The green house effect

Real estate agents get educated as buyers seek eco-friendly features

October 14, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

What you don't see are the trimmings from jeans in the walls of this rowhouse facing Baltimore's Riverside Park.

What you do see are bits of glass in the surface of the kitchen island.

It's all green, in the environmental sense, from the cotton insulation to the recycled glass and concrete counter.

And it's all familiar to Amanda Lopez, the listing agent from City Life Realty, who came to the house with a working knowledge of green features, putting her on the leading edge locally of agents developing such expertise.

She is one of six Maryland agents certified as an EcoBroker, after completing the 18-hour course this year from Colorado-based EcoBroker International. It teaches about products and what makes them green; how to deal with utilities, find green resources and explain the value to customers; and how an agent can address such environmental concerns as radon, indoor air quality and mold. That's information Lopez sees as valuable for all her dealings, not only for homes as green as this one.

"She understands the product," said seller Laura Steensen, noting that she and her husband grew so weary of getting blank looks from potential agents about the environmentally friendly aspects of the house that they put it on Craigs list.org before Lopez enlisted them as clients. They want to sell, but in the current market, will rent it as well.

Laura and Erik Steensen, who have a startup green construction outfit, rehabbed the rowhouse to use as much as 41 percent less energy than an ordinary home.

Among its features: carpeting made from recycled plastic bottles, a water-saving plumbing system, an on-demand water heater, roofing made of scrap rubber, tubes that funnel sunlight inside, a whole-house fan that can fill the rooms with fresh air in 25 minutes, electricity-conserving lights and appliances.

Outside, the deck hides a box into which rainwater and condenser drippings are funneled - water that trickles to keep the plants green.

As energy costs have soared and eco-awareness has moved into the mainstream, real estate agents around the country are starting to get with the green trend to meet client interest in the increasing number of environmentally aware features in homes. Costs of many green products have come down while the number has gone up. In addition, homeowners believe there may be tax and health advantages, as well as immediate payback in shrunken energy bills.

"Within the next five to 10 years, [in] houses that are being built from the ground up or being rehabbed - we are going to see a lot more of this," Lopez said. "It's kind of a no-brainer."

EcoBroker, a national program, is the brainchild of John Beldock, a former U.S. Department of Energy scientist, who said real estate professionals who know fundamentals of environmental issues such as which paints emit fewer dangerous fumes and what makes certain floorings green can better help consumers.

Lopez is one of three City Life EcoBrokers; others are among the Maryland agents taking the classes now. City Life is part of a family of three local companies, including a builder and developer, capitalizing on the green building trend.

"I think more brokers are becoming educated about these issues so that it becomes part of the day-to-day matters of real estate," said Stuart D. Kaplow, a Baltimore attorney specializing in real estate law.

Green listings

The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors recently began talking with the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. about adding a green heading to home listings, similar to what is available for listings in Oregon.

That would allow sellers to list green features, from environmental certifications by different building groups to bamboo flooring.

Agents could use that heading to search listings. MRIS officials say they hope to incorporate green notation fields in home listings next year.

One of City Life's principals, Brad Rogers, is teaching agents about green features through a continuing education class at the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. He also chairs its green committee, which garnered an unusual amount of interest among members.

GBBR also is exploring holding classes for agents with the Green Building Institute in Jessup.

"People are looking for these design features that make a building more environmentally friendly and more energy-efficient," said Joseph T. Landers, executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

Knowing the features

Agents say that, although they don't think the market is there yet to develop a niche only in exceptionally green homes, they still need to know about green features as a marketing tool to reach the increasing number of consumers seeking environmentally equipped homes.

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