Buying and Selling Green
A new breed of real estate agents helps eco-conscious shoppers find the house of their dreams
Walking you through one of her Evergreen, Colorado, listings, real estate agent Jody Wagner is likely to point out all the usual perks that make home buyers go oooh and aaah: lofty ceilings, eat-in kitchens, newly refurbished baths, and award-winning school districts.
But she's just as likely to mention other things that might take mainstream home buyers by surprise. For example: the sustainably harvested woods used in construction, the building-integrated photovoltaic solar panels on the roof, or the Energy Star appliances, reclaimed granite countertops, and zero-VOC paints that the previous owner added in the kitchen remodel.
That's because Wagner is no ordinary real estate agent. She's a certified EcoBroker, one of about 300 nationwide who specialize in helping people track down or market properties featuring sustainable design, energy efficiency, and other environmentally friendly features. While most of Wagner's clients come to her ready and willing to embrace a more eco-friendly lifestyle, "even the ones who aren't green are greener by the time I'm done with them," she says.
A pioneer in green realty, EcoBrokers was founded in 2002 by John Beldock, who saw it as a way to give props to the planet—as well as a no-brainer business opportunity. "We saw the demand in our own industry," he says. "There wasn't anything that taught real estate agents how to speak the language of green building or help consumers tap into it." So he designed a curriculum to educate brokers on topics ranging from wind and solar energy to indoor air quality and rainwater retention systems. To become certified, agents must complete three core courses and keep up with continuing education requirements. Today there are EcoBrokers in firms large and small, from upstart KJM Real Estate in Los Angeles to more established names like ReMax.
Environmentally savvy brokers can be a boon for sellers, especially those who have invested money in energy-saving improvements and other efficient features. "We show them there are agents out there who can appreciate their green houses and effectively market them," Beldock says. After all, if a homeowner sinks $15,000 into solar panels, he'll want to reap the benefit when it comes time to sell. And if prospective buyers don't know diddly about solar, they'll have a hard time comprehending what might seem like an inflated asking price. A broker who's well-versed in the topic can elaborate on the long-term financial benefits of solar energy and explain why it might end up saving the new homeowners a boatload of money in the long run.
Green brokers are also hip to subtle features other agents might overlook. When Mark Wheeler was showing a bungalow in Portland, Oregon, he enticed potential buyers by telling them about the native vegetation, which is easy to maintain and conserves water, and the local recycling program. While the eventual buyers were initially attracted to the family-friendly neighborhood, "they were also stoked about the green stuff," Wheeler says.
If you're a hard-core greenie looking to build your own environmentally conscious dream house, one of these pros can help you there, too. Atlanta-based EcoBroker Jennifer Spivey is working with client Eric Gilkesson to find just the right parcel for his modular green house. "Jennifer knows a lot about land management issues," Gilkesson says. "She knows what to look for in terms of things like drainage. She examines the trees and vegetation and checks for disease. If it doesn't look healthy to her, she'll do the research to figure out why."
Like Spivey, a longtime advocate for urban revitalization and smart growth, many agents working in green real estate have a background in environmental issues. "It was a natural for me," says Charlottesville, Virginia–based EcoBroker Roger Voisinet, who is often hired by green developers to help market new properties. Before embarking on a career in real estate, Voisinet received his master's degree in environmental science and worked designing models for sustainable cities. He uses that knowledge to educate buyers on technologies like passive solar, high-efficiency furnaces, and the occasional rain catchment system. "In any green project, there are usually 10 to 20 features that set the homes apart from ordinary houses," he says. "I can go into the details and benefits of each of them."
For home buyers, there may be ongoing benefits to working with green brokers. Ben Kaufman, who co-founded Seattle-based GreenWorks Realty with his father, Louis, in 2002, offers clients a "Healthy Home Assessment"—a review of the house's indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and the greenness of its building materials and construction methods. After making the assessment, GreenWorks agents can offer advice on eco-upgrades new owners might want to consider. Such upgrades not only make the house more comfortable and cheaper to live in but also make it more marketable to future buyers.
GreenWorks adds to the incentives by leaving new homeowners with a gift package meant to encourage greener thinking in other aspects of their lives, including a box of organic food from locally owned farms, a gift certificate to a green building-supply store, and a coupon for a car-sharing program. Sure, it's a marketing ploy, but it's also a great way to show that this new breed of agents has their hearts in the right place. "A lot of our clients come to us because they understand we are in the business of improving the livability of the region," says Kaufman. "They just see us as good guys." Hmm. Maybe the next generation of real estate pros won't be known so much for their gold jackets as they are for their white—make that greenhats.
To track down a certified EcoBroker in your area, visit the company's website at
You can also find brokers who specialize in green listings—as well as information on green builders, architects, and designers—at Modern Green Living (click on Realtor under the "Professions" category) or at The Beam (click on "Find a Professional," then hit "Real Estate Agents").