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No pool for you: how climate is changing real estate
Get climate-friendly upgrades for your house! The benefits are: lower energy bills, higher resale prices, and toasty tootsies.
So, remember a couple of weeks back when I laid out my VIA manifesto for how to take personal actions to address the climate crisis? Reminder: Vote, Invest, and Adopt.
I said if you’re in an upper-income bracket in America and you’re not adopting climate tech solutions like solar, electrification, energy automation, and the like, you’re basically a climate criminal. I know, it’s not nice, but this is a time for hard truths.
Every technologist and product marketer knows about The Chasm — the terrifying period when innovators and early adopters have started using a new innovation, but it’s not yet clear whether it’s going the make the leap to the mainstream. The key features that are required for crossing the chasm, according to the creator of this model, Geoffrey Moore, is for those innovators and early adopters to:
Be willing to pay more to “improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase their market share;” and,
To “prove the benefits” of the new technology.
We’re in the “prove the benefits” stage of adopting climate solutions, and it turns out there are more benefits than saving money on your energy bills, keeping the lights on when the power goes out, and never having to go to a gas station ever again. You can also potentially sell your house faster, and for more money.
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Zillow did a study last spring and found:
Homes with electric vehicle charging stations and drought-resistant landscaping can sell more than nine days faster than similar homes. Features that offer some protection from climate disasters and other natural hazards, such as hurricane shutters or stilts, can help a home sell for more money.
Large shares of buyers seriously consider flooding (55%), tornadoes (41%), hurricanes (35%) and earthquakes (29%) when choosing a home. The frequency of these severe weather events and other natural hazards is putting a price premium on homes that have features designed to protect against such disasters.
Listings that mention hurricane or storm shutters can sell for 1.4% more than similar homes. Homes on stilts or piers, built to defend against flooding, can sell for 1.1% more. Homes that have undergone seismic retrofitting to make them more resistant to earthquakes can sell 19 days faster than similar homes, the largest days-on-market boost of all the features studied. Storm or tornado shelters contribute to a home selling about a day faster than expected.
Features that reduce monthly energy bills can help a home sell faster and, sometimes, for more money. Homes with listing descriptions that mention double-pane windows can sell a week faster than similar homes and for 1% more than expected. Homes with solar panels can sell for 1.4% more. Listings that tout programmable thermostats, smart sprinkler systems and smart lights can sell up to six days faster than expected.
Zillow’s 2021 Consumer Housing Trends Report found that recent buyers are more likely to say an energy-efficient home is very or extremely important (67%), compared to 2019, when 56% of buyers felt that way.
On this week’s episode of the Everybody in the Pool podcast, I interviewed my real estate agent, Ana Forest, because the San Francisco Bay Area is kind of a proving ground for early adoption. She said buyers consider eco-friendly upgrades like solar, EV chargers, and whole-home batteries to be welcome amenities, with an added benefit of smugness points. Also, buyers are increasingly more concerned about risk: fire, flood, heat, and even drought.
Also, some tips for buyers and sellers: go to Climate Check and see if your house or the one you want to buy is high-risk for those factors, plus storms. And, I can tell you from all-too-painful personal experience, if you’re looking at a house that has leased solar (as opposed to owned), ask the sellers to buy out that lease before you commit, or prepare for some heartache. And if you’re a seller, please buy your solar lease before you sell. The lease transfer process entails a whole other credit check and solar is such a messy business these days that it can definitely delay closing to transfer the lease to a new owner.
(Here’s a piece I wrote last year on why solar has ended up as more of a sketchy financial transaction than an actual product with good customer service these days.)
I also talked to my friend Cillesa Ullman, interior designer, about materials and upgrades that are sustainable, long-lasting, energy-efficient, and potentially even a little bit life-saving (like rainwater cisterns). The best one of all? Electric floor heating. Toasty tootsies? Yes, please.
I got interested in this for two reasons: one was the nightmare situation I had transferring my solar lease, and the other was that, like all of you, despite successfully buying my very own Barbie Dream House in 2020, I of course peruse the MLS all the time looking for places I might want to live in the future, and it has occurred to me more than once how freaking great it would be to buy a house that already had a nice wall of batteries and a charger built in and some sweet new windows or heat-blocking window films or and an Internet-connected thermostat? Honestly, if I ever come across a house with a Span electrical panel, I’d be tempted to buy it on the spot.
And because life is a series of concentric circles, as climate technologies and eco-friendly home upgrades get adopted, they’ll start to be re-sold, and demand for properties with these amenities will continue to prove the market, thereby incentivizing more people to adopt them, and pretty soon we’ll have made a real dent in the 17-21% of global carbon emissions that come from residential housing.
We’ll have also driven down the cost curve and created a market that, we hope, makes these solutions increasingly affordable and available to those who can’t currently afford to pay, or renters, or multi-unit buildings, and of course, new construction.
A drop becomes a flood!
Listen to the latest episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.