Many shades of Green in real estate

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

The demand for green homes is on the rise and many realtors are stepping up to face the challenge

Marta Gold

Jessica Deverill in front of her Edmonton house, which she bought with help from a green realtor. She wanted a home in a sustainable neighbourhood, close to bus routes, shopping, and with room for a big garden. Photograph by : Chris Schwarz, Canwest News Service

‘Green realtor” sounds like the punchline of a bad joke involving aliens, nausea or inexperience.

In fact, it’s a label increasingly being applied to agents with a keen eye on sustainable homes and energy efficiency — and is a growing niche market.

While some realtors specialize in condos, second homes or acreages, green realtors focus on green homes. Their clients are looking for environmentally friendly houses or seeking to retrofit older homes, either to live in themselves or sell to green buyers.

Christy Boulter — a longtime environmental activist — brought that passion to her work when she began selling real estate in Edmonton. Now she helps like-minded clients find homes with environmentally friendly features, or ones that can be renovated, along with advice on how to make changes.

“It truly has transformed to a lifestyle from a trend,” says Boulter, whose father has been an organic farmer in B.C. for many years.

Most of her clients are “hardworking, average Edmontonians” who can’t always afford some of the fancier, green homes being marketed by a few local builders. “I encourage them to check out sustainable options in renovating their ’50s bungalows,” she says.

Simple changes such as updating appliances, improving insulation and replacing windows can all make a big difference, says Boulter.

That’s what Christina Hunter and Dan Moreau found when they bought their bungalow with Boulter as their agent. “It needed a little bit more work than we originally anticipated, but in the end, I think it will be great,” says Hunter, 24.

They’ve renovated the bathroom, installing an energy-efficient shower head and low-flow toilet. They’re adding extra insulation and are working on the yard, to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

“For Dan and I, the ultimate goal is an acreage, and we’ll do everything we can to go off-grid,” she says. That would include their own wind turbine, solar panels and well. “It’s not to be against ‘the man,’ it’s just to be self-sufficient and to be carbon-neutral,” she adds.

Though the couple already felt well-informed about green options before they chose Boulter as their realtor, “it was great knowing that she was on the same wavelength as us,” says Hunter.

For 30-year-old home buyer Jessica Deverill, a green home meant one in a central neighbourhood, close to bus routes and shopping. She turned to Boulter to help find the right house, which they did. The house has the shops of Little Italy nearby, good bus service and is central enough that she can ride her bike. The house also has fruit trees and a yard big enough for a large vegetable garden and small greenhouse.

Rodney Gietz, a green agent for Bison Realty in Edmonton, says most of his clients are already knowledgeable about the environment and sustainability. One of the key changes he recommends, particularly in resale homes, is improving the efficiency of the heating and electrical systems.

Green clients are often looking for nice, big gardens, Gietz adds. “That’s a major goal of people who want to live sustainably. Plus it’s a physical activity and an activity of the soul.”

It’s not just hardcore environmentalists who are increasingly interested in green home options.

A survey last fall done by Royal LePage found 72 per cent of Canadians said they would look for a greener home in their next home purchase. And 63 per cent said they’d be willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly home.

Green realty, while still a fledgling specialty in Alberta, is becoming a growing trend in British Columbia and Ontario, says James Rodgers, head of the Green Realty Association in B.C.

But “green” can come in a variety of shades, he cautions. “At this point, you don’t know what you’re getting. Different realtors have a different take on things.”

The training available is still fairly limited, though that is quickly changing.

Still, “the potential for greenwashing is great,” he adds. As the economy shifts and housing inventories increase, more realtors are looking to distinguish themselves, some by adopting green personas, says Rodgers.

Clients should ask green realtors exactly what their name means. Some donate part of their commission to related non-profit groups. Others specialize in energy efficiency, or are more knowledgeable about environmental health, for example.

Make sure your needs, as a client, fit with the realtor’s area of expertise, Rodgers advises.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008


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