place for people to purge, presents many opportunities for reuse. Move For Hunger, a charity that helps distribute nonperishable food items that would normally be thrown away during a move to those in need, offers an interactive map where you can find movers near you who give back to the local community. You or your brokerage can also get involved more deeply with their effort by enrolling with the site or becoming an office partner.

One of the most helpful things you can do is to simply connect your clients with local companies that will see to the reuse of their unwanted items. Try to find companies and nonprofits that offer pick-up services and possibly branded bags or boxes in which your clients can deposit their unwanted items. That way, no one has to worry about making a drop-off run, and there’s no confusing the donations box with the moving boxes.

If you can’t find a good local option, The Freecycle Network is a good nationwide organization for giveaways because the gifted item goes directly to the person who needs it. It works like this: People looking to give away items sign up for a free account and post notices about those items online. People who need those items offer to pick the item up at the owner's convenience, often from a porch or front steps.

Many green moving solutions out there are local. Part of serving your environmentally conscious clients is knowing about the resources available; you may have an eco-friendly moving company close by and not even know it. Check out Green Movers USA to find local vendors you can refer to your environmentally conscious clients. The site has a clear rating system that denotes commitments as small as cardboard recycling to as significant as carbon offset programs and biodiesel trucks.

Whether your clients are hiring movers or not, they can always save a few trees by renting crates instead of buying cardboard boxes. There are a number of local and regional box rental companies around the country, but Rentacrate is one nationwide option. They also offer shredding, electronic recycling, and the opportunity to earn points toward LEED certification. Also, you can check out our green products article for a longer list of green moving companies.

Settling In

Finally, once they’re in the new place, you can also help your clients create a recycling space. Explain and document their options when it comes to garbage collection, composting, and recycling, especially if they aren't from the area.

Harris makes sure his buyers are aware of other environmental resources available in their new neighborhood, from rain-barrel building classes, to composting resources and trade-in events where home owners can obtain more efficient home products in exchange for older appliances.

“There are a lot of rebates and incentives,” Harris says. “Most people just aren’t aware of them.”

Meg White

Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.