Have you heard of green certification? There are a few simple steps you can take as a Realtor to become educated in this area and tap into the growing market for sustainably built real estate.

  • Green certification is a highly marketable and desirable skill for Realtors.
  • Energy-efficient features such as solar panel systems add considerable value to real estate regarding both price tag and long-term savings.
  • New green building methods such as those implemented in zero-energy homes are the sustainable standards of the future.

Have you heard of green certification? As a Realtor, you can take a few simple steps to become educated in this area and tap into the growing market for sustainably built real estate.

A basic understanding of the fundamental green building standards and legislation can arm you with major selling points to maximize the return on your time investment for green properties.

Getting started

The National Association of Realtors’ “green designation” and “ecobroker designation” teach information and skills beneficial for Realtors, whether they decide to become green-certified or not.

New houses are getting smaller, and sustainable features are more highly valued than before. Beyond being a marketable skill for Realtors, green building methods simply make sense from both an economic and an environmental perspective.

The market for Realtors with green certification is growing. The homebuyers interested in sustainable building features include not only those concerned with the environment but also folks interested in living off the grid, increasing their comfort along with their budget and reducing their reliance on government and corporate-related entities.

Therefore, the demand for sustainably built or retrofitted houses is greater than you might initially imagine. Because there is a great demand for these features and because they ultimately save homeowners on monthly expenses, sustainable features add real-estate value — both monetary and ethics-based.

NAR’s green designation and ecobroker program

First, to obtain the National Association of Realtors’ green designation, it’s necessary to fulfill a three-class requirement, pass exams covering the material and submit the member application for NAR’s green designation with proof of completion. Of course, you must also attain Realtor membership and maintain yearly membership status in both groups.

This certification, made up of 12 hours of courses, is an attractive option for existing Realtors hoping to become more attractive to buyers interested in sustainable building methods.

However, there’s also the ecobroker program, which offers 18 hours of instruction in the environment, energy and the green market — and in some states these classes qualify for continuing education credits for Realtors. The ecobroker website also has a database filled with qualifying green properties, local ecobrokers and a green business directory.

The two programs offer similar material. However, from comparative opinions available online, it seems that the NAR green designation is more geared toward people less familiar with green building methods, components or certifications, and it provides a more big-picture approach, while the ecobroker is a bit more detailed.

Also, the NAR’s green designation comes with the option of belonging to a national organization, the Green Resources Council. The membership is $99 to renew each year.

In an ideal world it would be advantageous to obtain both certifications, as they are each connected to a network of people who are valuable for agents marketing themselves with a green or sustainable angle.

Calling in additional resources

It’s definitely beneficial for Realtors and appraisers to work together and learn how to assess properties for green features properly, and certification is helping to fill the gap between new technology and the knowledge necessary for proper assessment.

As previously mentioned, the demand for sustainable and energy-efficient property is strong and growing. A 2012 study found that “California homes labeled by Energy Star, LEED for Homes and GreenPoint Rated sell for 9 percent more (±4 percent) than comparable, non-labeled homes.”

Clearly, sustainability has become a valuable selling point from a real estate industry perspective. As just one example, the average solar panel system adds $17,000 to the value of a home.

Luckily, there is a new appraisal guide that was recently released by the Institute for Market Transformation, according to Real Estate Weekly, that will help with this process.

In addition to homes built with sustainable building materials and equipped with built-in energy-efficient lighting, solar energy is finally beginning to look as if it’s within reach for the average homeowner.

A company called PosiGen, for example, leases solar panels to homeowners — and they’ve specifically targeted working-class and low- to middle-income residents of states like Louisiana.

After paying a small leasing fee, homeowners’ monthly electricity costs are greatly reduced throughout the winter and virtually eliminated during the summer months.

Learning what states can offer

Varying state policies make it more or less affordable to convert residential power sources to 100 percent solar. For example, the California Solar Initiative recently established Go Solar California, which put financial incentives in place encouraging new home builders to take advantage of available solar power options.

The California Energy Commission even created a brochure for real estate professionals all about the financial benefits and other selling points of new solar homes in the state.

Unfortunately, these relatively upfront financial incentives are not available to everyone, and it’s often due to political infighting. Utility companies would rather perpetuate ongoing business and energy models than enter into partnerships with solar panel producers.

As you can see from this relatively short list of states and entities who have joined the National Community Solar Partnership, not all areas of the U.S. are allowing the process to go as smoothly as it might.

The NCSP aims to expand access to solar power to everyone — not merely those who can afford to purchase it outright — via solar power that is shared among houses on the same block, for example, in residential neighborhoods.

Although political disagreement has stalled many of these energy-saving plans, senators such as Barry Finegold have worked to create green jobs in their districts and supported efforts such as the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Road Map. Public agencies including the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center have cropped up as part of a more widely implemented, comprehensive strategy connected to a number of sustainable, eco-friendly efforts in the state.

Because the effort to make renewable energy feasible and affordable for everyone requires a concerted effort on all fronts — political, commercial, and residential — it’s crucial to be aware of ongoing political efforts to support clean energy subsidies.

Amazingly, it’s now possible to purchase or sell a zero-energy home, or a house that is built and designed to incur no monthly energy costs for the owner.

Zero-energy homes are likely to be in increasingly high demand as energy-efficient construction methods become more prevalent.

Realtors intending to attract eco-conscious homebuyers and investors should familiarize themselves with the requirements for an appropriate solar-oriented lot, as well as with the Green MLS Implementation Guide, which provides the real estate community — both buyers and sellers — with information on how homeowners can reduce consumption and implement sustainable practices.

The bottom line to this burgeoning eco-consciousness is that the future of sustainability is here, and it’s up to us to educate ourselves and prospective homebuyers about the economic and environmental possibilities.

With technology such as Tesla’s home batteries getting closer to becoming reality, we need to shift our thinking to consider zero-energy standards the way of the near future.

Although it might not be possible for builders to make every home zero-energy, it makes a great deal of sense for houses to be built ready for zero-energy status now as opposed to later.

Green building isn’t just on the fringes anymore. It’s the new normal. Learning about sustainable homes is what’s best for the future of home investment — as well as the planet.

Daphne Stanford is host of “The Poetry Show!” at Radio Boise. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Email Daphne Stanford.

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