March 17, 2005

Time for marketing and sales people to go green

  • Green homes - like yoga, organics and hybrids - will sell in Seattle
    GreenWorks Realty

    In last year's Green Building issue I wrote about the importance of promoting the benefits of green homes to home buyers.

    Real estate agents often lack the basic knowledge they need to promote green homes effectively.

    The piece spoke to people's growing interest in healthy lifestyle choices, quality of life, environmental sensitivity and energy-efficient products.

    This was a shift from many early marketing messages that promoted buying a green home as a means to a better world. This position works best for the "early adopter" green home buyers. However, as the market shifts to the mainstream, the message too needs to reflect that green homes are high-quality homes as well.

    Today, green home marketing messages and the marketplace continue to evolve.

    The right message

    Green building and real estate professionals both seek to identify and reduce barriers that inhibit market growth.

    Not long ago, banks and appraisers were barriers. They were unable to find comparable properties to evaluate, causing them to lend cautiously and restrict the flow of financing to build green homes. Now, financing is widely available and local builders are beginning to gain a sense of what to build, where and for how much.

    A primary barrier now is in the marketing and selling of green homes. Real estate agents often lack the basic knowledge they need to promote green homes effectively.

    Yet the buyer base is there. News stories abound on the explosive growth in the market for organic foods, yoga, massage and hybrid cars in the Northwest. Green homes attract the same buyer base, and a polished market message appeals to their values: health, value and sense of quality.

    Green homes offer energy efficiency, better indoor air quality and environmentally friendly materials and construction practices. These components can be integrated into a holistic package, and understanding the differences among these components and how they benefit buyers is how one starts to understand green homes.

    As a real estate agent, you can help match buyers and sellers by understanding the advantages of owning a green home, and how those advantages fulfill the needs the buyer.

    There are ways that agents can become educated in green building. Green building classes for real estate agents are increasingly available, including "Built Green" classes offered by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

    Built Green is a voluntary program that enables residential builders to certify their green building practices. Certification levels, based on a checklist of green features, run from one to five stars, with the highest certification levels — four and five stars — confirmed by independent evaluators.

    Successful green projects

    Design counts. Size counts. And quality counts.

    The market is growing for smaller homes that include these three elements. Match these homes to the right location and price, and you have a winning formula. There are several successful examples to note.

    Jim Barger of Greenleaf Construction recently sold a newly built four-star Built Green home in central Seattle for well over $400,000, or about $350 per square foot. Market time was 27 days. Designed by architect David Vandervort, the 1,270-square-foot home was built on a 3,402-square-foot lot. It contained salvaged resources and incorporated rain barrels and grasscrete pavers. The design featured an open, airy floor plan with many windows for natural light and few visual obstructions.

    Tony Case of Case Project Management and Design has pre-sold two homes under construction near Columbia City. He also has reservations on three additional homes on a nearby site currently in permitting. Case's homes are approximately 1,700 square feet and include a range of green features and open floor plans. The homes are selling in the mid-$300s at approximately $250 per square foot.

    The Cottage Company, known for its developments of smaller, cottage-style homes, successfully sells in pocket neighborhood developments in exurban markets on the Eastside. At Conover Commons, the Cottage Company's latest sold-out project, selling prices ranged from $375 to $425 per square foot for 1,000-square-foot homes.

    The company's current project, a 16-unit development in Kirkland, will sell in the high $300s to mid-$400s per square foot with unit sizes starting in the low 1,000-square-foot range.

    GreenWorks Land Development is currently permitting a 34-unit single-family project in Newcastle. Using the latest low-impact development standards, GreenWorks will partner with a reputable green builder to sell homes between 1,000 and 2,500 square feet, priced in the mid- to upper-$200s per square foot.

    After the Master Builders Association introduced its four- and five-star Built Green checklist this year, four-star developments soon entered the pipeline. The addition of the fourth and fifth star levels provides a more competitive arena for builders to differentiate their homes and score points on the checklist.

    In a new Seattle program, projects with the highest point tallies will receive an award from the city. Keep your eye out for ads about the program this spring.

    The Idea Home in the Issaquah Highlands also generated significant public exposure. Over 8,000 people toured the home over several months.

    Examples of innovative green building and development projects continue to emerge. Successful projects are well planned, well priced, high quality and efficiently designed. They avoid excessive, costly features that are not promoted properly and do not appeal to the marketplace.

    Next steps

    There is enormous opportunity for builders and agents. The release of the LEED residential checklist is around the corner. So is growing demand.

    The green home marketplace will really take off as the differentiation becomes more obvious, and as average household sizes decline and more green homes become available to buyers that offer diversity in price, style and location.

    Many resources are available for builders to learn how to incorporate green standards. And real estate agents need learn how to market and sell green homes to be sure to catch the wave.

    Ben Kaufman is co-owner of GreenWorks Realty specializing in green homes, community focused developments and land development.

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