Eco-Friendly Design and Staging

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Even with Americans’ year-round mindset of environmental consciousness – green is trendy, even when the leaves are brown – April is the peak of the sustainability calendar. Earth Day, which falls every year on April 22, highlights four-plus weeks of green awareness that includes National Recycling Month and lots of think pieces on Going Green.

And, as you know, it also happens to be the time when the real estate market picks up in most parts of the country.

There are ways we, as agents, can contribute to this focus on environmental sustainability. The good news is that sustainable features are a selling point for most buyers, and it usually doesn’t require adding solar panels or other expensive energy-related projects. A few simple improvements on the parts of your sellers, or even in the home’s staging, can make a big difference when it comes to selling price.

Figure out what you need

A good first move is to conduct an official energy audit on the home. It can work either as a checklist of improvements for your sellers or as a point of pride for potential buyers. Such audits can easily be adapted to show the long-term cost savings, which can help you when it comes to negotiating sales price.

The Department of Energy has some good pointers on getting an officially Home Energy Audit.
Look for low-hanging fruit, move up from there

Once the audit is done, pick out the easy steps. Caulking windows, respraying insulation, and springing for low-energy, long-lasting light bulbs throughout the house can be an easy way to seriously boost the efficiency of any home.

From there, look at your appliances, windows and water-related fixtures like low-flow toilets and faucets. None of these by themselves are expensive to replace, and are often in high-demand from buyers, particularly high-quality appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators (be sure to look for the EnergyStar label). Tankless water heaters, while not cheap, are also high-quality improvements that can raise your listing head and shoulders above those in the price bracket.

The Green Resource Council has a very nice rundown of improvements of this sort.
Work green into your design

Once the easy fixes have been addressed, you may want to consider having your buyers look at larger projects, like sustainable bamboo flooring, windows and porous outdoor concrete. These can simultaneously accomplish two things: Adding value to the home with brand new (better-looking) features and an attractive focus on sustainability. Outdoors, plant native flower and shrubbery species (any greenhouse worth its salt should be able to help you find such plants) and accentuate features like shade trees that cut down on energy. Consider installing rain barrels below your (up-to-date) guttering system to provide water for gardens and outdoor water features.

Indoors, there is a whole industry that has cropped up around the idea of rehabilitated and eco-friendly design. Tables and cabinets made of recovered barn wood, furniture from recycled sources and even environmentally friendly paint and cleaning supplies are becoming more and more popular. These pieces – often custom – make cost a bit more, but could really help show off the home’s possibilities when it comes to staging. And besides, if throwing in a table or furniture set leads to a can’t-say-no offer, the furniture might more than pay for itself.
Show it off

Once your clients have made these improvements, the Green Resource Council suggests putting together a folder or notebook (printed on recycled paper!) that outlines the eco-friendly features and estimates the cost savings over the course of a month or year. Also remember to include the features and savings in online listings. Buyers and their agents will appreciate the information, which may lead to showings all by itself.
Going big or go home

Have a client thinking of going off the grid entirely? That’s a trickier subject. Installing substantial wind or solar power systems to a home is risky in terms of resale, because it is expensive and will require a certain type of buyer. However, it is an attractive option to many. There are lots of government programs, rebates and helpful organizations out there.