Editor’s note: Tara-Nicholle Nelson will lead a free webinar from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m PDT (1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT) on Thursday, Oct. 8: "Three Low-Cost Ways to Make More Money by Connecting with Women Real Estate Consumers." Women make or influence an estimated 91 percent of real estate decisions, and they think about, shop for and buy homes differently than men. Click here to register and find out more about real estate’s gender factor.

I’m always fascinated by how new words — or new, off-label definitions for old words — permeate the popular lexicon. If you called an object "green" five years ago, the average listener would have thought you were referring to its hue.

These days, the label of "green" implies something comprised of sustainable or recycled materials, something energy efficient or an object that otherwise empowers its user to live in a manner that is environmentally friendly and promotes well living.

When it comes to what homebuyers want and what home sellers tout in this day and age, a green house is less likely to be a house with green exterior paint or a glassy outbuilding for cultivating plants than it is an eco-sensitive abode.

I hear buyers talking about green homes as though they come in several shades. There is the "luxe shade of green," where many of the custom-built or remodeled home’s materials were "reclaimed" at great labor or expense, like the window headers and sills of one of my favorite people’s palace-in-progress, which were salvaged and rough-hewn from a demolition site and carted one by one by a crew of oxen down a hoof-worn path from the mountain jungles of Costa Rica. No joke.

Or the absolutely fabulous slatted wood floor I saw inside an Austin, Texas, carriage house, which were reclaimed and reassembled from an old handpainted billboard — advert image intact. If you see the words "Bolivian," "low carbon footprint," "reclaimed," and "media room" all together in a home’s listing, you might be looking at a "luxe green" home. These homes might have solar energy, but they’ll call it "Zero Energy" and you might not even be able to see the panels.

Other homes facilitate "lean, green living" — these are the homes preferred by more granola-crunchy types. (No pejorative intended — I’m a little bit crunchy and a little bit rock-and-roll, myself.) These are the folks who favor big, honkin’ solar panels (the further off-the-grid, the better) and want to live as close as possible to their work-play haunts to avoid having to own a car and foul up the air — even if the panels are ugly and the downtown street traffic is deafening.

They like the efficiency of high-density living, despite its potential too-close-for-comfort drawbacks, and don’t mind the gritty, quasi-industrial look and feel of concrete floors, brick interior walls, exposed ductwork and other remnants of a reborn warehouse’s industrial past. These homes use reclaimed materials by the ton, too, but they just call them plain old "recycled."

Then there’s a lighter shade of green — a shade I like to call "light green and eco-chic" (attribution alert: I stole the phase "light green" from the mistresses of light green living at IdealBite.com). Light green is the marketing world’s descriptor for consumers like me, who love to do the right thing, ecologically speaking, but prefer to do so without big sacrifices in the way of convenience.

You know, like when I drive my SUV to Whole Foods Market to buy organic veggies and Fair Trade coffee! …CONTINUED

Light green homes are the properties that might not actually have many green features besides, perhaps, the dual-paned windows, energy-efficient appliances and no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints that are almost standard in all construction and remodeling these days.

But what they do have are some small, attractive and appealing features that are either made of green materials (think: cork floors or those cute, easy-to-change carpet tiles), or facilitating healthy, green living (e.g., a built-in recycling center).

In my experience, the green features in a light green home are, ideally, highly "showoffable." They should facilitate dinner-party braggadocio, like, "It’s been so nice to get back to my yoga practice now that we freed up the room by putting in a tankless water heater. Yep — all hot water, all the time, baby!" That sort of thing.

More and more, I hear my buyer clients expressing an interest in how green the place is, or how they might be able to max out their practice of green living in a particular place. Folks who once wanted to live in the hills now lean toward more walkable locations, so they don’t have to pull their cars out every time they run out to get (soy) milk.

Wood floors get gold stars not just for their aesthetics, but for their hypoallergenic qualities, and bamboo floors get even higher marks for being incrementally greener by virtue of sustainability. Motion-activated lighting, gas appliances and low-maintenance, non-thirsty landscaping are some of the features green buyers love to imagine living with. A green roof (plants on the roof to insulate and to offset greenhouse gases)? Fuggedaboutit.

And sellers are getting smart, too — installing light green features when it makes sense (that $50 recycling center is a lot of bang for the buck), and pointing out ways in which their otherwise not-so-green homes will make living the green life easier for prospective buyers.

Pointing out nearby rideshare spots, nearby farmers markets, and even hoeing and planting a small, well-organized kitchen garden can turn a cute house into a green(ish) house, piquing the interest of a whole new audience of buyers.

Poor Kermit. In his prime, it wasn’t easy being green. It is much easier now, and you can take your pick of shades!

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


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