Selling Green

REGION – It's pretty easy being green, especially if your home is energy efficient and for sale.

In fact, the Traverse Area Association of Realtors (TAAR) has made green housing easier to find, buy and sell.

Four years ago, TAAR was among the first in the country to integrate searchable "green" fields into its Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

"We were one of the leaders," TAAR Executive Vice President Kimberly Pontius said. "We became the benchmark; [our program] was peer reviewed and adopted by others."

The green fields allow sellers to list homes, commercial buildings and developments that are certified or rated by one or more of the major green building programs, including LEED, NAHB Green, Energy Star, and HERS.

They can also list what they believe to be recognized green building features, such as high performance mechanical systems, low VOC paint, adhesives, caulks and water-saving plumbing devices.

Pontius and his staff went as far as helping the National Association of Realtors (NAR) write its own "Greening Your MLS" toolkit. At the same time, TAAR earned two back-to-back EverGreen Awards from NAR's Green Resource Council for being a positive force in advancing the green movement.

"This was no small thing," Pontius said. "But it went largely unnoticed because of the economy."

Fast forward to 2012: Home sales in the five-county region surged 26 percent – a "huge" increase, Pontius said – due, in part, to the area's abundance.

"We're getting calls from all over the country," he said. "People are realizing the natural beauty and want to be here."

Efforts in 2013 will focus on energy and reducing costs by living smarter, he said.

"This is an important topic because energy is at the core of everything," he said. "It's all about reducing our waste streams and getting more efficient."

One project he's watching carefully is the Depot Neighborhood housing project near the corner of Woodmere Avenue and Eighth Street. The mixed-income development is jointly managed by Habitat for Humanity-Grand Traverse Region and HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing Corp.

Habitat's portion of the project – 10 single-family home – aims to become one of the first "net zero" habitat communities in the country.

He's also paying close attention to the TC Saves program, a partnership between the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Light and Power, SEEDS and the Michigan Land Use Institute whose aim is to make older structures energy-efficient by offering incentives, such as energy audits and low interest loans, to Traverse City homeowners.

In addition to his role at TAAR, Pontius keeps busy as spokesman for The Grand Vision – a citizen-led vision for the future of land use, transportation, economic development and environmental stewardship across six counties in northwest lower Michigan.

Some projects are completed and others are underway, with several diverse interests coming together within networks that include food and farming; energy, growth and investment, housing, natural resources and transportation.

"We are very committed to the Grand Vision and the Energy Network," Pontius said. "When you look at statistics, the largest consumers [of energy] are housing and commercial buildings. We realized we are a major player."

Fortunately, as technology becomes more available and prices come down, Pontius says there's less of a gap between conventional and green home prices.

"There's a nominal difference," he said. "Doors, window systems, wrapping, better caulking, high-efficient furnaces, more geo-thermal – we're starting to see it become mainstream."

Pontius credited the Green Build Grand Traverse committee of the Home Builders Association of the Grand Traverse Area for doing a "remarkable job" in helping to bring green building into the mainstream. The HBA also provided technical assistance as TAAR greened its MLS.

The Green Build committee sponsors national speakers that present in the Grand Traverse area and serves as an educational resource through Northwestern Michigan College courses.

Another venue, the Green Solutions 4 Expo, had stalled during the housing crisis. Now, the education and outreach effort among four entities – homebuilding, commercial construction, remodel and rehab and real estate development – is back and in the hands of TAAR's public and environmental affairs committee.

"Like so many other people, we got waylaid by the economy and many members fell off – some were just trying to stay alive during the downturn," Pontius said. "But as we've gone through 2012, many have recovered as the market has recovered and now we can revisit not only where we were, but see what has changed over the years."