Many of today’s homebuyers are eco-conscious and want a home that reflects those values. However, unless the house is newly constructed with the most up-to-date, environmentally friendly materials, most buyers will have to choose from an older stock of homes that pre-date the sustainability movement.
This does not mean that the green buyer (or seller) is without viable options among the homes available for sale. Indeed, sellers should anticipate that there will be at least a few potential buyers who are seeking a “green” home, and therefore must be prepared to showcase the eco-friendly features that do exist.
There are several areas of the home where existing features can come into play. Additionally, there are many easy and relatively inexpensive pre-sale improvements that can make all the difference to the discerning buyer.
Lighting and appliances. Although it is not always a major portion of the utility bill, large appliances and lighting do chip away at the overall energy consumption within the home. To that end, sellers should consider installing CFL bulbs in all lighting fixtures to increase efficiency. While it may not seem like much, it does reduce the initial replacement headache for the potential green buyer—as the saying goes, “it’s the little things”. In rooms where there is recessed lighting, upgrade to LED fixtures to make an even bigger impression. Also, be sure to highlight any rooms that have ample amounts of ambient daylight, as this will further reduce energy usage in those rooms.If large appliances will be included as part of the sale, remember to mention any that are energy-efficient or EnergyStar rated. If any appliances are more than a decade old, it may even be worthwhile to replace and upgrade to more efficient models (but remember to donate those still older yet functional appliances to charity to keep in line with the “green” motivation!).
Indoor climate control. Keeping a home cool in the summer and warm in the winter is vital to overall homeowner comfort, and there are plenty of eco-friendly options to consider. If the home is already energy efficient despite the home’s age, highlight this feature with copies of your monthly utility bills, particularly for the summer and winter months. Prior to marketing the home, consider having a home energy audit performed. The report will either confirm that the home is operating most efficiently, or at least highlight the areas where there is room for improvements that can possibly be addressed prior to listing.If the home is subject to cold spots and heat loss in the winter, augment the existing insulation with eco-friendly loose fill or batt products, such as cotton, blown-in cellulose or formaldehyde-free fiberglass. Rigid board insulation is better suited in some areas of the home, and is even available in a petrochemical free formula that is made from mushrooms.
Weatherstripping also goes a long way toward reducing drafts around the house and should be added or replaced where needed. Replacing drafty windows and doors is another investment that the seller should consider making to the extent that it will attract the most energy conscious buyers, particularly those that may not have the financial resources to make this kind of upgrade for a number of years. Sellers should also point out natural temperature control features such as existing shade trees and cross-breezes that help cool the house, and the amount of sun exposure the home receives. Often these kinds of benefits cannot be discerned during a typical house showing.
In addition to these passive types of indoor climate control, buyers will be looking for the most energy efficient heating and cooling systems. Upgrades to highly efficient heat and hot water systems always add value, so if this has been done recently, it will be noticed. In those homes where central air conditioning does not exist or is not able to be installed (such as in a forced hot water system or due to tight spaces that prevent ductwork), consider adding a few ceiling fans in key areas like bedrooms, or possibly a ductless heat pump/air conditioning system. Not only does it make the home more marketable in areas where the summers are particularly warm, but also it eliminates the need for inefficient window air conditioning units.
Because these kinds of improvements may not be in the seller’s budget or timeframe for selling the house, then at minimum the seller should be highlight the potential for future system upgrades, like converting from oil to natural gas (if available in the area).
Plumbing/water usage. In addition to energy consumption, water usage is usually also on the radar of the green homebuyer. Low-flow showerheads and faucets and water-saving or dual flush toilets should be installed to the extent that these are typically inexpensive but desirable upgrades. Also be sure to fix any leaky plumbing to further reduce inadvertent water usage.
Although they are not mainstream yet, some water conscious homebuyers may be interested in composting toilets and/or grey water (recycled water) systems that can be used to irrigate outdoor landscaping and lawns. Many municipalities do not yet allow grey water systems or composting toilets, but that appears to be changing. If questions about these systems come up, direct the potential buyer to the building inspector’s office to have questions answered about the legality of such systems in the area.
Finishing touches. It’s no secret that many sellers will re-paint walls, replace old carpeting and re-finish wood floors in order to make their home more attractive. Sellers should consider using non-toxic paints and stains, such as natural paints (like milk paint) or zero- or low-VOC paints and stains, particularly those that do not contain biocides or fungicides. Eco-friendly carpeting includes not only natural fiber carpets and backings with less toxic adhesives, but also synthetic carpets that contain recycled content, such as those consisting of polyester made recycled food grade PET containers, which is naturally stain resistant. For other kinds of flooring, many greener options are now available, including cork, bamboo, reclaimed wood, recycled glass tiles, and linoleum. Together, all of these kinds of greener finishing touches will improve air quality and appeal to the eco-conscious homebuyer.
Outdoor spaces and features. Many green buyers are not only interested in the home itself, but also what the yard has to offer. This is an area where the resourceful seller can really shine. Highlight areas of the yard that would allow for rain barrels, compost bin and vegetable garden—a trifecta for the homeowner interested in sustainably growing a portion of their own food. Point out areas that might be enhanced by solar energy panels or small wind turbines. Even the ability to install a clothesline (provided it is allowed in your neighborhood) is a selling point that should not be overlooked.
Municipal services. A good portion of what a homeowner does in order to maximize his sustainable lifestyle depends on what is allowed and the services offered by the city or town where the home is located. If curbside or drop-off recycling is part of the municipal services, be sure to highlight all of the items that can be recycled. Some communities, like mine, offer single-stream recycling which allows for all recyclables to go into one bin each week—no sorting required! Find out if the community offers composting and/or tree mulching services and whether constituents can take advantage of the resulting compost and mulch (some communities use the mulch for municipal landscaping only). Does the city or town have hazardous waste collection, offer free or reduced pricing for items like rain barrels or recycling bins, and are the zoning and building codes favorable for things like residential wind turbines, grey water recycling or other energy and water efficiency systems? Be prepared to answer these questions. Also, be sure to provide contact information for community-organized or municipality-sponsored environmental advocacy groups that the potential eco-minded homebuyer can join.
Location and off-site “green” amenities. Sellers must not forget one of the most salient features about home buying: location, location, location! For the green homeowner this means walkability and proximity to places such as grocery stores, public transportation, parks, schools, and libraries. Highlight any of these that are less than a mile away. Are there “green” merchants in your community? Make a list of such vendors, including eco-friendly dry cleaners, distributors of locally grown food (CSA’s, farmers’ markets, and nearby farms), stores that sell used clothing, books and other household items, and even the nearby Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) communities. Distribute copies of maps that pinpoint any conservation land, community gardens, bike paths, parks and state forests within a 20-30 minute walk, bike ride or drive of the house.
Planning for a greener future. Despite all of the things that the current owner may wish to do to “green up” his home prior to selling it, the reality is that money, time and other logistics sometimes get in the way. Moreover, because so much of eco-friendly systems, services, materials and products are cutting edge and continuously evolving, it is unrealistic to expect any home seller to keep up. This is where highlighting the potential for future green improvements can also attract the conscientious buyer. If a kitchen or bath renovation seems inevitable in the near future, make a point of noting some of the green building materials that are now available, and, fortunately, at increasingly lower cost. If much of the home’s features are in working order but do not match the taste of the green buyer, remind the buyer that there are many building material salvage organizations that are eager to re-purpose the materials. Any deficiencies discovered during a home energy audit are ripe for making improvements and increasing efficiency, particularly with features that the new green owner can customize to suit his needs.
As more people adopt a sustainable lifestyle, it will be important to include conscientious home ownership among their list of green practices. In turn, this means homes will be expected to meet this demand in some fashion. With these tips in mind, the eager seller can deliver many environmentally friendly features within the home, and highlight those that might otherwise go unnoticed by potential buyers.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz and Green Lodestar Communications & Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved.