Heated Yards Don’t Sell Houses


Having tiptoed gingerly into spring this week, the Real Estate season is officially open. With a couple of dry days strung together, the sounds of lawn mowers have filled the neighborhoods– and sellers are breaking out the fresh-cut flowers and shaking up cans of touch-up paint. It is, as we say in the business, ON.

First impressions are important, absolutely. But today’s buyer is ridiculously well-informed, and although the emotional impacts of an inviting entry and a show-ready interior are crucial, increasingly the energy efficiency of a home is ranking as a factor in buying decisions.

But what is energy efficiency and how is it measured?

Updated windows are an observable (if over-rated) sign. Insulation in the attic and crawl, of course. High-efficiency furnace, sure. But what about the little things– literally the little cracks– that allow a bottom-line exchange of energy that these bigger picture improvements don’t stop? How perforated is the house, and how much do these breaches cost a homeowner? 

Buyers can study the heating bills of their sellers, but those are deceptively subjective, based on user preferences. A home inspection can identify some areas with potential for improvement, but still these recommendations are not measurable.  If only there were some kind of standard that houses could be held up to– a system that buyers and sellers could agree to as a scientific absolute where evaluating energy efficiency was concerned.

Wait– there is!

As part of the Community Energy Challenge, Sustainable Connections and The Opportunity Council are offering a residential energy assessment which calculates an Energy Performance Score (EPS).  This standardized rating can be used as a powerful comparative marketing tool, essentially taking the guesswork out of a transaction in terms of a home’s energy efficiency.

The assessment is performed by one of the CEC’s Certified Building Analysts, after which a score is assigned based on evaluation of the home’s envelope and systems. The  lower the score, the more efficient the home. So you don’t want a score of a million. In fact the baseline is 100, so the farther beneath that mark the better.

The CEC menu doesn’t end there. A more thorough version of this assessment is also available for homeowners more interested in tightening up their homes with an eye toward longer term efficiencies and the corresponding savings against energy costs. These savings, resulting from completing CEC recommended efficiency improvements ranging from duct sealing to furnace replacement, have saved an average of $477 per year for Whatcom County participants.

Though the CEC has already done more than 1100 assessments since launching the program in 2010, the option to include an EPS was only introduced into the Northwest Multiple Listing Service in November. But already in the Seattle and Portland metro markets, homes making use of available Green Building MLS fields (including EPS scores)  have sold for nearly 10% more per sqft and in 20% less time on the market. And we know that what trends in Seattle manifests itself here eventually also. Widespread and effective use of the EPS in real estate marketing is making its way north and is sure to be popular in our green-friendly community. Currently, however, there are only 3 listings in all of Whatcom County with an advertised EPS. This system is going to be very popular, and we are quite literally on the ground floor. 

Energy efficiency may not seem as sexy as quartz countertops. It isn’t! But at only $125 for the EPS assessment and $195 for the expanded version, it’s not as expensive either. Sellers should still plan on spreading fresh mulch on the flower beds and putting some cookies in to bake before their homes hit the market. But knowing how tight a home is and what steps can be taken to make it tighter makes pretty good sense, too. List your home with me and I will gladly pay for an assessment. 


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