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REALTORS® Take Action: REALTORS® Promote Sustainability and Smart Growth

February 8, 2013

The Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS® (NVAR) believes that building green and focusing on sustainability is important.

But the group, which represents 10,200 REALTORS®, will be the first to work hard to beat back any mandate for green requirements, no matter how big or small.

NVAR Senior Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Mary Beth Coya says that the association and its members see the wisdom in building environmentally sound housing and the association is constantly advocating smart growth principles. Mandates, though, often are ineffective and can drive up the costs of doing business.

That doesn’t make them obstructionists, however. Indeed, they are anything but. The REALTORS® are working hard to spread the word, through a variety of different innovative efforts, that sustainability and smart growth are where it’s at.

The association received a $5,000 Smart Growth Action Grant in 2009 and used the funding to purchase 5,000 Energy Savers booklets that were published by the United States Department of Energy.

The NVAR branded the guides with a new “green” logo it developed and will use the guides to enhance its smart growth advocacy efforts. While the group still uses its red and blue lettered logo with a yellow starburst, the association has developed a similar logo with green lettering. The starburst has been replaced with a tree branch.

The 33-page book shows homeowners how to reduce energy use at home and offers homeowners a variety of ways to reduce their energy use and increase their savings. NVAR members have taken a pledge, Coya said, to distribute the guides at closings.

The guides were handed out at the association’s 2010 annual convention and will be distributed to those who tour the organization’s new Fairfax, Va., headquarters. The 24,000-square-foot building was built to the United States Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards.

Among the features in the new building are windows that reduce the penetration of heat while allowing in light. It also has an underground parking space that is landscaped at the plaza level. Initially, the NVAR constructed the building with a LEED silver certification in mind but NVAR executive Christine Todd said the better gold rating, “is well within reach.”

Coya also has distributed the branded guides to a variety of elected officials in the municipalities in which their members sell properties.

“It has helped our image. It shows we are part of the community and that we care about the environment,” Coya said of the association’s distribution of the guides.

The NVAR also is working on another tool for property owners and homebuyers, an energy audit disclosure form for real estate transactions. Coya says that the NVAR has an internal committee working on the form now and that she’s hopeful it can be completed by the end of the year.

The idea is the brainchild of NVAR member and chairman of the association’s “green task force,” Adam Gallegos. Gallegos is the broker and founder of Arbour Realty, a real estate company that states on its homepage that it is “the DC area’s first green real estate company.”

Gallegos got the idea from clients who took advantage of an energy audit coupon he would provide them in a closing basket that was chock full of goodies.

Gallegos often heard from homeowners, who utilized the coupons and said that they wished they had the energy audit before they had finalized the purchase so they could have addressed some of the issues the audit uncovered before closing.

Similar to a home inspection that can reveal flaws in a property, Gallegos maintains that energy audits, where blower door tests and infrared technologies are used to diagnose the energy efficiency of a home, are an equally important tool for homebuyers because they can reveal areas in a home that waste energy which means higher costs.

With that information in hand, Gallegos approached the NVAR to discuss what, if anything, the association could do to produce a uniform disclosure form that every area REALTOR® could include as an option for homeowners to consider.

Similar to a home inspection Gallegos said, the buyer would have to affirm they wanted the audit.

While the Arbour Realty homepage stresses that the company takes its “commitment to the environment seriously” Gallegos said he doesn’t “have any intention or interest in seeing this become mandatory. Not everyone wants one.”

Gallegos, who chairs the NVAR’s green committee, said the association is “really receptive.”

Arlington County Virginia Board Chairman Jay Fisette acknowledged that he’d like to see energy audits be mandated at the point of sale, but said that if energy audits were to take off the way home inspections did, he’d be pleased. “It’s become accepted standard practice,” Fisette said of home inspections. “I applaud the NVAR for getting ahead of the curve.”