When Darby Strong landed her dream job at a green building council in Portland, Ore., the green-conscious program administrator from South Carolina suddenly found herself in the market for green housing.
"Just doing online searches for different housing, obviously sustainability being a big part of my life, it is something I looked for," says Strong, who turned to a new website — GreenRenter.com — that caters to eco-conscious renters.
Launched last spring, Greenrenter.com speaks to the particular concerns of renters who care about things like energy use, rainwater runoff, dual-flush toilets and compact fluorescent lights.
"As one resident has said, 'As a renter, I can't install solar panels on my roof, I can't make huge improvements to my property, so for me to find and connect with an owner that's making those choices is a great benefit,'" says Pam Neild, one of the company's cofounders.
Neild says she originally saw a need for renters to connect with green property owners, but she hopes the site will be a resource for developers to see what others are doing around the country. The site lists residential and commercial properties. "We don't see anything but expansion when we look at the green building industry," she says.
Indeed, the appeal of a green home has been a boon to some developers. Dana Earlenbaugh, the community manager at Headwaters Apartments in Portland, says the 100-unit green development was full just months after it opened two years ago. (Earlenbaugh has listed properties on GreenRenter.com, but Headwaters was not exclusively marketed through the site.) "We did it in six months and we did it in the dead of winter," Earlenbaugh says. "That was really a wake-up call to a lot of property managers and developers to see the need for eco-friendly or green housing."
Earlenbaugh says referrals from GreenRenter.com have brought more serious clientele, who call after reading detailed profiles of the buildings. "People want to live in a place where they can lessen their carbon footprint," she says.
One unique feature of the site is its scoring system, which evaluates a property's "greenness" based on the answers to a questionnaire. The final score reflects a building's green features — like access to public transit, water efficiency, energy efficiency, and proximity to community gardens — and the difficulty for the owner to implement it.
Jill Lyon, a general contractor and owner of LuLu Construction who has been doing "green" remodeling for more than a decade, says the site and the scoring system fill a void in the industry.
"Green apartments — green anything — is a million shades of gray. Everyone has a different idea of what 'green' is. For any tenant to be able to find out every aspect of the greenness of the properties at any given time," she says, "it's phenomenal."
Today, the site gets about 100 visitors a day and 11,000 page views per month. A recent search showed about 200 properties listed on the site. Currently, GreenRenter.com does not charge to list a property.
Still, the young company is fine-tuning its product. Renters such as Strong said the site features plenty of apartments but fewer single-family homes. Strong, who was looking to rent a house, ultimately found a place through a friend. "I had about 35 days to pack and drive across the country," she says.
And for now, don't come looking for a roommate who will let you compost in the bathroom, either. Neild acknowledges the networking potential of "like-minded renters," but says the startup hasn't broached that aspect of green living. "It's actually an idea that we're toying with, we just haven't implemented it yet," she says.
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