Green Key Real Estate

November 05, 2007
November/December 2007
A version of this article appears in the November/December 2007 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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We all need somewhere to live, work, and play. Buildings are an integral part of our lives, so much so that the average American spends 90% of his or her time indoors. Unfortunately, however, buildings are responsible for consuming 70% of the nation’s electricity, and according to EPA, indoor air quality (IAQ) is on average 5–10 times worse than outdoor air quality. If we think of home as a sanctuary, we also need to think about the ways in which our homes affect the environment and our health.

Chris Bartle founded Green Key Real Estate in 2005 with a mission to green San Francisco, one sale at a time. Green Key Real Estate is the first and only green real estate company in the Bay Area. We are a full-service residential brokerage with agents serving San Francisco, Marin, and the East Bay. With real estate being one of the most prominent drivers for wealth in the world and green building trends on the rise, the time was ripe to initiate a shift from the status quo of residential transactions to a defining niche: green real estate (see “As Texas Goes, So Goes the Planet, HE, Mar/Apr ’07, p. 24).

Green real estate, as practiced by Green Key Real Estate, factors environmental and social considerations into every element of the business. Utilizing electronic signatures, e-mail, and electronic transaction management minimizes paper use. Our office is 100% wind powered, we recycle and compost most of our office waste, all paper used is 100% postconsumer recycled, and our desks are made from recycled and nontoxic materials. Green Key also holds its business accounts with New Resource Bank, the first and only truly green bank in the United States.  In this regard, Green Key Real Estate helps to close some of the loops in the business world by being mindful of how and where we spend our money and whom we choose to work with.

We refuse to represent sellers who have invoked the Ellis Act, a law that allows landlords to evict all tenants in order to change the use of a building, generally from rental units to condos. In addition, we donate a portion of our profits to local nonprofit organizations. All of our agents are required to obtain EcoBroker and Green Building Professional certifications. These certifications allow our agents to educate clients about the benefits of energy efficiency and IAQ  while also providing access to a network of local green architects, builders, and suppliers. Green Key Real Estate is also certified by the Bay Area Green Business program and is a member of Co-op America Green Business Network.

Bo Wright, a San Francisco Green Key agent, is proud to work with a company on the forefront of a movement. “Most people are concerned about the environment,” he says,  “and we can see the burgeoning green movement all around us, but many aren’t yet aware of the available options for greening their homes. As the green revolution blossoms, agents have this incredible opportunity to educate and empower the public to choose to live in a green home, benefiting their health and the environment at the same time. This is the success that we are looking forward to in the years to come.”
The nexus between the green building movement and the home-buying public has largely been unexplored. As more contractors are building green, and consumer demand for green homes increases, it is important that real estate agents be able to explain to buyers the added benefits of a green home.

Green Key Real Estate also works closely with Build It Green, a Berkeley, California-based nonprofit (see “California’s Green Rating System,” HE, Sept/Oct ’07, p. 28). Build It Green is responsible for the creation of GreenPoint Rated, a green home-rating system that reflects the California building and energy codes.  The GreenPoint Rated label provides potential buyers with an assurance that they are purchasing a healthier, more environmentally responsible home.
GreenPoint Rated also gives homeowners a competitive advantage when it comes time to sell by distinguishing rated homes from conventional homes. In addition, Green Key Real Estate is working with Build It Green’s Real Estate Council to ensure that GreenPoint Rated is included in the Multiple Listing Service, the database that every realtor uses to list or search for homes in San Francisco and Berkeley. This added feature would allow clients to qualify their search based on the green score of the home.

Since all Green Key agents are required to attend Build It Green’s Certified Green Building Professional training, we are particularly well equipped to explain to clients the added value that accompanies a GreenPoint Rated home.

Furthermore, Build It Green is working closely with the California LEED for Homes provider to mediate any potential conflicts between rating systems. Because LEED for Homes targets the top 25% of green homes, not all homes will meet LEED’s prerequisites. The ones that do not will be referred to GreenPoint Rated. A builder or a home that has exceeded the top levels of the GreenPoint rating system will be referred back to LEED. All homes that receive LEED certification will automatically be GreenPoint Rated. Becoming GreenPoint rated will cost the homeowner $500–$700, while LEED certification, including Energy Star ratings, costs about $4,000.

Emerging into the conventional real estate market as a green company has  posed challenges. The green label deters many clients from dealing with us, because they assume that we work only with green homes.  But in fact,  much of real estate is about relationship, which extends far beyond a company’s name. “Chris was great to work with!” say Kathy and Bart Shepherd, who bought their home from Green Key Real Estate in 2006. “He is very knowledgeable about the real estate market here in San Francisco. He is an excellent communicator and was invaluable in helping us find our new home and sell our first home. We would definitely recommend him!” The home they purchased was not green, but they are currently in the process of a green remodel.

Another challenge that green companies face is simply that green real estate is new and different. Clients wonder exactly what the term means. Common questions that come up are “What is green real estate?” or “Do you work only with green homes?” To put it simply, green real estate is about values and influence. The green movement is not about preaching green ideals or converting anyone by force. It is about addressing the greatest environmental problems and finding feasible solutions.

Development will continue, cities and towns will expand, and homes will be built and remodeled. If we can influence the quality of that development by encouraging the use of energy-efficient measures and nontoxic, low-impact construction materials, and by recommending green lenders and other service providers, then we are making a difference—one sale at a time.

Tiffany Elston is a development associate and Certified Green Building Professional with Green Key Real Estate.
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