2014 Green Real Estate: Working With Sellers

From the listing presentation, to marketing a property and knowing a green structure when you see one, there are many ways to incorporate the environment into the home sales process.

April 18, 2014

You have many opportunities to score one for the planet before meeting prospective sellers, regardless of whether you’re actively marketing yourself as an environmentally friendly practitioner.

Getting the Listing

When he puts together a listing presentation for sellers, Joe Schutt, ABR, CRS, Green, broker/co-owner of Unit Realty Group in Boston, makes sure it’s available in several different formats. That way, agents can show sellers how it looks on a wide variety of mobile tools; the only format he won’t consider is paper. When the presentation is finished, agents can send it to the clients for their own review.

“We can actually just email that over to them,” Schutt says. “That way we don’t leave behind this big ream of paper.”

After they get the listing, Schutt’s group carries the pledge to cut down on paper waste through the marketing process.

“I used to work at a company that would have three- or four-page show sheets,” Schutt says. “We were happy to get it down to just one sheet of paper … but we really would like to go down to just a small postcard.”

Schutt says that any information they can’t fit on the piece of paper they use at showings goes on the single property website they build for each listing, alongside any video or virtual tours they may produce.

Setting the Stage for Green

Showing a property in the best light can be an occasion to spend money and resources, but it doesn’t have to be. One way to cut down on waste in the staging process is to source reusable items. Antique shops and thrift stores can be a great resource for design inspiration; a collection of colored glass bottles or a cluster of air plants nestled in a pretty little dish can bring a whole new life to a room for a couple of dollars.

If you’re feeling crafty, head to the closet for inspiration. You can make cozy, reusable cover-ups for less-than-perfect furniture out of old sweaters you’re not wearing anymore. Just cut the arms and collar off and hem the sides of the squared-off front and back panels. Drape them over cat-clawed sofa tops or stained chair seats for a sweet, rustic look.

If indoor air quality is a concern, consider adding these house plants, identified by NASA as able to filter volatile organic compounds (VOCs) out of the air, to your staging arsenal:

  • Heartleaf, selloum, or elephant ear philodendrons*
  • Cornstalk, Janet Craig, warneckii, or red-edged dracaenas*
  • English ivy
  • Spider plant
  • Weeping fig
  • Golden pothos
  • Peace lily*
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Bamboo or reed palm
  • Snake plant
    *These plants are poisonous to house pets, so you may not want to use them if you have cats or dogs.

Green Stamps of Approval

Green building is an art in itself, and you should always consult the experts when it comes to the best way to build, sell, or buy a green home. Or better yet, become an expert yourself by earning NAR’s Green certification.

Mel Harris, ABR, GRI, Green, owner of Elements Realty Group LLC and commercial practitioner with Keller Williams in Fort Worth, Texas, was in one of the first Green classes back in 2008. He says the designation helps his business, but in the end, “it’s not a habit; it’s a lifestyle.”

“NAR is bringing something to the table that is going to give us a boost,” Harris says. “It opens the door up to the consumer, [but] for us it’s about living it and practicing it on a daily basis.”

There are a few ways to highlight and quantify the benefits of a green home that anyone can take on. Be sure to always point out Energy Star appliances when they’re staying with the property. And make sure you know whether it’s merely products within a property that are Energy Star rated, or if the entire property (residential or commercial) has earned the Energy Star label.

Getting a home LEED certified is an involved process that is more likely to be filed under a builder’s bailiwick. But if you’re interested in a predicted LEED score, you can create a project on their “LEED for Homes” site. This isn’t the same thing as certification by any means, but it can help quantify the effort that has gone into making a structure environmentally friendly.

Still, you must be careful about any green claims you make. Jim Gramata, team leader of the Gramata Realty Group at @properties in Chicago, says he’s seen listings that reference “LEED-type” houses that supposedly follow the principles of LEED without having any proof. He suggests such tactics can damage even well-meaning practitioners’ credibility.

“There’s the whole 'greenwashing' thing,” Gramata says. “I try to stay away from the word ‘green’ because it’s just not well defined.”

Instead, Gramata says you should look for well-defined green features in your local MLS that can be quantified, such as the Home Energy Ratings System, or HERS program. HERS scores are being included in more and more MLSs. The score is determined by a host of factors, including insulation, building orientation, windows, HVAC efficiency, possible leaks in a building’s envelope or ducts, and alternative electricity generation, such as solar panels. The lower the score, the more efficient the home. This is where the “net zero” homes come into play, where the building generates at least as much energy as it uses.

Harris says it’s sometimes difficult to encourage sellers to spend money on upgrades or testing that will show their property in the greenest light.

“On the seller side, they have an exit strategy,” he says. For them, “it’s not about creating a sustainable asset that has added value.”

If your seller isn’t willing to shell out the money to certify the property as environmentally friendly, there are a few calculations you can make yourself. If, for example, the seller recently put in a green roof, you can use this free online calculator to help quantify potential savings for prospective buyers. Researchers at Portland State University, University of Toronto, and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities teamed up to create a tool that allows you to compare costs between traditional black and white roofs with those of green roofs. Because the value of a green roof varies a great deal depending upon building size, climate, and local utility costs, the calculator takes into account whether you’re looking at new construction or old, commercial vs. residential, and average temperature and rainfall to get a more accurate picture. The calculator even allows you to enter your most recent utility rates, in case local utility bills in your area have changed significantly since the baseline of 2010. The results include not only hard numbers of money saved, but also a measure of the roof’s energy efficiency.

Private companies are also trying to provide the kind of information that can be helpful in marketing a property. For example, The Home Depot has created a mini-site where you can sort and search through green building products and appliances.

If the property doesn’t really have any green features, there are still very easy ways to boost energy efficiency. Harris encourages the use of native plants and pesticide-free lawn care in landscaping, and backs up his advocacy by personally using an old-school push lawnmower on his own yard. Even something as simple as lighting can be a major part of the purchasing equation for savvy buyers.

“To not look at their lighting system is kind of crazy, and these are products that are not going to have to be replaced anytime soon,” says Brent Ehrlich, products editor at Building Green, a publishing company focused on green building materials and practices.“LED technology has come so far … it’s more of an appliance than it is a light bulb.”

But just because your seller is keen on saving the planet doesn’t mean that green features are top-of-mind with each potential buyer. The key to serving your seller clients is to strike a balance between speaking green and making your property marketing accessible to the whole market. Gramata says he’s had buyers looking for specific, rare green investments such as geothermal heating, as well as buyers who couldn’t care less about eco-features.

“Keeping it simple is most important in terms of presenting these concepts,” Gramata says. “You can’t make something important to people … but through awareness, it will eventually become more important.”

Meg White

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