Whether your buyers are technologically savvy and ask you about HERS (Home Energy Rating System) scores and R-values or they only want to know what their utility bills will be, one of your roles as a Realtor is to function as an interpreter to help your customers understand the value of the energy-efficient features in newly built homes.
“Buyers in our area are tightly focused on affordability rather than the latest technology, so it’s an icebreaker into the topic to explain that new homes are automatically more energy efficient than homes built even a couple of years ago because standards have changed,” says Doug Van Nortwick, a Realtor with ERA Buyers and Sellers in El Paso, Texas.
Most people haven’t kept track of how far technology and green design have come in recent years, says Rob Elliott, senior vice president of Insight Homes in Bridgeville, Del.
Energy Efficiency and Affordability
Whether your buyers are looking in the under-$200,000 price range or at homes priced at more than $1 million, everyone wants to know what they will get for their money.
“There’s an assumption that green building costs more, but if it’s done properly, you should never pay more for a green home,” says Elliott. “It just doesn’t have to be that way.”
There are several ways to help your customers evaluate the cost effectiveness of energy-efficient features:
Compare a newly built home to retrofitting a resale.
“I always point out that the savings are significant on a newly built home because you don’t have to spend the money to put in new windows or to replace the heating and air conditioning system,” says Elizabeth Lucchesi, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates in Alexandria, Va.
Some energy-efficient features are almost impossible to retrofit.
“Energy-efficient homes are engineered to be that way from the beginning,” says Elliott. “It’s pretty tough to go back and fix the ductwork and insulation once a home is complete.”
Compare immediate costs.
“It’s best to just ignore all the ingredients that go into baking the cake — the R-value for the insulation, the SEERs rating for the HVAC and different building techniques — and just cut to the chase and give buyers hundreds of utility bills to compare,” says Elliott.
Lucchesi asks builders if they can provide an estimation of the savings on utility bills for her buyers.
Most buyers are trying to get a sense of what their monthly costs will be as homeowners, so if you can demonstrate that they will save $100 or $200 per month on their utility bill, they can feel more comfortable buying a more costly home, says Elliott.
Van Nortwick says that having a warranty and new systems also saves money on repair and maintenance bills.
Explain the impact on future resale value.
“A big appeal for buyers is to talk about the future resale value of an energy-efficient home,” says Lucchesi. “It’s not just the components, it’s the fact that homes today are built in a different way than homes built in the past, which translates into real value in the future.”
While some buyers are satisfied with an overview of the financial benefits of an energy-efficient home, others want specifics that builders can provide.
Lucchesi says that while buyers often ask about appliances, she explains the significance of bigger-ticket items, such as the insulation, the roof and the windows, which are expensive and are features that homeowners are less likely to replace.
“It’s also good to ask builders about the construction of the home, such as any places where the walls are penetrated with electrical outlets, to see what is being done to control air flow,” says Lucchesi.
In Texas, buyers’ No. 1 concern is whether a home has a high-efficiency air conditioning system, says Lyn Haston, general manager of ERA Buyers and Sellers. He also says buyers pay attention to insulation and energy-efficient windows.
“Well done energy efficiency depends as much on containing energy in your home as it does on specific energy-efficient systems,” says Elliott.
Some builders provide buyers with a HERS score as a way of demonstrating energy efficiency, says Elliott, although he says the scores don’t always accurately reflect the full spectrum of energy-efficient features. A lower HERS score represents a higher level of energy efficiency.
Connecting Finances and Comfort
I always point out that the savings are significant on a newly built home because you don’t have to spend the money to put in new windows or to replace the heating and air conditioning system. — Elizabeth Lucchesi, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates in Alexandria, Va.“One problem with selling energy-efficient features is that homes typically get sold through emotion more than logic,” says Joel Courtney, marketing director of ERA Buyers and Sellers. “But there’s no real emotional attachment to energy efficiency for most of our buyers, so we have to take a dollars-and-cents approach.”
Courtney says Realtors can add an emotional element to the discussion by talking about comfort and health in an energy-efficient home.
“It’s particularly important in a desert climate like ours to explain that a newly built home will be more comfortable to live in because of the blown-in insulation, the tighter framing and the double-pane windows,” says Courtney. “We also have very high winds here and a lot of sand so it helps to explain the features that add protection against those issues.”
Elliott says that energy-efficient features provide better air quality in most homes, making it easier to avoid the “stuffy noise and cold feet combination” in winter.
“An energy-efficient home can be quieter than other homes because of the extra insulation, the double-paned windows and often even the climate control system is quieter,” says Elliott. “We install a system that runs 24/7 yet uses very little energy, so you don’t hear it turning on and off.”
Stable temperatures are good for everything in your home, including hardwood floors and your furniture, he says.
Maximizing Effectiveness of Energy Efficiency Features
In addition to helping buyers understand the value of their energy-efficient features, you can make sure they understand how to use the features of their newly built home to keep their utility bills low.
“Make sure your buyers get complete instructions on how to operate all the features of their new home when they go to inspections and the final walkthrough,” says Lucchesi.
Realtors who ask builders for details about their energy-efficient features provide their customers with information that helps them now and extends into the future.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.
She writes for regional, national and international publications in print and online for a variety of audiences including consumers, real estate investors, business owners and real estate professionals.
Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Urban Land magazine, NAREIT’s REIT magazine, National Real Estate Investor Magazine and online at Bankrate.com, HSH.com, The Motley Fool, DailyFinance.com, Insurance.com, Fox Business, MSN, Yahoo, Investopedia.com, MoneyCrashers.com, GetRichSlowly.com and in numerous state and local realtor association publications.