While new construction often has a green-built component and Energy Star labels on appliances, someone looking to buy an older home in an established neighborhood, especially one that's had environmentally conscious upgrades - added insulation, better windows, energy-efficient appliances or maybe even solar panels - will find it difficult to find that information with a quick search of the Multiple Listing Service. While you can search for price, neighborhoods, numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, or lakefront property, you can't search for an energy-efficient property. And where there's a need, there's soon a service to fill it.
There are a number of real estate agents in the Madison area who are interested in helping clients find homes that fit their criteria for environmental soundness - and they're also committed to raising the consciousness of homeowners overall about the efficiency of their homes.
Ken Williams started Greenstone Real Estate in Madison in May of this year. Williams is a certified EcoBroker, one of two in the Madison area. Being an EcoBroker means the broker has completed a special course (this one is out of Colorado, a leader, along with California, in greener housing) with emphases on energy efficiency, solar technologies, sustainable and healthy building materials and the like.
While there's a green-built point system for new homes in Wisconsin, currently the only way to discern significant green upgrades in a home that's for sale is by reading the narrative that accompanies the house listing - and that's if the lister has included the info there.
Williams says that as an EcoBroker, he'll do the footwork for the potential homebuyer, sifting through house descriptions or going on-site to check out the energy efficiency of furnaces, windows and appliances by tracking down their model numbers - even assessing how the house is sited on its lot to take advantage of southern exposures in the winter and how the house will be shaded in the summer.
Most of Williams' business so far has come from people in other cities who are relocating to Madison. But he will also help Madison sellers who want to market their homes in a way that highlights their green aspects.
"The time is right in the housing business - the [green] technology pays off. We weren't there before," says Williams, who credits his own interest in sustainable living to visiting several Pacific islands when he was an anthropology minor in college. "We can't push people. My goal is to get people a little greener. It's better to have 90% of people living a little greener than 10% living in communes."
Stuart Utley, also an EcoBroker who works for First Weber in Middleton, has been certified in the field since 2005. He's worked with MGE to promote energy efficiency and tried to promote energy-efficient mortgages - i.e., future energy upgrades are "rolled into" the mortgage on a home, which may make monthly payments higher but because of energy savings, "the net cash flow overall is better," says Utley.
"More and more, people are asking about energy efficiency" when house-hunting, says Utley, more so than asking after green-built criteria. Looking at the utility bills for a house has long been the norm, but it's not usually a "make-or-break to the decision to buy a house," says Utley. Now, though, he sees prospective buyers "thinking more carefully about a house" that has high energy consumption. Or buyers may negotiate a price reduction so that money can go to investing in new appliances, better insulation and other efficiency upgrades.
"It's quite obvious to me what's happening," says Keller Williams agent Sara Alvarado about the state of the environment. "Changes have to be made." And "there's so much about our homes that can be improved."
Alvarado first became interested in healthy home issues stemming from her own child's environmentally related asthma. From that, her professional involvement in environmental issues has grown.
Many of the improvements that can be made to reduce a person's, or a family's, carbon footprint start with the home. "People often look to agents as resources, so it's important for us to be informed," says Alvarado.
Alvarado started a sort of "green support group" for area real estate professionals last May; 13 fellow agents showed up for the first meeting. "There wasn't a lot of connecting with other Realtors, and it was a piece I thought was missing, a group of like-minded agents who share information and are passionate about improving the environment. It's something we come up against every day, walking through houses."
At that meeting, a guest speaker demonstrated energy-rating processes, and the group also discussed Home Savings' Green Home Mortgage program and the Green Built Home rating system. "And we discussed how ready we think people are for this."
Alvarado's fledgling group, "Madison's Green Agents," is looking to get "green built" or "green remodeled" to be one of the checkbox criteria in an MLS listing, a change that the listing service has already turned down once.
"No one has ever come to me and said, 'I hear you're a green Realtor, and I want a green house,'" says Alvarado. But recently Alvarado recognized that the upgrades that had been made on a house she was listing would make it able to be certified green, and so she recommended that the sellers get it certified. She wants to avoid the prospect of houses being marketed as "green" when they really aren't - that's why she's pushing certification as a standard. "Just because a home has compact fluorescent bulbs throughout doesn't make it 'green.'"
Right now, she gives her clients "a green home care package" when they move that includes compact fluorescent bulbs, a home assessment from Healthy Home Reports, and a nontoxic cleaning kit. "It's an educational opportunity I feel good about," she says.
Alvarado underscores that home buyers are interested in environmental issues for different reasons - some are "driven by cost, or by health issues, and some are really looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
Investing in a green or energy-efficient home is "not as expensive as people think, says Alvarado, and in fact frequently saves money in the long run. But more than saving money, she believes the greening of the home is about "the desire to live in a better world."
Green Built Home; For more about improving your home's energy efficiency, certification and more.; www.greenbuilthome.org; 608-280-0360
Energy Star; www.energystar.gov; More about energy-efficient home choices.
Greenstone Real Estate; www.greenermadison.com; 608-268-5879
Stuart Utley; www.madisonecobroker.com; 608-828-5129
Sara Alvarado; www.thealvaradogroup.com; 608-438-4315
Madison's Green Agents; The group welcomes any real estate agents interested in environmental issues and will point consumers to green-friendly agents.; Sara@thealvaradogroup.com or call 608-438-4315.