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– Rita Rudner
The Green Designation for Realtors
by Stephen Morris
Hip or Hype?
The "Green Seal," reports journalist Paul Smalera in MSN's "Money Watch" column , is Good Housekeeping Magazine's way of guaranteeing the quality of everything from yogurt to storm windows. Unfortunately, it only guarantees the quality of companies that advertise on its pages. Moreover, none if its advertisers are ever denied the designation. It's pure and simple "greenwashing," which Smalera defines as "the art of scoring an environmental touchdown simply by moving the goal posts."
Michael Pollan, in The Omnivore's Dilemma, explained the problem of labels in examining the United States Department of Agriculture's "certified organic" program. "Organic," intended to describe non-chemical agrarian practices, became a valuable buzzword, attracting the attention of industrial farmers and food conglomerates such as General Mills who pushed for a certification program so that even frozen TV dinners could be certified USDA organic. Small farmers howled, but the big companies won.
When it comes to labels, certifications, and approvals, clearly it is "buyer beware," but that doesn't mean that all such labels are meaningless. Don't you read the diploma on display in your doctor's office? This is a trusted piece of evidence that connotes professional competence. Now, a new designation has emerged that vouches for the environmental credentials of its qualifiers in the practice of real estate. As might be expected, opinions vary within the profession about the need for and value of the designation.
According to the official website EcoBroker Certified® professionals "help clients market properties with green features, save money, and live comfortably, through energy efficiency and environmentally-sensitive choices."
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Founded in 2002, with members in all 50 United States, EcoBrokers "serve real estate consumers, communities, and the environment with an unparalleled level of care, commitment, and follow-up. With the benefit of oversight from the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals (www.aeerep.org), EcoBroker's green designation training and communications provide professionals with the resources to be constructive green ambassadors in an ever-changing business and consumer world."
To earn the designation, licensed real estate agents must complete ongoing training programs on energy, marketing, and the environment. Topics include "green" home certification programs like Energy Star®, and related issues of energy-efficiency, and environmentally-sensitive design. Perhaps more importantly the training touches on environmental issues that may complicate any real estate transaction, such as mold, radon, and indoor air quality.
But for the real "skinny," the best place to turn is to the realtors themselves, and, better yet, their customers:
Carol Audette, who is with a large, multi-office agency (Lang McLaughry Spera) in northern Vermont, points out that national surveys confirm that 9 out of 10 consumers consider energy efficiency and environmentally sound aspects of their home to be very important. "We are always looking for the best ways to not only offer our clients the best value but to also develop a relationship where we feel we are a trusted resource. Our EcoBroker training helps us to ensure our clients and customers get the knowledge they need. From energy efficient appliances to solar options to overall energy savings, we now have more resources at our disposal to help our sellers and buyers make informed real estate decisions."
On the other coast, in Portland, Oregon, Peter O'Neil of Coldwell Banker agrees: "I'm an EcoBroker because I can offer my customers and clients something beyond the typical three bed/two bath service. I can guide them to homes that are easy on the pocketbook, easy on the planet, and more comfortable and healthier to live in."
Another advantage, says O'Neil, is his network of contractors and service providers who can take a conventional house and make it into an eco-friendly, dream home. He can guide them through the maze of cash incentives, tax breaks, and rebates. There's an intangible benefit as well. " It just makes me feel good that I'm doing something valuable in my community."
The name of Dave Hopkins's firm in Amherst, Massachusetts is EcoRealty, so it follows that he has the official designation, right? Wrong.
"Not my cup of tea at all. As the rest of my real estate colleagues are suddenly talking about solar panels and LEED certifications my focus has shifted more to local economies, local farming, and homesteading. I'd rather be working on my own small self-sustaining farm than sitting in a class on 'How to become a Green Realtor' class."
According to Hopkins, the training provided to earn this designation is merely a marketing tool that will "fool people into thinking that a particular realtor has some in depth knowledge of green building or siting houses for solar." The reality, however, is that "such knowledge comes from years of building experience in building and in walking the land with people attuned to the environment, skills that cannot be acquired in a few days of classes."
While not disputing Hopkins's commitment and experience, Matthew Kullberg, a Certified EcoBroker in nearby Northampton points out that this helps communicate his specialty to consumers. "With energy prices so volatile, I see the need for this type of training. Heating is such a large portion of home maintenance that buyers and sellers are very interested in the efficiency of existing energy systems as well as potential ways to improve them."
A few miles north, in Greenfield, MA, Valerie Demerski sees being an EcoBroker as a way to "marry my passion about environmental issues with my career." Not content with her knowledge level she has also become an EcoConsultant through Green Irene. "Now I can assist homeowners in making smart decisions, saving money, and increasing the value of their homes." She's even entered the Blogosphere with a blog(howgreenisourvalley.com) that offers helpful information on environmental subjects ranging from greening your home to how to have an environmental make-over of your office. You can send questions to her at email@example.com.
Clearly a realtor does not to be a certified EcoBroker to be knowledgeable, competent, or green. What's important, says Brendan Greely, owner of Vintage Green Homes, is having a broker who understands the importance of environmental features. " We had to market a unique home in a down economy. Our home featured 2 by 6 construction, super-insulation, with a geothermal heating, cooling, and hot water. It was an extremely efficient system, but one that costs a little more on the front end to realize savings down the road. The energy features were combined with some beautiful timbers, brick and flooring, harvested from a 19th century mill building. We needed a real estate professional qualified to not only understand, but to be able to communicate how these characteristics."
Developer Jonathan Gross found Valerie Demerski by googling the Green Living Journal website, having first encountered the term "EcoBroker" at a building trade show. "A home buyer finds it difficult to sort through the complex and often confusing world of 'green'. A well-informed, professional broker can help the consumer navigate that road and make educated choices. As developers, we add value by adding specialized environmental features. Unless we have an agent who understands and can explain these features, we lose our competitive edge."
Adds Greely, "Ultimately, it was Valerie Demerski's knowledge and training, not to mention her willingness to use her skills to actually market the property beyond Multiple Listing Service, that allowed us to move forward."
This point is underscored by William Martin of Greentree Real Estate. "EcoBroker" is not the only certification game in town: "I was the first broker in Vermont to obtain the National Association of Realtors GREEN Designation. I am not familiar with the differences in the programs so I wouldn't want to compare them. From reading the outlines it seems that they have the same goals - educating the brokers and subsequently the public about the need for lifestyle and housing changes to support the planet. These are important to all of us regardless of the path chosen to learn."
Greentree Real Estate is in the process of moving into a 200+ year old farmhouse. "We are quite aware of the importance of thoughtful design," says Martin. " From the initial energy audit to a large photovoltaic system to power the office, we are committed to making every attempt to incorporate energy and resource efficiency."
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