The Unconditional Blog

The impartial voice of the industry


Archive for the ‘Green’ Category


Energy efficiency as important as aesthetic features for house buyers

Posted on: June 27th, 2012 | Filed in Buying / Selling a home, Featured, Green

There is a widely held opinion that the things that matter most to home buyers are gourmet kitchens and spectacular indoor / outdoor flow

The reality though is that this perception is changing, and energy efficiency to provide a warm and dry home is fast rising up the shopping list for buyers.

A survey undertaken by in association with the Green Building Council for the Sustainable Housing Summit surveyed over 1,700 people as to their attitude to features seen as important when looking for a home to buy.

The number one feature that home buyers judged as most important was the orientation of the property to the sun. More than half of those surveyed regarded this as of “very high importance” with a further one third rating it as “high importance”. This compares to the importance of a gourmet kitchen, which scored just 16% on the scale of “very high importance” with 34% judging it as of “high importance”.

After orientation to the sun, the next most important feature was a high level of insulation. Scoring a 46% on the scale of “very high importance” and 35% of “high importance, insulation surpassed other aesthetic features such as a 3rd bedroom and off street parking, as well as the ubiquitous “indoor / outdoor flow”.

The full list of 18 features are detailed below on a mean importance score on a 1 to 5 scale. The features highlighted in red relate to energy efficiency and performance rating of a home.

Inspection Priorities

The survey went on to investigate to what extent buyers had inquired or inspected for aspects of environment / energy performance. In this case the 3 features that are “visible” and top-of-mind for buyers were inquired of in more than 70% of the time – presence of insulation, inquiring about heating and asking questions about dampness. Certainly buyers appear to be front-footed on these performance features that impact the warmth and comfort of the home.

On the other hand fewer asked questions about water an operating costs or any environmental features of the home each inquired about by less than a third of buyers.


Price Premium

Of those questioned who were looking to sell their property or had recently sold a staggering 88% believed that there was the potential for a price premium for properties that could demonstrate performance features such as energy, water and heating efficiency.

We then went on to seek to find out what type of features would most impact this perception of a price premium. The big 3 items were high levels of insulation, efficient heating and cooling system and double-glazing. Judged of lower opinion on a 1 to 5 importance rating score were low energy lighting, fixtures and fitting with low toxicity and or an independent rating certificate for a home’s performance.

This is the first such comprehensive survey undertaken into this area of home buying. It certainly has established that energy performance and the warmth and health aspects of a home are very much on the shopping list. As to what buyers look for as a signal, at this stage it appears to be very much around tangible items that can be seen and touched as opposed as to performance measures behind features. Time will tell if these performance measures move up the priority list and start to surpass that granite benchtop.



Energy efficiency – something worth celebrating

Posted on: July 20th, 2011 | Filed in Buying / Selling a home, Green, Online marketing, Website searching

You cannot have ignored the extensive TV campaign for “The Energy Spot” by EECA Energywise. This government agency has shared with us some of the myriad of ways in which we as a country can do a little bit to make ourselves more energy efficient. To all save a little, so we can all save a lot.

When it comes to your home the benefits of energy efficiency run deeper than cost savings. It can go as deep as your health and well-being. It is well know and often reported that the housing stock of NZ could be improved – making our homes more comfortable, warmer in winter, cooler in summer and healthier, while using less energy and water.

This focus on the overall performance of your home is the principle behind a parallel initiative: Homestar which is a Joint Venture partnership between BRANZ and the New Zealand Green Building Council. Through an assessment process homeowners can better appreciate the differences that can be made to the performance of their home. Armed with such information appropriate decisions can be made as to improve the living environment of your home.

The Homestar initiative was launched at the end of last year and involves a free online self assessment as well as a far more comprehensive and professional certified onsite assessment. As a result of the latter certified assessment; properties can be rated on a 10 point scale – the first of these properties having been assessed, are now on the market with the assessment rating providing a real point of difference in the marketing of the property.

At we are totally committed to this initiative on behalf of the industry and also as a service we can provide to buyers, sellers and agents by profiling these properties on our website differentiated by this certified assessment. Have a look at these recent listings of properties rated by assessors.

It is important to point out that whilst the rating scale is 1 to 10 the vast majority of NZ properties are rated 2 or below, rating a 4 is a reflection of a reasonable amount of attention to efficiency. Rating a 10 is all but impossible without being able to generate your own power and recycle your water. A new house built to the current Building Act would likely score a 4.

As stated we want to support the Homestar rating process and we are putting our money right on the line. We have made a commitment to the real estate industry to say for every property listed on our site between now and the year end with a certified Homestar assessment we will provide the vendors of that property through the listing agent a marketing package worth $359 – comprising a feature listing and 2 weeks of showcase listing.

Just to be clear this is not for an online self assessment- it does require a certified assessor to visit the home to undertake the assessment. The costs for this assessment are not fixed, but indications are that it would cost around $500. So we are prepared to give back to vendors who want to demonstrate the performance of their property a large portion of their costs in the form of premium advertising their property on – a powerful means to promote their property online.




Homestar – energy efficiency rating for your home

Posted on: November 10th, 2010 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Featured, Green

homestar logo horz RGB.jpg-1

We have long heard the media coverage of how close to 1.0 million out of our 1.6 million homes are poorly insulated, inefficient in the use of energy and potentially unhealthy. The big question as has often been asked is “how can I check out my own home to see if it is efficient”?

Well with the launch of Homestar you now can.

Through its online self-assessment tool you can complete a very detailed evaluation of all aspects of your home, from construction type, insulation, lighting, power usage, heating source, orientation, water usage.. the list goes on and on. The survey provides you with a rating score from 1 to 10. Further than just making you feel good (or depressingly bad!) about your score, the tool provides a superb report covering all aspects of your home to advise as to how to improve its performance with ranking as to how expensive such developments could be, how much benefit they could bring and how easy they are to implement.

This report and online tool should be a must for all homeowners, as well as landlords (and tenants). If you know what things could be done, easily and cheaply to improve the rating, then you are more likely to do it.

The good news is that as a country we are beginning to address this broad issue of energy usage and comfort. At the launch of the Homestar initiative this week, the Minister for Building and Construction, the Hon. Maurice Williamson shared the extent of the uptake of the government subsidy for insulation (warm up campaign) – some 61,000 households had applied for the subsidy since it was introduced, very effectively demonstrating the power of financial motivational over legislative mandate to drive homeowner behaviour.

The Homestar initiative, brought together through an industry collaboration with government support, goes well beyond just an online self-assessment tool. Certified Homecoaches will be trained to provide specialist advice as to how the recommendations of the self-assessment survey can be implemented, leveraging the private sector parters; who are the product and system suppliers to the solutions required and identified in the survey.

A very important third component of the scheme is of great interest to the real estate industry, and with the support of could become a very key part of selling and marketing a property in the near future.

Licensed certified assessors will be appointed by Homestar to carry out independent assessments of properties in the same way a valuation or a building report will be undertaken. This independent survey will then be public information in the form of a unique individual registered rating, which will have a value in the minds of prospective buyers. There is robust information from overseas examples which show that such rated houses put up for sale, performing highly in terms of energy efficiency and environmental impact not only attain a sale price premium, but also sell faster.

The screen mockups seen here provide a concept of how the information could be added to the details of a listing and through the addition of a search filter could profile such properties as well as allow buyers to filter to specific performance criteria within their geographical and price boundaries.

Homestar Nov 8 2010.ppt

As ever the critical success of this scheme and the full initiative will come from the advocacy within the core groups of which the real estate industry is so key. If real estate agents embrace this certification in the promotion of comprehensive data for listing a property it will provide value for their clients (the property owner) as well as enormous value for buyers.


The smart grid – the next extension of the information super highway

Posted on: October 25th, 2009 | Filed in Green, Technology

Smart Grid 101 - Business WeekFifty five years ago the then head of the US Atomic Energy Commission foretold of a time in the future when as he put it “our children would enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter”.

We are the children he foresaw, however that world has yet to eventuate. His prediction interestingly was not of future of nuclear power, despite that being the flavour of the day, his prediction was of hydrogen fusion, something that is only now emerging.

Although we are not clearly approaching a time when “power will be too cheap to meter” we are approaching a time when we will be able to closely monitor not only how we use power but more and more how we produce power. The smart grid is emerging as a real future for houses across the world which will provide us with an analysis of our usage by time and type of consumption allowing for decision making which could tie into a greater range of peak and off peak charging by power generators.

Individual solar panels on house roofs which are currently dropping in price (almost in line with the classic “Moore’s Law” which accurately predicted that silicon chip technology would see a doubling of transistors every 18 months matched to a halving of cost) could reshape the balance between generation and consumption aided by wireless accessed smart meters providing online account details.

This scenario is well presented in a recent Business Week article and podcast which examines this phenomena. As the article states it could have an empowering influence for the consumer to better be able to manage power usage in the future, allowing us to make better decisions as to what type of devises to buy and use and also when to use them – aided with enhancements in battery technology which would allow us to even collect and re-sell power at optimal time when demand is high and thereby take advantage of spot pricing.

Not surprising in all of this technological development is the  appearance of Google. Google happens to be one of the major power users of our modern time, with an unconfirmed; but much estimated inventory of web servers and database servers running in the millions of units. The fact is that in our online world power usage at data centres is often far in excess of the cost of the hardware.

Google has long held the principle of organising the world’s collective knowledge and making it available – power usage, consumption and generation is just such information and therefore it is not then surprising that Google this month announced a partnership with a smart meter company. In addition Google already invests in solar farms and is generating most of its own energy at it’s Mountain View campus in California. These are the early signs of where Google could be looking to extend its offering from the web (the utilities of the future – which might just be “too cheap to meter”) to another of today’s utilities.


Could an “eco” real estate company establish a niche in the market?

Posted on: December 11th, 2008 | Filed in Green

With the landscape of the real estate market radically changing as a result of a very tough year that has probably seen the number of offices fall from around 1,500 to closer to 1,300 and the number of agents plummet by over 3,000 to below 15,000; it is likely that 2009 will see some further restructuring. The make up of the market could well see some new niche players – one such concept could be in “eco real estate”.

In the US a specialist real estate company Green Key Real Estate founded in 2005 with a mandate of environmental responsibility and social equity announced that they would at two of their California offices start to “walk the talk” by contributing 10% of their gross sales commissions towards greening the properties they sell. A very laudable initiative which would certainly find favour with those who clearly demonstrate a growing concern as to environmental responsibility.

So naturally hearing about this company I was keen to see exactly how they were presenting their service to the market on the web. As with all US real estate companies through the centralised MLS system all offices / companies / websites have access to all listings – so for this company they can showcase 35,000 properties across California on their web search. Imagine then my surprise when casually doing a search using their Green Filter capability which incorporates such categories as Formaldehyde free cabinets and low flow faucets, CFL lightbulbs and Low VOC paint and finishes, the results were somewhat disappointing! – of these criteria the best I could get was 5 listings from the total of 35,000! Even selecting just solar hot water gave me just 5 listings (the same 5!) – by comparison on we have today 335 listings from 80,000 properties which feature some form of solar heating.

Now I do not want to in anyway belittle the effort or intent of this company – they are endeavouring to establish a niche and by way as an example one of their listings in Berkeley is presented with the most comprehensive detail on the eco footprint of this property encompassing over 45 criteria covering Energy Efficiency, Indoor air quality, Resource conservation, Water conservation and Community.

The key thing as is often the case in real estate online (and has often been commented on) is that the facts that the buyers want and need regarding properties are left in the hands of the listing agent – if they do not want to / feel the need to / can be bothered to provide rich relevant content then the job of searching for properties that buyers want, ends up being a hard task. As ever this is another classic example of the richer the information provided; the more efficient the search process can be for buyers and logically the more efficient the process can be for the agent dealing with better informed buyers.

Returning then to the question of NZ and a niche for an eco real estate company. Clearly there is a growing concern locally and globally of environmental issues, homes, home construction and renovation are more and more influenced by living environment. A specialist agency that specialised in this evaluation and marketing of both eco-homes and also evaluation of eco-ratings of homes in general as part of the listing presentation could well develop a specialist niche. The benefits could be sizable as was cited recently, especially as there is evidence that eco real estate can command a premium.


Can eco real estate command a premium?

Posted on: August 25th, 2008 | Filed in Green

New Zealand has suffered a double whammy this winter – spiraling consumer price inflation and a pretty nasty winter – to put it mildly!

The image we like to think of for this country is that of bright rich sunlight and warm summer days on the beach and yet for a lot of us NZ means cold winters in houses which many people around the world would be staggered to hear are poorly heated at best and at worst – not heated.

I recall fondly living in Sweden some ten or fifteen years ago and everyone I spoke to about the country believed that to survive their sub-arctic winters that Swedes must be hardy folk who can endure cold – no such thing! They live in communally heated, super insulated houses, stepping as they do into their “heated-over-night” cars and travel to underground car parks at work. They wear sensible outdoor winter clothes which they shed when they come back inside. The lesson is build for the conditions; and for NZ that should be cold winters and warm summers. This is a key part of eco-design. Capturing and using the best of materials and natural features such as passive thermal heating through solid concrete walls and floors, double glazing, adequate insulation and solar heating.

These aspects of eco-design are becoming valued by some countries far more than fancy architecture and double garages. I was appreciative of the following article sent to me by a passionate believer in eco-house design and construction. He works for Right House who provide advice and solutions both for new build and also renovations and improvements.

The article from Seattle should gain some traction as it provides evidence that environmentally certified homes sold for a 5.9 percent premium on a square foot basis. As Aaron Adelstein, Executive Director of Built Green says:

“Until now, the idea that people are willing to pay more for environmentally certified housing has been mostly based on anecdotes,” “Now we have the first hard data to back up what many of us have believed for a long time – green sells for more.”

It makes sense a house environmentally certified to provide a warmer, more comfortable environment with lower running costs should attract a premium, or at least be easier to sell as it has a distinct point of difference. The only question for kiwis is how can we evaluate independently the energy rating of a home?

Our own governement agency EECA has a Home Energy Rating Scheme which is provided through certified inspectors, although with only 8 to cover the whole country at this stage you may have to be patient to get an assesment undertaken. Although in some ways the tangible benefits of proper insulation and energy saving are far more valuable than a certificate until the certification process gains some traction – I sense a dilemma of the “chicken and egg”.


NZ eco-development demonstrates the business value of energy efficiency

Posted on: June 24th, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Green

Earlier this month I wrote a post titled “Eco design and speedy construction could deliver sustainable and affordable housing” – in it I made this statement:

It seems from this UK project that this government and the community’s aspiration to meet the ideals of affordable housing; eco-friendly construction as well as building communities could be met which such a blue-print development – all we need is a NZ developer to step up.

Well it seems that one developer has taken me at my word! – Kensington Properties Ltd.

Kensington Park is a $400 million development of 40 acres comprising over 700 properties – currently under construction at Orewa, north of Auckland.

There are a couple of very interesting aspects to the development that caught my eye – primarily the focus on energy efficiency and secondly the consumer demand.

In regard to energy efficiency the claim is that the electricity bills for owners could be cut by more than half in a project aimed at slashing home power costs. Patrick Fontein, Managing Director of Kensington Properties and Chairman of the New Zealand Green Building Council, told me that houses which would usually cost $2,000 a year to run should cost only $800, according to the projections provided by Right House, the energy efficiency advisory service set up by the state-owned energy company Meridian Energy.

Right House has been working on the project for a year, fine-tuning the eco-friendly aspects. Some of the more commonly overlooked aspects when planning a new home are the very things that can have the most impact on our comfort and health. It’s not just about saving money on power. Home heating, water heating, energy efficiency and the control of the interior environment are treated as integral parts of the Kensington Park building process.

For example floor slabs which the houses stand on will be wrapped to insulate them against heat gains and losses. The houses will be oriented on their sites for maximum energy efficiency and have water-heating solar panels installed on each roof. Low-energy heat pumps will be installed for maximum heating and energy savings. Windows will be double-glazed to minimise heat transfer. All storm-water will be treated on the site via a lake and weir system which separates sediments. Stormwater will also be recycled and used to irrigate gardens in public areas.

Kensington Park NZ It is very interesting to note the financial decisions taken by Kensington Properties. They concede that there is an additional construction cost for delivering this standard of energy efficiency and eco-friendly design, but they consider the purchaser interest alone as proof that it’s well worth it. By their calculations a one-off house with these features would cost $50,000 extra, however they have driven this cost down to just $30,000 extra per home to construct because their applying scale factors by applying their approach to all of the houses at once.

Kensington Park Asia Pacific Property Awards 2008This offer of efficiency, environmental consideration and master plan design that focuses on a true community is the reason behind the fact that even though real estate sales are sluggish at best at the moment the interest level of buyers remains strong for these new houses at Kensington Park.

To add to this encouraging story is the fact that the development has been awarded the CNBC Asia Pacific Property Award for Best Overall Development, Best Property Marketing and Best Architecture. This is believed to be the only time a NZ company has won this award – beating stiff competition from Australia, China, India, Thailand and Japan.


Should NZ implement the UK scheme of Home Inspection Reports?

Posted on: June 14th, 2008 | Filed in Buying / Selling a home, Green

Since December of last year all properties in England and Wales that have been marketed for sale have been required to have a Home Inspection Pack (HIP). Scotland will implement the scheme from December 2008 and already there are signs of disquiet north of the border.

UK HIP bookletThe HIP is a comprehensive set of reports and documents that bring together all of the pertinent information a buyer would need to be well informed about the prospective property they would be interested in buying.

The UK government are pleased with the implementation of the scheme, the Housing Minister Caroline Flint said:

“Consumers are already benefiting from the introduction of HIPs. Search costs are falling as a result of increased transparency in the market, energy ratings can help people to reduce fuel bills, and first time buyers are receiving important information about their home for free.

“I welcome the fact that buyers are starting to act on their energy ratings, which could cut a million tonnes of carbon a year as well as helping families with their fuel costs.

“However, what is clear from the trials is that more buyers wanted to see the HIP but it was not always made available to them. That’s why we have taken action to increase awareness of the consumers’ right to see a HIP and to remind agents of their responsibility to provide the pack.”

So what does a HIP comprise? There are mandatory documents and optional documents within the pack.

  • Mandatory requirements include a sale statement stating key facts about the property, local searches very much akin to LIM’s. Legal titles and the energy performance certificate – a professional report on the energy efficiency rating of the property and an environmental impact rating.
  • Optional components a house condition report – very much akin to a building inspection report and a legal summary report.

Certainly the objective of the implementation of the HIP scheme was in its ability to aid transparency in the home buying process. The costs of a single HIP does range anywhere from $800 to $2,500 and is paid for by the vendor of the property.

As to implementing such a scheme in NZ. You would have to say that from a consumer perspective the greater the level of transparency and ease of access to pertinent information has got be seen to be of great benefit for buyers. Naturally initial reaction would be cold, especially to the cost; but living as we do in an ever more open and transparent business environment this initiative has got to be of value. We will just have to wait patiently to see if a future NZ government decides to implement such a scheme.


Insulation subsidy to assist rental landlords .. and tenants!

Posted on: June 13th, 2008 | Filed in Green, Property Investing, Renting

With only 2 weeks of the winter behind us we know that there are going to be many cold days and nights ahead – depending upon which part of the country you live. Statistics keep telling us that kiwi houses are amongst the draftiest and least well insulated of any houses in the world and this brings with it significant health issues.

Add to this not only the looming threat of a power crisis (not a word apparently the government wants us to use!) and the spiralling costs of food and fuel and you can see why many people are going to be cold this winter.

Insulating rental property - government subsidies availableThis need not be the case as the government has schemes to encourage the insulation of pre-1978 houses that are being rented. Now there has to be a fair stock of these around the country and we can all image how cold and drafty they may well be.

The scheme run by The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is offering landlords a subsidy of up to 55% on a full house retrofit of insulation and other energy efficiency measures for any of their rental properties occupied by low-income tenants. There are certain conditions and the work must be carried out by one of two organisations (Eco Insulation or EECN) dependent upon which part of the country you are in.

Insulating these houses has to be a must – good for the tenant, good for the environment and good for the property value.

Update June 2009

Government announce grants of up to $1,800 to insulate NZ Homes – Warm up New Zealand .. Heat smart