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Everywhere you turn, you hear about the environmental movement. Here’s how some real estate professionals have embraced going green.

It was a combination of personal interest and the realization that the ranks of environmentally conscious consumers were on the rise that pushed Bruce Johnson to become a “green sales associate” last September. A broker-associate with Century 21 Beach Realty in Santa Rosa Beach, Johnson started by spending $295 and one week to get his EcoBroker certified designation, and in doing so, learned about the various energy, environmental and green strategies of importance to real estate professionals.

Then, Johnson made a point of becoming one of the first real estate professionals in Northern Florida to use his consciousness of the environment to stand out from the pack. He reached out to several “green” builder groups that were beginning to emerge in the area, and attended an all-day green seminar. “I started to network with people who were in the industry,” says Johnson, who’s also been working with a local developer that expects to start building Mosaic Oaks, its first “certified green” development, this year.

Johnson, who will serve as a lead selling agent for the development, says the homes will be made of structured insulated panels that are 40 to 60 percent more energy efficient than traditional materials, among other green features that are expected to attract consumers interested in improving the environment while cutting down on their household bills. Johnson sees his role as a green sales associate as serving two purposes: he’s helping to spread the word about the value of going green while at the same time building a new niche for himself.

“Our market experienced a huge boom-bust, with home values going way up and then down,” says Johnson, who two years after getting his real estate license—and after enjoying the boom times—decided that he needed to develop a niche to be able to stay in business. “I started talking to developers and realized that by working together, we could offer the public something that the vast majority of developments could not—energy efficiency and the opportunity to own a green home.”

What’s Green?
By green home, Johnson is referring to the practice of increasing the efficiency with which homes and the land around them use and harvest energy, water and materials. Such homes are generally built in a way that reduces the impact on human health and the environment, with those efforts undertaken through improved site selection, design, operation, maintenance and construction.

With the green movement getting so much press these days, one has to wonder if it’s enough simply to install a few Energy Star appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout an existing home, and slap the green home label on it. Or, does it take recycled-paper countertops, cork floors and low-flow toilets installed in a newly constructed home to make the cut?

According to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green commercial buildings, being green requires a whole-building approach to sustainability in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

In residential circles, the definitions become a bit muddled. Whereas Florida has yet to establish any guidelines related to the issue, Rachael Schindler, a sales associate with Windermere Real Estate Northwest Inc. in Seattle, says her state is already ahead of the pack with its Built Green program, which is run as a nonprofit organization through the Master Builders Association.

Developed in partnership with King County, Snohomish County and other government agencies in Washington, Built Green is designed to help homebuyers find quality, affordable homes that offer opportunities to protect the health of their families and the Northwest environment. “Its business plan is just to get as many builders building green, or thinking about how to build green, as possible,” says Schindler, who adds that the program recently expanded into Colorado and plans to move into other states in the future.

As a result of Built Green, Schindler says, numerous four-unit town homes are being built in Seattle—all of them certified as green. “We want to incorporate them into the Northwest MLS so that we can start tracking the cost benefit for homeowners, in terms of the difference between owning a Built Green town home versus a traditional unit,” says Schindler. “At this point, we think we’re getting 10 to 20 percent price hikes, due to the homes’ green qualities.”

Getting Up to Speed
Green homes come in different shapes and sizes, although many of them share the same qualities. A few examples of green features include compact fluorescent light bulbs (instead of the traditional incandescent type) to save money on energy bills and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions; low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to save resources without reducing water pressure; trees used for shade as a way of reducing cooling costs; Energy Star appliances used as a way to save 10 to 30 percent of operating costs; and paints and finishes that contain no or low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are a health hazard.

To let the public know that she’s up to speed on these and other green elements, and to spread the word about the value of buying green, Stephanie Edwards-Musa, an EcoBroker and sales associate with Coldwell Banker in Houston, says she writes about the trend regularly in her online real estate blog (http://activerain.com/blogs/youragentsteph), has created several news releases for local media (and a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle) and is networking with builders in the area who are part of the nationwide Green Building Initiative (GBI).

“I’m getting excellent responses from the builders, who feel it’s important to have an educated real estate [sales associate] on their side who can explain the concept to consumers and lenders,” says Edwards-Musa, who’s since been referred to other builders who needed help getting the word out about their green development. She credits her success to a combination of her EcoBroker certification and a personal desire to do something for the environment.

“From the course, I walked away with good ideas about how to market [myself] as a green agent and advertise my green listings,” says Edwards-Musa. “They made us come up with a list of local resources that we could contact and organizations that we could join. Using that list, I’ve really been able to perform in this niche.”
 
To Good Use
Sharon Simms, a broker-associate with RE/MAX Metro in St. Petersburg, is also putting her green knowledge to use. Working in a market where inventory levels are higher than they’ve been in years, Simms says listings that can be touted as green tend to get more attention from buyers, even if the home is simply retrofitted with new windows, low-flow plumbing or energy-efficient appliances.

“When selling these homes, I can point out to buyers how the green aspect of the home will reduce their expenses, while at the same time making the home more valuable for a future sale,” says Simms, who’s received referrals from other EcoBrokers and direct calls from buyers and sellers who were attracted to her green sales associate status. She advertises that status in her newsletter, on her Web site (www.ssimms.com) and in her weekly blog (http://blog.ssimms.com), the latter of which recently featured a story on the green qualities of bamboo flooring in both new and existing homes.

To Florida sales associates who want to get in on the green movement but aren’t sure where to start, Simms suggests joining and/or attending local builders’ organization meetings to network with developers who are using green elements in their homes. Also, she adds, let existing homeowners, through your marketing, know about the steps that others have taken (or that they can take) to create more environmentally conscious abodes.

“Get educated, and be among the early adopters of this knowledge, rather than waiting until you have to do it out of self-defense because everyone else has it,” says Simms. “It’s better to be on the front end of a curve.”

Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.