Another important step to insure that you realize proper value on your green home involves the appraisal.
An appraisal is an informed opinion of a home’s value. It includes details about the property being sold, and side-by-side comparisons (“comps”) with three similar neighboring properties. It will also note serious property issues and flaws, and evaluate the health of the local real estate market.
Importantly, if a property appraises lower than the sale price, a loan might be denied. For those whose homes include green features, this is significant, as many appraisers do not know how to properly evaluate a green home.
According to Dave Porter, founder of PorterWorks Sustainable Solutions and the creator of the Green Valuation Specialist designation program, “When it comes to green building, it’s not always easy to find an appraiser who gets it.” As Porter explains, “That’s because lenders get paid a flat fee based on the size of the loan. They don’t make any more money for the additional time it takes to properly review and evaluate the performance of a green home.” So unless pushed by the consumer, most lenders will not bother to find an appraiser who fully understands how to evaluate a home’s sustainable features.
Though this situation is changing, it remains, more often than not, an obstacle to proper valuation and something about which green homeowners and buyers need to be aware. Porter’s advice is to ask the lender to employ an appraiser with the appropriate knowledge and credentials. This includes special designations or certifications offered by the Appraisal Institute – or through companies like Porter’s. He notes, “These programs make sure that the appraiser understands the difference between LEED Platinum 2012 and LEED Silver 2009…or Energy Star 2012 and Energy Star 2006.”
He also suggests that, if you’re going green, you inquire about energy efficient and energy improvement mortgages. These loans not only help buyers qualify for incremental money for sustainable repairs and upgrades, but they also increase pressure on lenders to assign an appraiser with the proper qualifications.
From Porter’s perspective, energy savings is the masterstroke. As he points out, “If an appraisal can demonstrate that your 2000 square foot house costs just $200/month to heat and cool … and compare that to another 2000 square foot house that costs $500 to heat and cool, then those savings should be acknowledged and factored into the loan calculations. Saving $300 a month over 20 years adds up…to $72,000. Those savings should definitely have an impact on how the house is appraised and the loan is evaluated.”
Porter indicates that an accurate appraisal of a sustainable home should emphasize comparable in-market sales, comparable energy savings, and the nature and cost of any meaningful sustainable improvements that have been made. His hope is that, before long, states will require appraisers to account for these very important home enhancements.
Right now, however, the emphasis is on comparable sales, so it’s still up to the homeowner or the buyer to “fight the good fight” specifically when it comes to dealing with lenders. To Porter, they represent the ‘missing link’. Once those who control the money demand appraisals that allow for sustainability, improvements will happen quickly.
So what’s the key takeaway from all of this? For homeowners and buyers, the post-bubble housing market has changed. For some, the changes are welcome. For others, they’ve been challenging at best. But as we move further into this new, post-bubble economy, it’s increasingly clear that homes that are smaller, more sustainable, and highly efficient are in greater demand – especially when the home’s performance is well documented.
Still, as Amanda Stinton points out, “There is no silver bullet. At the end of the day, every area is different, and the priorities of a region will dictate what sells.” She recommends that sellers (and buyers) do a little research to learn more about what’s trending in their market. That’s ultimately the best way to protect your interests in today’s rough and tumble, post-bubble real estate market.
* The U.S. Census Bureau pegs average pre-bubble home appreciation at 5% per year.
**The information in this article is intended solely to help homeowners and homebuyers better appreciate the value of sustainable building in today’s real estate market. It does not profess that adding sustainable features to a home guarantees a certain price or value. Rather, it proposes that, all things being equal, when you make your home more sustainable and, ideally, are able to document its performance, your home holds greater value to prospective buyers.