Do You Need a Green Broker?

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Real estate agentIt's easy to see how the things that go into a new home -- furniture, windows, insulation, even the car sitting in the new garage -- can be made in a more eco-friendly way. Heck, even a lawn can be greener, figuratively speaking. But what about the real estate agent who sold the house? What exactly would make him or her greener?

It's a good question because more than 10,000 agents have added some sort of "green" agent credential to their resume in the past eight years. Some 6,000 have earned an Ecobroker credential since it was first offered in 2002. And another nearly 4,200 have garnered the National Association of Realtors' green designation since the industry group launched it in fall 2008. That's a tiny portion of the NAR's 1.2 million-or-so members. But still, no matter where you live, there's a good chance you'll be able to find a green real estate agent if you want to work with one.

The question is, why do want to work with one?

Well, Stu Galvis, a Boulder, Colo. broker who got his Ecobroker credential in early 2006, says that he has the networks and knowledge to tap into a green housing market that's out there, but not always that apparent. For buyers, he knows which local developers are using greener building practices, for instance, and the service providers who can add, say, energy efficient features to a home a client wants to buy. For both buyers and sellers, he says, he knows the appraisers who understand how to value greener features in a home, and he can walk through a house with an appraiser or engineer to make sure they spot all the green features and take them into account. Galvis can also explain the different between the many green building certifications that have sprung up, like Energy Star and the various LEED designations.

"I spend a lot of time educating clients," Galvis said in an interview with HousingWatch. "A home is not just about rooms and location, but also about true cost of ownership – energy efficiency, safety, health, comfort, insulating against future energy costs." For example, he says location, square footage and finish are important to energy efficiency.

Then there's the matter of what he calls home health. "New homes are built with materials that have horrible chemicals that can 'outgas' for years," he says. "It's important to educate buyers and let them know they have options."

Galvis says that he's made a point of understanding the local housing stock so that if a client, say, wants to buy an older house and add green features, "I can point to the homes that will have the best return on investment for energy efficiency upgrades."

On the flip side, people with a greener home to sell would benefit from using a broker who understands what they have to offer and how to market it. Galvis estimates that about 35 percent of his clients seek him out for his environment expertise. This means he can lead interested buyers to homes with eco-friendly features that don't make it into the real estate listings. For example, Boulder's local MLS notes whether a home has energy efficient features, but it doesn't have any information about whether a house has been built with materials like eco-friendly insulation and sustainable wood, or whether it's water efficient.

Galvis is lobbying to add more of that kind of information to his local MLS. He's not alone. Lobbying, whether for a greener MLS or a broader local use of green building standards, is what a lot of "green" real estate agents spend their time doing, especially in areas where there isn't much in the way of green housing stock to point out to clients.

"Now, you almost have to be pushing for a greener MLS if you want to look serious about your green real estate practice," John Beldock, president and CEO of Ecobroker, told Housingwatch.

Al Medina, the director of NAR's Green Designation program, notes that there are still quite a few markets where, "a lot of people have gotten these designations but there's no green happening." Indeed, Housingwatch has noted the home building industry's frustration at how slow appraisers and lenders have been to learn how to take green features into account when valuing a home for the sale or mortgage value. Medina estimates that just two percent of MLS listings include any type of green information right now.

But one has to wonder if these eco-brokers could eventually lobby themselves out of business. Over the next few years, California and the city of Boston are among the places that will impose green standards across the board on new real estate developments. And Medina notes, "All the major home builders are committing to a sustainable strategy."

When green is the norm and the MLS directories have come up to speed, will a "green" broker be able to tell you anything that a sharp well-informed general broker won't? Perhaps not. But that future is still a long way off. In the meantime, a green broker can help house hunters sort out an eco-friendly real estate sub-market that is anything but standard and guide them to the hard-to-find green gems in the housing rough.

Besides, this new breed of real estate agent typically charges the local going rate for his or her services, so if you have even a passing interest in greener housing, you don't stand to lose any of your green by giving them a try.
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