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:
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:
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.