Making Your Grass Greener
Kermit the frog should love it. Everybody wants to be green. Now it's the real-estate industry, out to save energy, save the planet and save money for their clients. With only a little effort, you can find green brokers, green homes, green contractors, even green mortgages. Top that off with green tax credits and you, too, might acquire a tint.
Commerce follows the Zeitgeist. Some greenies are moved by conscience, others by fears of rising energy costs. In numbers, they're still a niche market, but their influence is pushing into the mainstream. Here's where the green grass grows:
Real-estate firms. What happens when they go green? First, they advertise as pro-planet, to attract like-minded clients and stand out from the crowd. Second, they're up on your issues: how to cut energy bills, find tax breaks or state grants for green remodeling, qualify for a green mortgage (more on this below) and connect with sympathetic architects and contractors. There's even a new designation-EcoBroker -for agents and brokers who take special online courses in environmental and energy issues. So far, nearly 250 people have qualified in 38 states, the District of Columbia and parts of Canada (listings at ecobroker.com). Some 500 more are in the pipeline. If energy prices keep rising, you'll see a stampede.
Ecobuilders. Various labeling programs exist for new houses built with energy savings in mind: Energy Star Home, Built Green, Build It Green and so on. To qualify, they have to be more efficient than homes built to ordinary building codes, You can expect tight construction, superior insulation, advanced heating and cooling equipment, high-performance windows, good ventilation and-for those who go further--recycled components and building materials containing fewer chemicals and less glue. More than 10 percent of new homes last year were labeled Energy Star, says Steve Baden, head of the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). And they're not just high-end. John Beldock, EcoBroker's CEO, says that green residential building now teaches almost every price range.
Existing homes are getting greener, too. To help with energy improvements, your stare may offer low-interest loans or grants. State and federal tax credits are on the table. To find a green builder or remodeler, click on "Partner List" at energystar.gov, Also, put "build green" and the name of your state into a search engine and see what comes up.
Home energy ratings. Your utility may offer free or low-cost energy audits to suggest ways of cutting your heating and cooling bills. For more formal audits, green builders and lenders are turning to certified "raters." Homes are awarded points on a scale of one to 100, depending on their energy efficiency. Each rating comes with a list of possible improvements you might want to make, as well as an estimate of your savings in energy bills
Why would you pay $350 to $600 for a rating? Lenders might require it, if you're borrowing money to add energy-efficient systems to your home. States might require it for people applying to affordable-home lending programs. In bum real-estate markets, a good rating might help sell your house-especially if you're listing with with a green broker. For certified raters, go to resnet. us and energystar.gov(But try any freebie from your utility first.)
Green mortgages-otherwise known as Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs). You usually qualify if you're buying a new Energy Star home or planning cost-efficient upgrades on an older home. Various types of loans exist; often, they let you borrow more money than would normally be the case. If the loan is done right, you'll be able to handle the higher monthly payments because you’re saving so much on your energy bills. You might also get reduced closing costs. The largest program allows loans up to $417,000, depending on where you live, but it's possible to borrow up to $1 million or more. If you're upgrading a home, part of the money goes into escrow until the job is done.
In theory, any lender can offer EEMs. In practice, they're hard to find. Few banks have bothered with the programs or trained lending officers to handle them. People don't know they exist, so there's slim demand. And besides, most buyers can already borrow as much as they need.
But EEMs are good for extra financing, and lenders should soon catch on to their value as marketing tools. To find these loans, it's helpful to use a green mortgage broker. Look for the names of lenders and brokers on the Energy Star site. The Indigo Financial Croup serves five states and is preparing to go nationwide. Indigo's Joel Wiese says his clients are saving 20 percent to 50 percent on their utility bills--more than enough to cover their higher mortgage payments.
One warning: beware the "greenwashers". Those are brokers and builders who say they're saving the planet but-like the Wizard of Oz-just give out green glasses, to turn a brown world into an emerald shade. Go beyond the press release. Be sure to get real green for your green.
tint /tint/ I
like-minded adj.有兴趣的 remodel v.改造
ecobroker n.生态经纪人 pipeline n.审核中
stampede n.惊慌行为 emerald n.草绿色
From The New York Times
Nov. 11, 2007