Q: With all five of our kids having fled the nest and living hundreds or thousands of miles away, my wife and I have decided to give downsizing a go – a bittersweet decision if there ever was one since we’ve been in the same home for over 25 years. But it’s high time to move on and shed an extra bedroom or two.

 

We’re not quite ready to go the condo-on-a-golf-course-in-Scottsdale-route, but one thing we’re focusing on is finding a place that boasts “green” features that will save us a bit of money in the long run. My wife and I aren’t that well-versed in eco-friendly home jargon so we’re hoping that an experienced Realtor can really take the lead and guide us in right direction. Ideally, we’d like to find a Realtor who specializes in selling green homes. Is there even such a thing?

 

On the market,

Stephen, St. Paul, Minn.

A: Hey Stephen,

Sure thing, there are indeed so-called “green” real estate professionals out there that specialize in — or at the very least are experienced in —the sale of green homes. The real estate market has evolved dramatically in the past few years as energy efficiency and other eco-elements become more and more desirable to potential buyers and realtors and brokers scramble to become hip to the new trends. But as they like to say in the real estate biz, it can all depend on location, location, location.

I’m unsure if you plan on relocating outside of your current city but if you’re staying put, you might be at an advantage since St. Paul isn’t exactly a podunk outpost and you’ll have more of a variety of realtors from which to choose. But how to choose you ask?

There are certification programs that realtors can take so they’re properly trained to help you weed out super green homes from marginally green homes from thoroughly greenwashed listings. The latter is something to be weary of since, again, green homes are hot sellers that might be labeled as such even though they’re not. If a self-described “green” realtor is indeed the real deal and not just someone pushing a marketing tool, chances are they’ll boast credentials from a certification program. It’s also possible they’ll also show up for a home inspection in a Prius or another sensible car and not a gas-guzzling monster. As in other professions, it really helps if a green realtor really walks the talk.

One of the more established green certification programs to be on the look out for is Colorado-based EcoBroker International, the education arm of the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals. As of 2008, EcoBroker has certified more than 2,600 eco-savvy agents across the country. Reputable regional certifications include California’s EcoGreen Real Estate Agent Certification Program and the Northwest’s Earth Advantage’s S.T.A.R. (Sustainability Training for Accredited Real Estate Professionals) program, a two-day course that “gives real estate professionals the tools to market, sell and communicate with clients about green building.” Up in the Great Green North there’s the National Association of Green Agents and Brokers, a nonprofit that certifies Accredited Greenagents and Greenbrokers throughout Canada.

If you’re having trouble tracking down a Realtor with green cred in your area, don’t fret. Check the listings to see who is actively selling eco-friendly properties. Ask around. Make some calls. Be persistent. Don’t rush it and don’t appear desperate. And most importantly, educate yourself before putting your feelers out there. How exactly are you trying to minimize your environmental footprint? What’s most important to you? Indoor air quality? Water conservation? Dramatic energy savings? There are many important tenants to green home building beyond energy efficiency, so it’s important to have at least a basic knowledge of what you are in the market for before you actually hit the market.

And just a thought: I wouldn’t completely ignore green homes that are being sold directly through their owner. In this case, the owner might really know the property in question, much more so than an agent.

Hope this helps, Stephen. Let me know how your hunt for a green Realtor and the scaled-down, eco-friendly home of your dreams goes.

— Matt

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