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Issue Date: - May 11, 2009, Posted On: 4/30/2009
Industry News

Agents sharpen green skills with certification
When Michael Kiefer looked into starting a green building consulting company in 2002, he found that the industry wasn’t yet very interested in the technology.

“The issues at the time were that the market was not exactly ready for innovative green building materials, energy prices were still fairly inexpensive and the green movement was not entirely on the radar,” Kiefer said.Surveying the industry, he noticed that the issue seemed to be more of a lack of education than green not having market traction, noting that some segments were getting with the trend. He noticed that large commercial office building developers were building green and could justify the cost because of capitalization and rent.

Four green marketing tips
Achieving green certification is only effective if clients know about it. By the very nature of the subject matter, there are various creative ways (and some basic ways) to let your clients know you have a specialty that sets you apart from other real estate agents. Consider these attention-grabbing moves:
Business card – The certification programs each have their own logos you can use on your business card once you’re certified. See what other marketing materials the organization might offer as well.
Newsletters – Send information to clients (new, prospective or clients from a few years ago) about innovations in green products and tips for making their homes more energy-efficient. But, as EcoBroker Michael Kiefer pointed out, keep in mind the subject matter when you’re deciding how to get the information out. “I do not do traditional mailings or post cards as I feel it would be a contradiction by wasting paper,” he said.
Gifts – Instead of chocolates or flowers, give clients a creative gift, such as an energy-efficient light bulb, when they close on the house, said Kerry Mitchell, founder of Green Real Estate Education.
Education – There’s a good chance your clients – and their friends – want to learn more about eco-friendly matters. Have your clients get a group together and offer to help direct them to helpful resources addressing the subjects they’re most interested in.

“Developers of condos and single family homes, on the other hand, were continually indicating that buyers were not in the ‘know’ of green building, nor were they willing to pay for the premium that might be associated with it,” Kiefer said. “Since the residential market is a one-off sale for developers, recouping costs was challenging for developers to justify the additional development costs.”

Seeing a need to bring green education to the consumer side of the industry, Kiefer wrote up a business plan for a real estate enterprise. His practice, GreenDCRealty, focuses solely on greater applications of living sustainably.

The real estate industry is catching up with Kiefer’s line of thinking as various organizations offer resources to further this increasingly popular specialty in the market.

Making green accessible

Kiefer chose to further his green knowledge by becoming a certified EcoBroker. EcoBroker is one of three main green-related designations currently available for real estate agents. The organization offers three different six-hour courses that touch on different aspects of green real estate. The first portion is a holistic approach to the environment, said John Stovall, EcoBroker’s vice president of business development. The course looks at a home’s entire impact on the environment, not just of the impact on its immediate community. The second portion covers energy-related topics, such as ways to save energy and forms of alternative energy. The course also covers the Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar program and how it comes into play in the home.

The course helps agents understand the different forms of energy that are available in general and especially on a local level, Stovall said. “You can go online and research something like geothermal and be completely overwhelmed about information that’s there and have no idea whether it applies to your home or community,” he said. “They’re being trained and made aware in their own community about things that are really working and how to find qualified professionals on a local level.” EcoBroker’s third course teaches real estate agents how to market their green knowledge.“If you put ‘green’ in front of people they will read it, but really it’s how to take information you have and how to use it,” Stovall said.A majority of EcoBrokers take the courses online, he said.

Bridging the gap

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) Green Designation, managed by the Green Resource Council, was started because of the perceived need to bridge the gap between green builder knowledge and consumers’ desire to learn more about green dwellings. Someone has to be there to let the buildings’ future inhabitants know what green features buildings have. That’s where Realtors come in.

“The intention behind developing the designation is creating dialogue with industry professionals that wasn’t necessarily there before,” said Amanda Goucher, coordinator of the program, which operates under NAR’s Green Resource Council.

The designation requires the completion of a two-day core course as well as an elective course for a total of 18 hours.

Like any program in this field, NAR’s Green Designation does not claim to make the participants experts after the coursework is completed.

“We give them knowledge and resources so that if a client asks a question they’ll be able to give an educated response and say, ‘here’s a place to dig some more.’ We’re calling them a source of a source,” Goucher said.

NAR tries to keep the Green Designees up to date on the ever-changing green real estate industry with monthly e-newsletters and Webinars with the latest news, tips and tools to share with clients.

Healthy alternative

Green Real Estate Education grew out of a real estate agent’s personal research into healthy homes. Kerry Mitchell was diagnosed with emphysema in 2003.

“I started to hear about green building and how indoor air quality is so unhealthy, and I was not happy about that,” she said. “Fresh paint always sounds like a good thing, but I started to realize it wasn’t good.”

Mitchell researched green and healthy building for about a year. Her husband said she should put the knowledge to use and write a course for real estate agents. That’s what she did.

Green Real Estate Education offers courses for a range of specialties, including real estate agents, appraisers, mortgage specialists and builders. All the courses are offered face-to-face, and some are now available online.

The course subjects are being rolled out one at a time. The first level, called Green Leadership, is currently being offered.“We discuss the history of green building, sustainable products and systems, green materials, how to market yourself as green, not misrepresenting the industry and letting them know what the green standards are,” Mitchell said, adding the course is tailored to the geographic location of the students because green is climate specific.The next-level course will debut in late 2010, she said. So far, the course has been approved to count as three continuing education credits in 15 states.Individual realtors can become certified, or an entire real estate office or company can become certified. A company becomes a GREE-certified company if at least 90 percent of its agents are certified. Chicago-based Dream Town Realty earned this designation.

Standing out

None of the designations make real estate agents experts in eco-friendly matters, nor do they give agents the authority to run audits on homes or certify them as “green.” Instead, they provide professionals with resources to help answer their clients’ questions or point their clients toward the information they’re looking for.

Having the designation allows real estate agents to place the logo on their business cards and other materials to let clients know they’re certified. And, as Real Law Central previously reported, a majority of consumers say green considerations factor into their decision making process. (Click here to see more of RLC’s green real estate coverage.)

Real estate agents apparently are making green a major consideration too, judging from the participation in the programs. Since debuting the course in November 2008, the NAR Green Resource Council has anointed more than 950 green designees. The EcoBroker program, formed in 2002, has members in all 50 states, five Canadian provinces, and as far as the Virgin Islands, Costa Rica and New Zealand. And the Green Real Estate Education program touts more than 4,000 designees.

As many of these real estate agents have likely discovered, being certified can improve their chances of selling by the books. For example, those who don’t take any green courses might not know that they can’t just label a building “green” if it was painted with eco-friendly paint. There are more factors that go into a green designation, and it’s best left to third-party certification, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar designations.

Some might wonder whether it’s worth the money to become certified in a fad that could fade soon. However, judging from the myriad of new green-related legislation plus the rapidly growing number of designated real estate agents, the green movement doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. “Part of our mission statement is that green is not a trend,” Goucher said. “Green is something that will continue to grow and influence the market. What better way to further yourself in your profession, get ahead of the curve and set yourself apart from other Realtors?”

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