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 realestate.co.nz 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.