June 21, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Does that house come in green?
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"The handwriting's on the wall that we need to be building or retrofitting homes so they're more sustainable," said Beth Fisher, who became Indiana's first EcoBroker certified Realtor in March.
Some of her colleagues initially snickered at the green label, but Fisher believes that they will change their minds as sustainable building reaches a tipping point, especially as high prices of natural gas and oil make more people interested in greening a home to save money. To that end, Fisher may guide clients to seek energy-efficient remodeling rebates enabled by the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005, or to pursue federally approved Energy Efficient Mortgages, which help buyers obtain larger loans for making green upgrades. Additionally, local governments could force the issue in the future by passing laws to mandate green residential construction.
"There's a myth that to buy or build something sustainable or green, it's going to cost 15 to 20 percent more," Fisher said. But green features may add that much to the resale value, real estate agents estimate.
In high-end properties, trendy green materials such as recycled glass countertops now cost the same as granite and other luxury amenities. Prices continue to drop for greener building products, such as bamboo flooring, as they gain prominence in popular stores including Home Depot.
Along with the slow yet steady mainstreaming of sustainable housing has come a hodgepodge of more than 30 voluntary green-building certifications. In California, the GreenPoint Rated system managed by nonprofit Build It Green marks homes with better-than-average energy efficiency. Nationwide, some 10 percent of new homes pass the Department of Energy's EnergyStar rating.
A more stringent national label is LEED for Homes, set to launch this summer. LEED is a project of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program of the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. Residential LEED ratings have already marked more than 190 cream-of-the-crop, sustainable dwellings. LEED also offers an accreditation system for building professionals; at least 28 real estate agents in 20 states have passed the exam.
Various green ratings have labeled more than 97,000 homes in the past decade, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Yet that remains a tiny amount compared with the 6 million to 7 million homes typically sold each year.
Although so many green seals of approval could cause confusion, green real estate professionals agree that any label is better than none. Kria Lacher, the first EcoBroker-certified Realtor in Portland, Ore., pushed for two years to incorporate ratings from Energy Star, LEED and the local Green Advantage program into her region's Multiple Listing Service database used by real estate agents to list properties. Her goal was realized in February, and the largest MLS for the Seattle area followed suit last week.
Similar efforts are under way for MLS regional databases in California, Nevada, Texas, Iowa and Virginia. Once established, however, it will likely take many years for real estate agents to fill in the blanks.
People seeking or selling an eco-friendly abode might look for an EcoBroker Realtor, but they can also turn to independent online marketplaces, such as the Green Homes for Sale Web site, which receives some 100,000 visitors each month. The 177 North American properties listed there vary in price, from a $139,000 straw-bale cabin in De Soto, Wis., to a high-end $3.5 million bayfront, off-grid home in Key Largo, Fla.
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