May 7, 2013
What Do Homebuyers Really Want in a Green Home?
Conventional wisdom among builders is that the only green feature consumers want is energy efficiency, because it’s the one that can be easily quantified. Recent research shows, however, that builders adhering to this “wisdom” are focused on the green market as we used to know it, not the green market emerging today. Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their understanding that green construction is a comprehensive and integrated set of construction practices, and they are starting to reward builders who can respond to more than just energy efficiency.
Is Energy Efficiency All that Matters to Consumers?
The short answer to this question is “no.” Energy efficiency is a very tangible benefit that consumers recognize as valuable. The energy efficiency benefit is easily measured by the operational savings that the homebuyer will realize, but consumers are looking for more than homes that are energy efficient, and a Green Certified home will deliver those benefits that consumers are seeking.
Skeptical builders may object to building and certifying green homes and note that their buyers are not asking for “green.” And, it’s true that few homebuyers march into a sales center and declare that they are looking for a green home. The problem is that green is too vague, overused, and often meaningless, but consumers do know exactly what they want. They just don’t necessarily call it “green.”
Some other consumers may assume that a home tagged as “green” will cost more than they can afford. In these markets, it doesn’t mean that select green features aren’t desirable, just that consumers may be more interested in the specific benefits as opposed to a blanket categorization of features being green. The most important step in selling a green home is to convey to the buyer what makes the home green and how its environmental impact is rated.
Homebuyers Respond to Diverse Sales Points
Builders often want to sell their homes with a single marketing message. Unfortunately, research shows that gender, geography, age, and educational level all impact which green marketing message will resonate best. Some examples:
- Energy efficiency, which results in lower operating costs, may be a difficult benefit to sell in neighborhoods where utility costs are low.
- Younger buyers typically care more about the potential environmental impact of their home and respond more favorably to information about features that reduce the home’s environmental footprint.
- Women are more influenced by green features than men and they often respond very positively to homes that have “show and tell” visual aids and interactive displays.
Sell the Benefits of Your Green Home, Not the Features
In selecting a new house, most buyers have a few simple goals in mind. They aren’t necessarily looking for specific products, technologies, or features, but instead, they are looking at the advantages they will enjoy from the features. Therefore, don’t tout a tight thermal envelope – explain how the home will be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer because a tightly sealed building eliminates drafts and unwanted pollutants. Buyers want their families to be comfortable in their home. Likewise, don’t automatically flaunt those low-VOC finishes or the MERV 8 air filters. Instead, boast about the improved indoor air quality with reduced pollutants and better ventilation. Buyers want their families to have a healthy home.
Green homes provide many benefits to the occupants and the community. However, when surveyed, homebuyers consistently rate the following three categories of benefits as the most important:
- A Healthy Place to Live
Homes are healthier places to live for their occupants when they are dry, ventilated, and the contaminants within the building envelope are limited. When surveyed, these are the features that consumers said they were willing to pay a premium for even if it was difficult to quantify how fast their investment might pay them back over time. Builders should be prepared to specifically identify the practices and products that help contribute to the home being a healthier place to live.
- Lower Operating Costs
Energy- and water-efficient homes cost less to operate. Most consumers are willing to pay more for these features if their investment will pay them back over time. Consumers will find it useful if builders can calculate the savings a typical consumer might expect, as well as the return on investment. However, be mindful of the expectations such statements can create for consumers, and don’t unintentionally imply any guarantee of savings. Green homes include features and practices to make them more durable and require less maintenance, which also reduces operating costs.
- A Contribution to a Sustainable Lifestyle
Buyers are seeking homes and communities that improve their quality of life. These buyers are looking for features that increase their home’s durability and are easier to maintain. They want neighborhoods where they can walk to community resources and their children can play. They are interested in building practices that are good for the environment; however, some may not pay a premium for those features without a payback on their investment, so look to incorporate those green features that can be incorporated without significantly increasing the consumer’s bottom line. Be prepared to specifically identify the practices and products that help a home contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle. Green Certified homes are designed and built to have a smaller environmental impact than a code-minimum home. For some buyers, a reduced environmental impact is an important selling point, but your sales staff should be trained to reveal if this is a motivation of your buyers.
Train Your Sales Staff
Too often builders who construct high-performance homes rely on sales staff and realtors who are not familiar with the home’s green attributes and related benefits to make the case for buying a green home. Make sure your sales staff understands the features in the home that contribute to its performance, but also be sure that they are selling the benefits of the features and not the features themselves. Many green practices and products need explanation, such as advanced framing, thermal barriers, R-Value, Low-E windows, and air infiltration. At a minimum, sales staff should understand the basics of these practices and then know where to direct the buyer for more detailed information. The Home Innovation Research Labs’s technical website, ToolBase.org, can be a helpful, non-commercial resource for explaining many green technologies and their benefits. Remind staff to discuss those features that increase the home’s durability, as those are often neglected in the sales pitch.
Third-Party Certification Matters
An independent, third-party green certification means that your buyers don’t have to take your word that the home is a high-performance home. In the current housing market where many buyers are fraught with anxiety, third-party certifications have never been more important to provide credibility to the builder and assurance to the buyer.
Numerous surveys and research demonstrate that independent, third-party verification and certification provide credibility and assurance that a marketer’s claims are truthful and accurate. In fact, a recent opinion survey by Cone LLC found that 80 percent of respondents believed that certification by a third-party organization is “important in providing oversight to ensure environmental messaging by companies is accurate.”
Comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides
The FTC issued proposed revisions to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (Green Guides) to help marketers avoid making deceptive marketing claims. Familiarize yourself with the Green Guides and use them so that you don’t run afoul of the FTC. In general, the FTC wants environmental claims to be specific, quantified, and substantiated. Builders should not make inflated or unsubstantiated environmental claims or deceptively use certifications and labels.
For information about having a home Green Certified to the National Green Building Standard by Home Innovation Research Labs and marketing that certified home, visit www.nahbgreen.org/certification.
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