Thursday, March 1, 2007

Green, Green?

Dylan Rivera wrote a piece in yesterday’s Oregonian that begs perspective. A third of the front page of the Business section, above the fold, overshadowing news that covered a 416 point drop in the DOW. The breathless headline: “Local homes database turns ‘green’” and the sub head, “Environmentally friendly information for Realtors signals good news for some buyers and sellers and starts a trend.”


Let’s start here. Yes, the RMLS did introduce a new search mechanism for ‘green’ properties, and did so without fanfare. As of today, of the 8125 active listings in the Portland Metro area, those that carry the ‘green’ label number: 17. These are split between four builders in four developments, all new construction. So far, at least, it appears ‘green’ buyers don’t have much choice.

Green marketing – please just assume the quotes – has a very spotty history. Back when the ozone layer was the crisis du jour, Advertising Age found that over 70% of those asked said they would definitely purchase more expensive dispensers over aerosol to save the environment; six months later AA went into the homes of the same people and found over 80% still using aerosol.

So if I were to speculate – and it’s just speculation because I’ve never had a buyer ask for green properties nor had a seller suggest green as a marketing strategy – is that green will have a marginal effect, making a difference only when all other things – including price, or at least savings offsets – are equal. Whatever the case, the only determining factor will be: buyers. If it’s important, they’ll let us know.

Realtors also are hoping the change will help push up prices – and commissions – for some abodes listed in their Regional Multiple Listing Service.

Even the most venal among us wouldn’t suggest a builder add cost just to jack the price to put an extra $100 in our pocket, certainly not without an underlying demand. That’s just silly.

But much more importantly (and Mr. Rivera or his sources should know this): A Realtor’s first obligation is to the fiduciary interest of his or her clients. I can’t speak for the entire Portland area, but those Realtors I work with every day take that very seriously. If the client is a seller, that means negotiating the best possible sales terms for the seller; any commission effect is ancillary. The same agent will turn around the next day and, representing a buyer, negotiate a lower price. Adding $4000 to the sale of a $400,000 home isn’t going to motivate any agent I know to vitiate his or her primary duty.

But RMLS members are allowed far more detailed searches and can input data. Realtors point to such access when arguing for their commission and services.

As I said in my initial post, Realtors spend too much time trying to hoard data, especially since so much of it can be found anyway. So as things now stand this is partly right.

But it’s also wrong. The value of a Realtor isn’t in the access to information, it’s in the ability to organize, interpret and apply that information to real world decisions. I can buy Grey’s Anatomy in any Border’s, but you’ll still find me in the doctor’s office when I have chest pain.

Finally, after his lobbying efforts failed to get the Gainesville, FL MLS to add Energy Star to its listing filters, Karl Sayles says this:

“I think they’d have trouble unloading the inventory that wasn’t Energy Star…I don’t mean to trash Realtors, but they’re just out for a buck.”

This from an Energy Star lobbyist. [He also famously said: “As consumers become more educated and familiar with all of these benefits that energy efficiency has to offer, in 5 years non-ENERGY STAR rated homes will become functionally obsolete.” Right.]

My question to Mr. Rivera is simple: if this roll-out is worth the expanded coverage, why did he have to go to Florida to get a significant – albeit gratuitously smarmy – quote?

Why was it included at all?

1 comment:

Ron said...

Agreed. I thought it was a bulls _ _ t quote, too. Thoroughly incendiary....and unnecessary.

Thanks for calling it out.