By Michele Lerner
REALTORS® are among the most active members of their neighborhoods, participating in community activities for both altruistic reasons and to deepen their knowledge of their market and their relationships with their neighbors. While many individuals turn to their local real estate agents for insight into the real estate market, REALTORS® who arm themselves with education about green building and sustainability can share their understanding of the importance of environmentally friendly practices.
One Massachusetts REALTORS® has taken green marketing to a new level, using bicycles to take his customers on home tours. While biking with buyers, Craig Della Penna extols the value of green concepts for communities and consumers.
Della Penna, broker/owner of Pedal to Properties: Della Penna’s Trailside Realty, Inc. in Northampton, specializes in the sales of homes near rail trails and greenways that allow residents to bike or walk to work, school, and shops. Della Penna has earned the NAR Green designation as well as the Ecobroker designation given by the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals.
“Many green REALTORS® know about energy efficiency, but my focus is on green transportation,” Della Penna says. “You can have the most energy efficient property around, but if you have to drive long distances to get anywhere, that isn’t green. Green is about the total picture, including converting rail trails to bike and pedestrian pathways.”
The National Association of REALTORS® introduced a Green designation in November 2008 after buyer and seller surveys revealed a growing consumer demand for green building and information about energy efficiency. About 5,000 REALTORS® nationwide have earned the Green designation, and thousands of others are in the process of completing the coursework.
The Green designation’s core course and elective course teach REALTORS® about what makes a home green, how to determine the energy efficiency of a property, how to help their clients take advantage of green grants and incentives, and where they can find additional resources for consumers. The designation also helps REALTORS® identify green businesses and partners in their community so that they can build coalitions and market themselves as Green REALTOR®.
Della Penna earned his green designations in order to deepen his understanding of green building and programs that he can share with clients.
“People come to me because they want to know about how to tighten their homes, and they are interested in living closer to their work and services,” Della Penna says. “There is a big cultural shift happening in the U.S., especially with younger buyers who are looking for homes where they can make green renovations. They want to live in a place where they can walk to nearby services and improve their home’s energy efficiency.”
Mary Parisella, a REALTOR® with Century 21 Heritage Realty in Amesbury, says that buyers are most interested in saving money.
“A recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey showed that buyers are willing to pay a little more for energy efficiency, but they are not always willing to pay more in general for green building,” Parisella says. “REALTORS® need to educate themselves to be the thought leaders on the environment. Green is where we are going.”
Parisella says there are two demographic groups that seem most interested in green building: baby boomers and younger buyers.
“The baby boomers are interested in downsizing and are very concerned about reducing costs and energy efficiency,” Parisella says. “Younger buyers are more interested in sustainability and living an organic lifestyle, but they are also concerned about costs.”
Elaine Leonard, a REALTORS® and vice president of sales and marketing for Northland Residential Corp. in Burlington, says that buyers who come to Northland’s new home developments, regardless of the price range, are most concerned about value. Leonard has a NAR Green designation.
“While health and social issues come into play a little, most buyers are focused on home values and cost savings,” Leonard says. “They pay attention to energy efficiency and want to know the specifics of how these energy efficient elements will impact their utility bills.”
Leonard says that buyers today are more discerning with respect to energy efficiency, and they want to understand the ratings systems and what they earn.
“The problems in the economy have resonated with every buyer, so they are all very concerned about the long-term value of the home they want to buy,” Leonard says. “Besides energy efficiency, a lot of them are interested in walkability, in being able to walk to services and public transportation.”
Tim Cahill, a REALTORS® with Re/Max Results in Arlington who earned an Ecobroker designation, says buyers are looking for information on green building and energy efficiency.
“In the Cambridge and Arlington areas where I work, a lot of residents are eco-conscious and asking questions about green building,” Cahill says. “But most of the interest seems to be in green building as a ‘nice to have’ kind of feature, secondary in importance to the home price and condition.”
Cahill says that REALTORS® should earn green designations in order to build their business with younger buyers.
“Right now, the people who are most interested in this are not necessarily financially ready to buy a home, but in the next two or three years there will be a greater opportunity for working with buyers who are in tune with green building.”
Della Penna says that earning green designations could be even more important than traditional designations.
“Clients who are buying a home typically have a lot of questions, and a lot of those questions have to do with how energy is used,” Della Penna says. “REALTORS® will lose business if they don’t know enough or can’t put their hands on the resources their clients need.”
Like Della Penna, Mary Parisella, a REALTOR® with Century 21 Heritage Realty in Amesbury, is passionate about the importance of REALTORS® educating themselves about sustainability. Parisella has an Ecobroker certification and is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. She is currently working on earning an NAR Green designation.
“I feel as if it is the responsibility of REALTORS® to educate people about green building and what it means,” Parisella says. “Today architects and engineers use certain standards to evaluate the level of green building, but in the future, all homes will be built this way. REALTORS® need to help consumers understand the value in buying a green home both in saving money now and for the long-term impact on the environment around us.”
Leonard recommends that all REALTORS® earn the Green designation.
“The NAR course boiled down green building to the basics so that I became fluent in explaining the value of green building to buyers,”
Leonard says. “It’s important for agents to be able to weave green building into their sales presentations because all buyers today are looking for value. REALTORS® need to stay on the cutting edge and be able to explain the value that green building offers.”
Cahill has created a spreadsheet to help compute the increased value that homeowners can realize from making energy-efficient improvements to their homes. In addition, he is organizing community information events for people interested in green building.
While Della Penna says customers come directly to him because of their interest in sustainability and his commitment to green concepts, not all Green REALTORS® see a direct correlation between their designations and their business.
“So far, I have not seen an increase in my business because of my green building education, but I think the training was still useful, primarily for the database I now have for green real estate information on things like radon and water testing,” Cahill says. “The Ecobroker course built my knowledge and has expanded my resources on this topic.”
Parisella says she has not necessarily increased her business as a result of her green designations, but she believes her education allows her to give greater value to her clients and will become part of the core message in her marketing materials.
Regardless of whether going green builds a customer base, any REALTORS® believe environmentalism should be an element of their business.
“REALTORS® need to speak intelligently about green building and they need to educate themselves so they can talk the talk and walk the walk,” Della Penna says.
The number of REALTORS® opting to earn green designations suggests that many real estate professionals agree that going green will benefit their community, their customers, and their bottom line.
• NAR Green Resource Council: www.greenresourcecouncil.org/
• EcoBroker: www.ecobroker.com
• NAHB: www.nahbgreen.org
• USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council): www.usgbc.org
• HGTV’s Frontdoor’s guide, All About Green Real Estate: www.frontdoor.com/Buy/All-About-Green-Real-state/
• Department of Energy: www.energy.gov/forconsumers.htm
• Earth Advantage Institute: www.earthadvantage.org
• MIT’s Open Course Ware, Free courses in sustainable design, energy, and development: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm