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Buying and Selling Eco-Friendly, Energy-Saving Homes
June 22, 2021

Buying and Selling Eco-Friendly, Energy-Saving Homes

by The CE Shop Team

The Importance of Knowing How to Work With Sustainable Real Estate

As eco-friendly and energy-saving home improvements gain popularity across the United States, it’s incredibly important for real estate professionals to know the ins and outs of the sustainable home market, experts say.

For example, solar panels can add significant value to a home, but only if the real estate agent representing the seller knows what steps to take, such as demanding a qualified appraiser, said Craig Foley, founder of Sustainable Real Estate Consulting Services, a LEED Green Associate and chief sustainability officer for LAER Realty Partners in Massachusetts.

“I think many real estate agents aren't really aware of their responsibility,” Foley said, pointing out that under the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics, agents are expected to be “knowledgeable and competent” in the specialty they’re working in.

“What I see too many times is REALTORS® that are afraid of the technology,” he said. “They don't know what it means, and so they tend to roll their eyes at it. ... But we’re changing what we expect from our homes because of this transition to a clean energy economy that's happening.”

High-Performance Homes

High-performance homes, or green homes, are “healthier, more comfortable, and more energy efficient,” says Home Performance Counts, an initiative of NAR and the National Association of Home Builders.

“Over the years, homebuilding has evolved to include features that boost energy efficiency, improve indoor air quality and create a better living experience for homeowners, but few people have a clear idea of how the systems in their homes can affect their health, comfort, and finances,” the advocacy website says. “Home performance focuses on the way a home is built so all the materials, features, and systems work together to provide an optimal level of comfort.”

That might mean improving insulation, installing LED or other energy-efficient lighting, using low-volatile organic compound paints or wood, or taking into account the age, efficiency, and ENERGY STAR® certification of appliances.

“If you’re thinking that these features sound like they’d be found in a green home, you’re right,” the industry website says. “Overall home performance isn’t just a list of green home features or materials, though. High performance homes bring together the operational and maintenance aspects of a home, often with systems that provide metrics that give you information (like energy use) you can track and try to improve upon.”

The Benefits of Green Living

These homes have grown in popularity in recent decades, largely in response to climate change. But a desire to be more eco-friendly isn’t the only reason people get into this market, Foley said.

The benefits of a high-performance home include “lower operating costs, more healthy buildings, lower carbon footprint, more durable homes,” he said.

On average, about 25% of buyers come in wanting to know about sustainable homes. They show up in a Tesla or a Prius with “a built-in awareness of our own carbon footprint,” he said.

Other buyers are interested in the health benefits of living in a home with better ventilation, he said: “I can almost guarantee you if you're listing a LEED-certified home that probably 10% of the buyers that come in are either going to have parents or children that are dealing with respiratory issues ... and they've Googled healthy homes and LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, pops up.”

But whatever the buyer’s motivation, Foley said he has definitely seen an increased interest in these homes over the years.

Also demonstrating an increased demand for green homes: The number of homes certified to the National Green Building Standard® increased by more than 57% from 2017 to 2020, NAR says.

A recent NAR survey found:

  • 55% of real estate professionals said that their clients were at least somewhat interested in sustainability.
  • 65% said energy efficiency promotion in listings was very or somewhat valuable.
  • 36% reported that their MLS has green data fields, and they said they typically used the green data fields to promote green features and energy information.
  • 22% said that they had been directly involved with a property that had green features in the past 12 months, either on the buyer or seller side.
  • 82% said properties with solar panels were available in their market, and 40% said solar panels increased the perceived property value.

Climate-Conscious Homes


Although Foley said he often works with new homes that were built to be high performance, there are many steps a homeowner can take without rebuilding their home from the ground up.

“If you’ll allow me to use an expression from a popular book, there's ... 50 shades of green,” he said. “They range from LEED net-zero energy properties — which we sell, new construction properties — to existing homes that are just changing to LED light bulbs, doing simple things.”

(If a home is net-zero or carbon neutral, that means it’s producing enough energy — through systems such as solar panels — to offset any energy consumed.)

“I think there are two emerging markets — new homes and existing homeowners making upgrades,” Phoenix REALTOR® Melisa Camp told NAR. “My motto for everybody is to just start. Just start with something.”

It’s all an important part of a cultural shift toward clean energy, Foley said.

“39% of U.S. energy consumption is attributed to the built environment,” he said. Foley is also the team co-founder of REthink39 Group, a real estate firm that is devoted to lowering the energy consumption attributed to the built environment.

“That’s a big, big number. We think about transportation as the big issue, that’s only 28% of U.S. energy consumption. 39% is the homes that we live in and the buildings that we work and play in. So, that’s a big energy challenge that’s out there, and we have a huge opportunity as National Association of REALTORS®, as National Association of Home Builders, to really be part of a solution here.”

As a real estate professional, that means educating yourself, he said. He teaches a variety of courses, including for NAR’s Green Designation, which provides “energy-efficient expertise for the future of green real estate,” its website says.

Conversely, Foley encourages homeowners who are interested in sustainable home improvements to contact their energy provider and ask about energy efficiency programs or incentives that exist in their area. They can also visit for a comprehensive list of federal, state, and local incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency. And then, when they decide to put their home up for sale, they can visit to find an agent “who will be aware of how to market the improvements that have been made” — and that agent could be you.

Foley’s advice: “It's time to get on board or you risk being left behind.”

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