Real Estate Brokerages Say Green is the New Gold

Written by Posted On Wednesday, 14 November 2007 16:00

Canada's residential real estate industry is discovering that adopting programs and procedures that are good for the environment is also good for business.

Recently Royal LePage, the country's second-largest residential real estate franchise, released a survey that says almost three-quarters of Canadian home buyers are looking for a "green-improved" property in their next home purchase, and 63 per cent will be willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly home. The survey says 62 per cent of home buyers are willing to pay between $5,000 and $20,000 extra for "green" features, and eight per cent are willing to spend more than $20,000 for an environmentally friendly home.

Royal LePage is partnering with the National Association of Green Agents and Brokers (NAGAB) to offer its agents a green accreditation program, which the company says "will empower our Realtors and brokers, as well as consumers, on how to make eco-friendly decisions when it comes to the home."

NAGAB was founded by Elden Freeman of Freeman Real Estate in Toronto in 2005. Its Board of Directors include well-known Toronto brokers such as Michael Kalles of Kalles Real Estate and Tom Bosley of Bosley Real Estate. The organization is described as "Canada's largest non-profit association of real estate agents committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions." The association's Greenrealestate curriculum provides an education and certification program for real estate agents, promoting the benefits of energy conservation to buyers and sellers. NAGAB says it has more than 15,000 affiliate members and the support of "major corporate and government sponsors."

Freeman says that "few people realize that residential, commercial, and institutional buildings represent more than 33 per cent of our total greenhouse gas emissions." He says homeowners can reduce carbon dioxide created by homes by installing more energy-efficient doors and windows, high-efficiency furnaces and appliances, and by reducing water consumption with low-flow showerheads and toilets.

The Royal LePage survey says that although Canadians are receptive to improving their homes to make them more green, over half (54 per cent) said they thought it was too expensive, and 15 per cent said they didn't know where to start.

"Canadians need to know that going green can certainly be within their means and within their reach," says Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal LePage. "There are many simple and affordable measures that can lead to big gains for the environment, and many of the practices can actually save homeowners money."

The NAGAB program is designed to show real estate agents and their clients how to improve their homes, and to provide information about grant programs that are available to help cover costs.

In July, Vancouver-based Macdonald Realty launched its MacGreen program, a carbon offsetting program for home buyers and sellers.

A carbon offset is an emission reduction credit that results in less carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases emitted in the atmosphere than would otherwise occur, the company says. Macdonald Realty teamed with Offsetters Climate Neutral Society of Vancouver, a not-for-profit organization that invests its clients' funds in high-quality carbon dioxide emission-reducing projects. Some of the projects include purchasing high-efficiency lighting for schools in Kazakhstan and homes in South Africa, and providing bio-gas stoves in Honduras, Bangladesh and Madagascar. Closer to home, other emission-reducing projects could include installing more efficient heating/cooling systems, and renewable energy projects such as ground source heat pumps or wind power.

Macdonald Realty agents offer their buyers or sellers the option to make the transaction carbon neutral. "If the buyer or seller agrees, he simply logs onto Macdonald Realty's website when the deal closes, and fills out a short form," says Dan Scarrow, MacGreen project manager. "There is no cost to the buyer or seller as the agent will bear the offset cost. The total offset cost per year will vary from agent to agent depending on the number of transactions he or she generates."

Offsetters says the average car emits five tonnes of carbon per year, which costs about $100 per year to offset.

"The fact is, real estate agents drive a lot and are perceived to drive a lot," says Lynn Hsu, CEO of Macdonald Realty. "As this is a necessary function of a real estate agent's job, reducing all carbon dioxide emissions is difficult. However, for every one tonne of carbon that is released driving clients from house to house, an agent can compensate for emitting that tonne through offsetting."

Hsu says the company is also tracking its corporate carbon footprint for all its operations in B.C. and Alberta, and that it will offset those emissions as well.

"It's the right thing to do," says environmental lawyer Patricia Houlihan. "Every day, people consume energy and produce emissions. While the obvious first step is to try to reduce those emissions, for some individuals and businesses, reduction and conservation are not always possible. It these cases, carbon offsetting plays a crucial role."

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Jim Adair

Jim Adair has been writing about Canadian real estate, home building and renovation issues for more than 40 years. He is the former editor of Canada’s leading trade magazine for real estate professionals, as well as several home building, décor and renovation titles. You can contact him at [email protected]

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