Eco-Friendly Housing: Why Sustainability is Important for Real Estate Agents
Earth Day began in 1970, not as an opportunity to sell tote bags, but as a "national teach-in for the environment." It began as a campaign to raise awareness for conservation, but over the years, we've added sustainability.
What's the difference? Conservation's goal is to protect the environment from human impact. The sustainability movement recognizes that human impact is inevitable. Instead of trying to prevent the unavoidable, sustainability efforts focus on mitigating that impact.
Instead of trying to stop the change or roll back the clock, sustainability's goal is to manage that change to preserve the beauty and utility of nature for future generations.
Given the distinction, you can see how sustainability is the concept we rely on for greening the real estate industry. People will never stop needing houses, offices, and land for growing food, but real estate agents can play a part in sustainably meeting these needs.
And there are many good reasons why real estate agents should educate themselves about sustainable real estate development and promote sustainable housing.
Reason #1: Sustainability is Popular
People care about sustainability on a broad scale. The number of people who prioritize environmental concerns in general has steadily gone up over the decades. The majority of Americans think that the U.S. government is not doing enough to reduce the effects of global climate change or otherwise protect the environment. Most Americans consider a company's environmental record when considering a job offer. And when asked if stricter environmental regulations are worth the cost, 63% say yes.
These trends make sense when you consider that 62% say that climate change is directly affecting their community. It's no longer an abstract or an ideal, but a concrete problem that people see needs solving.
Reason #2: Home Buyers Want Environmentally Friendly Homes
Sustainability used to be a niche market, something above and beyond what the ordinary consumer required. Those days are gone. A certain degree of sustainability is now a baseline demand.
This is true across the board, but especially true for eco-friendly homes, which makes sense for a large, long-term purchase that can have a profound impact on future spending.
The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) reports that most home buyers want to go green when they have the option. They found that 60% preferred to incorporate passive solar design and 66% want durable materials used in their homes.
They're willing to pay more to get these features, as well – though for the most part, only if it saves them money. According to the 2021 survey, 78% of buyers are concerned about the impact of their home on the environment, but only 15% are willing to pay extra, unless those features lead to lower utility costs. If they do, then 57% of buyers say they're willing to pay over $5,000 more up-front for a home that will save $1,000 annually on utility costs.
More than half of homebuilders reported that energy efficiency is the primary green request they get from homeowners, followed closely by products or systems to improve indoor air quality. A little less than half reported they're often asked about water conservation or renewable energy systems. Roughly a quarter say material and resource-conserving systems are a popular ask.
These are important trends to keep in mind when dealing with homeowners.
Reason #3: Young Renters, and Therefore Investors, Want Sustainable Housing
Millennials and Gen Z have a higher commitment to sustainability, and they're much more likely to rent than own. Those demographics mean that real estate investors are increasingly concerned with catering to their environmentally conscious renter pool.
This is important information for real estate developers of multi-family buildings, as well as for leasing agents and property managers.
Whether features are built-in or retrofitted, real estate professionals need to plan for and highlight attractive features like energy-efficient features and low-VOC materials. Access to sustainable community features also matter, including walkability, access to transit, community gardens, on-site recycling, bicycle-friendly amenities, and more.
Reason #4: Sustainable Real Estate Saves Money
Many sustainable real estate features require a higher initial investment. However, even if your clients don't care about conserving resources or reducing their footprint, they'll probably enjoy the lower utility and upkeep costs in the long term.
According to the 2021 NAHB Home Buyer survey, some of the most desired home features are energy-saving, including Energy-Star windows (83%), Energy-Star appliances (81%), and energy-efficient lighting (80%).
Illustrating the timeline for these features to pay for themselves is a valuable sales tool for an eco-friendly home.
Different features save different amounts of money, so make your estimates reasonable, realistic, and specific to the situation.
Reason #5: Sustainable Homes Promote Health and Welfare
We mentioned above that indoor air quality is a close second to energy efficiency in terms of popularity. This is an example of how sustainability considers not just people's impact on the environment, but also the environment's impact on people.
According to homebuilders, the top products or practices to address air quality include direct outdoor ventilation of fans or exhausts, the use of low-VOC materials, better moisture control, and increased ventilation. These measures address the potential buildup of carcinogenic gases, toxic mold, allergens, and other health hazards in the home.
Poor indoor air quality has been a known concern since the 1970s, and its health effects are very real. It's especially a concern for any clients with asthma or other respiratory issues, but everyone can breathe easier with better air quality!
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