Why “Green” Might Turn Off Home Buyers

February 11th, 2016 by Trey Barrineau

Does the language of “green building” really connect with home buyers? That was the focus of “Make It Matter! How to Sell When ‘Green’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Go,’ ” a session at the recent Greenbuild conference in Washington, D.C.

Rose Quint, assistant vice president for research at the National Association of Home Builders, presented statistics that show consumers know why energy efficiency is important. However, terms like “green,” “sustainable” or “high performance” don’t really register with them.

“What does a ‘green home’ even mean to  home buyers?” Quint asked. “We don’t really know if these words carry a lot of meaning for them.”

She said that’s because energy efficiency is often far less influential on the homebuying decision than things like safety, location, storage space and curb appeal. Because of that, green features such as doors and windows are often downplayed when talking to customers  — or even left out of the conversation altogether.

Despite that, many homeowners and tenants want to live in more energy-efficient spaces, according to Craig Foley, the chief of energy solutions for RE/MAX Leading Edge. He cited a poll by the Demand Institute that let respondents provide 52 different answers about what they already had in a residence and what they wanted most. According to Foley, the biggest satisfaction gap was energy efficiency — 90 percent of respondents wanted to increase it in their homes.

“That’s incredible,” he said. “That data always raises eyebrows in the real estate community.”

But green construction is not just about happy homeowners. Foley, who lives and works in Massachusetts, vividly illustrated why energy efficiency is important.

“Massachusetts is the No. 1 state for supporting energy efficiency, and has been for the past five years,” he said. “But the average home in Massachusetts uses 109 million BTUs every year. The first time we used an atomic weapon, at Hiroshima, it released 60 billion BTUs of energy. So it only takes 550 homes in energy-efficient Massachusetts to consume that amount of energy in one year. To put it another way, in less than three hours, every day, 365 days a year, just the homes in Massachusetts are consuming the same energy as produced by that first atomic bomb.”

Foley suggested that “green”  might not be the best word to use for high-performing homes.

“‘Green’ is a pretty ineffective word for the public,” he said. “The term often fits one side of the political aisle, and we’re trying to sell to everybody. On top of that, in the sales industry, there’s a lot of fear of that word.  The big fear is about change. This type of home brings a lot of fear to the real-estate industry.”

So what might be a better word?

Comfort, suggested Amanda Stinton of the National Association of Realtors.

“Comfort is definitely a benefit of a high-performing home,” she said. “A better-built home is a more comfortable home. Research shows homeowners are interested in the benefits these homes provide.”

Stinton said “cost savings” is another phrase that could sway home buyers to go green, because they’ll have lower energy bills.

“Eighty-six percent of all consumers rank heating and cooling costs as a priority,” she said.


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