Even as bids for homes escalate and houses fly off the market, some buyers are holding on to standards for home features that go beyond hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances. Demand for energy-efficient and environmentally friendly elements in homes has held steady.
Nearly two-thirds of Realtors surveyed in March said the promotion of energy efficiency in listings could help attract buyers, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors. More than half said their clients were interested in sustainability, and nearly a third reported they were involved in the buying or selling of a property with “green” or eco-friendly features in the last 12 months.
“A growing number of consumers are seeking homes with features that are good for the environment and, by extension, good for their wallets by reducing utility expenses in the long run,” Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the National Association of Realtors, said in a statement. “The pandemic has led to an increased focus on wellness, and sustainability is an important variable in that overall equation for some people.”
» READ MORE: Home, green home: How to be more Earth-friendly
Features that mean savings on monthly bills can help homeowners who face higher housing costs as the competitive market drives up home prices.
In a 2020 report examining the habits of home buyers and sellers, the National Association of Realtors found that most buyers who purchased between July 2019 and June 2020 said environmentally friendly features were at least somewhat important.
More than four in five buyers said heating and cooling costs were the most important environmental factors, according to the survey of about 8,200 recent buyers. Energy-efficient windows, doors, and siding were next on the priority list, followed by lighting and appliances. About half of buyers said landscaping for energy conservation was at least somewhat important to them.
The gleam of solar panels atop a home has become more common in neighborhoods across the Philadelphia region as the technology has moved into the mainstream. Local home builders tout the use of energy-efficient elements and systems in their construction. Home designers help current homeowners add eco-friendly features.
More listing services are allowing home buyers to search by green features. Bright MLS, a multiple listing service that covers the Mid-Atlantic region, has expanded its listing search fields through the years to include phrases such as low-flow fixtures, pre-wired for wind turbine(s), and salvaged materials to keep up with clients’ interests. And the company expects demand to grow in the coming years. It has made those features easier for sellers’ agents to include and buyers’ agents to find. The listing service plans to work with third parties that collect data on green features to incorporate that information automatically into property listings.
“I wouldn’t be shocked as demographics change, people’s opinions change and people want to know what their property’s impact will be on the environment,” said Frank Major, chief technology officer at Bright MLS. “The green fields is something we think will be more and more important as we go forward.”
The environmental impact of a property doesn’t interest all home buyers, Major said, but “for those that are concerned about it, it’s going to be important to them, so we want them to have access to that information.”
Christopher Raad, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, said that although consumers increasingly want more information about green features, the current hot market and lack of inventory may mean some buyers let go of those desires in favor of getting into a home.
“It’s hard to make this a top priority only because of the challenging market we’re in at the moment,” he said. “If there’s a top priority in your home search, you really have to be keenly aware of what’s coming on the market as soon as you possibly can.”
Both builders and current homeowners are facing the same types of shortages and delays for energy-efficient appliances, systems, and fixtures that builders are seeing for materials of all types.
Most homeowners want standard energy-efficient upgrades primarily to save on utility bills in the long run or to leave a smaller environmental footprint, said Johanna Adamiak, the owner of Rooted by Design. She specializes in sustainable design in renovation and interior furnishing projects in the Philadelphia region.
Of Adamiak’s clients, “I would say about half are interested in eco-friendly or sustainable choices for their home,” she said, “but most do not understand what that entails or how to make those types of selections on their own.”
Homeowners “don’t necessarily know that the things they choose to fill their home with can also be eco-friendly or sustainable,” she said. For people who are most concerned about where products are made and the materials used, for example, Adamiak tries to find pieces made of natural instead of synthetic materials, to use local vendors, and to repurpose secondhand pieces.
“I am seeing that even folks that don’t necessarily prioritize eco-friendly enjoy seeing those options mixed into the selections for their home,” she said. “They may not always choose that option, but sometimes if we can meet the other constraints of a project, they are more open to it, which has been an exciting shift to see.”
Homeowners interested in energy efficiency should examine their homes’ insulation, air sealing, water heating, air cooling and heating systems, appliances, and electronics. They can hire builders who use sustainable or recycled building materials for home additions or construction. Federal, state, and local incentives and energy efficient financing can help homeowners with costs.
The good news for consumers is that as with any technology, “green” systems have gotten much more efficient and less expensive over time, including solar, said Dara Bortman, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Exact Solar, a solar systems installation company based in Bucks County.
“People are comfortable that [solar] works,” she said. “They see their neighbors have solar panels on their house. People are more comfortable with what it looks like.”
Bortman is on the board of directors of the American Solar Energy Society, a solar advocacy group aiming to educate real estate agents, appraisers, home inspectors, and other real estate professionals about how solar systems work and how they can add value to a property, she said. She advises homeowners who are selling solar homes and want the best return on their investment to use utility bill data in their marketing and to choose real estate agents with some knowledge of selling solar.
The National Association of Realtors offers green certification for members, resources on energy efficiency and sustainability, and tools to help clients understand operational costs of green home listings.
Bortman predicts that in the next five to 10 years, more builders will construct houses with integrated smart features to make homes energy efficient so owners don’t have to piece together those elements themselves. She said a societal shift to 100% clean energy has become not a question of if, but when and how.
“Consumers will drive this demand for more efficient homes,” she said. “Especially younger consumers. They really get it.”