'Greening' up homes for sale

Single family home with green features for sale in Culver City, CA, through EcoBroker Monique Carrabba

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Kai Ryssdal:
The residential real estate forecast we all know about.
Generally lousy, continuing lousy for the foreseeable future.
Which has realtors doing anything they can to drum up sales.
Our sustainability reporter Sarah Gardner usually tosses her junk mail faster than you can say recycle.
But a glossy ad not too long ago from a local real estate agent caught her eye.
The agent described herself as an EcoBroker.
So, Sarah set out to discover exactly what that means.


Sarah Gardner:
Monique Carrabba has her work cut out for her today. She's trying to sell an 1,800- square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home for $1 million. Make that $999,000 to be exact. She's getting mostly looky-loos.

Monique Carrabba: Hey, thanks for coming by!

Carrabba is a certified EcoBroker. That's a professional designation she earned through a Colorado-based company called EcoBroker International. To earn that green distinction, Carrabba paid $395 for three days of course work and testing. She boned up on everything from asbestos to solar panels to so-called "green mortgages." Carrabba hopes it'll give her an edge. It already helped her get this listing -- an eco-friendly renovation in Culver City, a small town surrounded by Los Angeles.

Carrabba: The water heater is an on-demand water heater, the roof is a 50-year recycled rubber roof made out of recycled tires.

The house's eco-minded investor is flipping the property after injecting over $300,000 into an ambitious remodel. In went energy-efficient air, heat, windows and appliances, insulated water pipes, CFL lighting, formaldehyde-free cabinets and more.

Carrabba: I've had people at my listings say, "Green schmeen, who cares how ecologically friendly this place is?" to people that are embracing it and just can't get enough of it.

Former Department of Energy official John Beldock founded EcoBroker six years ago. He says 4,200 real estate agents have passed his program. Beldock describes them as pioneers who are changing the industry. Might be. The National Association of Realtors will soon offer its own green certification as well. But don't expect PhD's in environmental science.

John Beldock: They know that they're really green ambassadors.

Beldock says that means an EcoBroker may not know which solar panels a client should buy but can refer the buyer to someone who does. And Beldock says don't expect an EcoBroker to independently give a home a green rating.

Beldock: We don't really want the real estate professional to feel like he or she has to give the house a scorecard.

Jim Nicolow is an architect and a blogger for Marketplace's "Greenwash Brigade." He says the EcoBroker program is a step forward for environmentalism, but he'd sure like somebody to start defining what an "eco-friendly" home really is.

Jim Nicolow: If you have a Hummer that has operable windows and bamboo paneling is it green or is it still a largely inefficient vehicle and I think the same holds true for housing.

Nicolow suggests a green home should really mean an energy-efficient home. But the prospect of saving on utility bills in the future doesn't always convince home buyers to pay extra now. Greg Sears and his wife checked out the Culver City house on a recent Sunday.

Greg Sears:Cause things are already so expensive. You know we're first time home buyers and it's $700, $800,000 to get a starter house, which is ridiculous.

EcoBroker's Beldock says the "green premium" has dropped dramatically in many markets. A good thing too. It's tougher to get a loan on any house these days, green or otherwise.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

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