Monday, August 20, 2007

Environmentally Friendly Homes

Getting 'green' getting easier

New local firms help consumers find environmentally friendly homes

By Debra Smith
Herald Writer

EVERETT Kathryn Crawford's concern for the environment influenced where she decided to work and what she does for a living.

It's not surprising, then, that when Crawford decided to buy a home in Everett, she wanted a real estate agent who understood a "green" home means more than energy-efficient appliances and solar panels.

"I didn't think a traditional agent would understand what I was looking for," said Crawford, a community planner with a strong environmental ethos.

She became one of the first clients of a new Everett-based real estate brokerage focused on helping clients buy and sell properties built with green practices and products.

The business, Greening Properties, is the first of its kind in Everett. A handful of area agents at traditional brokerages specialize in green properties, and a company with similar aims, GreenWorks Realty, operates in Seattle.

Green agents aren't the only sign the Northwest real estate industry is getting greener. The Northwest Multiple Listing Service recently added environmental check boxes to its listing forms, so homebuyers and agents can identify homes with certain features or third-party certifications. A homeowner can now tell, for instance, if a home offers Energy Star appliances, renewable bamboo floors or a drought-tolerant landscape.

Greening Properties operates like a regular brokerage, representing both buyers and sellers and providing standard services such as market analysis for sellers and presenting offers and negotiating on behalf of buyers.

What differs is knowledge of green practices and products, say owners Valerie Steel and Mary Ehrlich. Both have a history of community involvement, particularly on local environmental issues. Both were founding members of the Everett Shorelines Coalition, formed to protect shorelines, and Historic Everett, focused on preserving buildings with historic significance.

The term "green building" covers a lot of ground, including design, materials and building practices. One client may be interested in energy efficiency while another may be concerned about building materials that could exacerbate a child's asthma.

Green encompasses a home that's smaller and more energy-efficient, and it also can apply to older homes, since buying one doesn't require the use of new resources. Sustainable homes also include touches a homeowner may never see, such as recycled materials, and paints and finishes that emit fewer toxic fumes. It may also mean the land was developed in a way that minimizes erosion, or workers recycled materials at the job site.

The specialty knowledge includes the ability to cut through what's green and what's marketing, Ehrlich said. The pair saw a recent listing where an agent misrepresented the greenness of a property, describing a home as green because it had a brick facade.

The company also differs from a traditional brokerage by providing clients with a livability checklist based on criteria by various green certification agencies such as Built Green and the American Green Building Council. For buyers, that checklist compares the features of properties they might wish to buy.

For sellers, the company rates sustainability of property and recommends how to make it more sustainable before it's listed. For instance, if a client planned to spruce up his home with new paint and carpet before listing it, the agent might recommend using low-fume paint and a renewable flooring such as bamboo instead of carpet, Ehrlich said.

Demand for homes with green features is growing, and it can be difficult to find homes with certain green features, Steel said. Finding a home with Energy Star appliances is easier, while finding a home on land that hasn't been "slashed and scraped" by developers is more difficult, she said.

Crawford, one of the company's first clients, didn't expect to find a green home ready for her to move in. Instead, she asked Steel to find an older home with "good bones" that she could remodel. She settled on a solid 2,220-square-foot home in the Port Gardner neighborhood, and she is already making plans to add solar roof tiles, replace windows and add bamboo floors.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or

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