Appraising Green Homes

They say the dream of the older generation was to pay off a mortgage, while the dream of today’s young families is to get one. In this economy, that’s no joke. That dream is now taking on new dimensions that include managing the ever-rising cost of energy and water.

In today’s home market, a lot of variables go into determining the price of a home, but some of the most common “features” are often only cosmetic: granite countertops come to mind as an example. Typical real estate listings are so homogenized that each one looks nearly the same as the next. That’s understandable when most home builders use a formula designed to deliver a product that looks good, meets code and has all the basics that most buyers expect.

Remember that a home built to code is often nothing more than barely legal. Unfortunately, today’s building codes do not guarantee high-quality or performance, as many homeowners learn the hard way (including yours truly). Just like a car, it’s often what’s under the hood that counts. In the case of a home, high-performance means quality, durability and efficiency achieved through the mindful application of building science.

So how do you know if you’re buying a Chevy or a Ferrari? Unfortunately, even sales professionals are often ignorant about the performance features (or lack thereof) of the homes they represent, new or used. From one builder to the next, homes can be similar in size, shape, layout and look, but their performance can vary drastically. It’s obvious that a more efficient home costs less to operate and indeed, the difference can amount to thousands of dollars a year. One would think that this very tangible aspect of home value would be factored into every home listing and appraisal. Inexplicably, this is not the case.

Fortunately, as Bob Dylan quipped, the times – they are a-changing. As increasing numbers of builders embrace green principles, from Energy Star to LEED, it’s becoming vitally important that appraisers and others involved in the financial aspects of the real estate business understand the true value of green. Homeowners who improve efficiency or add renewable energy systems should be able to trust that these improvements will be valued fairly and accurately in the resale marketplace.

Education is the key. That’s why I was so pleased to hear about two half-day seminars created specifically for appraisers and real estate professionals that will be held on Tuesday, January 19th at the Northwest Career & Technical Academy (which is itself a LEED-certified green building) in Las Vegas. The event is a collaborative effort between the Nevada Energy Star Partners Green Alliance, the Appraisal Institute and the Coalition of Appraisers in Nevada.

The first session, “The Canary in the Coal Mine: ENERGY STAR & the Appraisal Process,” will be presented by Sam Rashkin, U.S. EPA-Director of ENERGY STAR for New Homes. Rashkin is a competent and engaging speaker. He will explain the principles of home performance and how ENERGY STAR is transforming markets across the country. Participants will learn how to account for the value of home performance improvements in the appraisal process.

The second session, “Inspecting the Residential Green or High Performance House,” will focus on the construction of energy efficient and green built structures, and the inadequacies created by the failure to recognize special construction features. This seminar is designed for residential appraisers, builders and lenders and is appropriate for all levels of experience.

As the program flyer states, “The green movement is here to stay, all appraisers must be prepared!” For all the details, you can download the flyer from my website at The seminars can be taken individually or as a full-day package and will conclude with a tour of the Academy.

If you are involved in home sales, I highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity. If you are a homeowner you might want to pick up the yellow pages, call some appraisers and urge them to attend. Properly accounting for home energy efficiency improves our lives, our community and our bottom line.

Green Living column for Thursday, January 14, 2010, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Seminars stress value of greening a home”