Sustainability Trends in Real Estate
Q-and-A with Amanda Stinton
Why are REALTORS® talking about sustainability?
The preamble to the National Association of REALTORS®’ (NAR) Code of Ethics begins “Under all is the land…” REALTORS® can be excellent stewards of sustainability and tune in to the relationship between sustainability and property. In fact, knowing 39% of carbon emissions come from the built environment, many REALTORS® feel an acute responsibility to connect clients with safe, healthy and sustainable housing and communities. As the most influential voice in real estate, NAR has a tremendous responsibility to lead on sustainability and resilience.
Sustainability at NAR is not new, but gained momentum in 2022. The support from NAR to members and associations on this topic is growing, and members are becoming more aware of the value and risk management necessary for successful sustainability integration in their business.
The ability to build awareness among members and industry professionals on sustainability has led to increased member and leader engagement on the subject matter. NAR is in the process of implementing a 10-year Sustainability & Resilience Plan that offers a structured sustainability approach to enhance NAR’s overall priorities of supporting homeownership, property rights and strong communities. This structured approach includes four distinct pillars, and allows staff and members to undertake specific, action-based initiatives that support association strategy and the Sustainability & Resilience Plan.
This enterprise approach brings value to NAR members by leading by example and showcasing the reaching impact of the subject matter on the industry. Understanding sustainability’s impact in real estate increases the REALTOR® value proposition by positioning members as knowledgeable and competent professionals who can guide clients in a fast-growing conversation. REALTOR® leaders who understand sustainability as a core business value, or include sustainability in a strategic plan, are uniquely positioned for more positive business impact.
NAR and NAHB launched the Home Performance Counts initiative in 2020. How has that resource benefitted REALTORS® or helped them engage in more meaningful conversations with prospective home buyers about home performance?
HomePerformanceCounts.info has been a great resource for our members to understand that sustainability is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and often, clients may highlight a feature or priority for their home without realizing the sustainability implications of that feature. Our partnership with NAHB on this resource has connected countless professionals and made information accessible and top of mind to some of our industry’s best. The translator tool on HomePerformanceCounts.info helps REALTORS® work with builders to navigate this conversation, but also provides a resource consumers and professionals can reference together. This fosters trust and goodwill with clients.
Beyond the translator, our members have provided great feedback about the leading video on the site that introduces concepts of home performance, energy efficiency, health and indoor air quality. This really paints a picture for practical application of sustainability features in a home, even if consumers don’t consider themselves knowledgeable about sustainability. It’s a great bridge.
Because of that, this resource opens the door to strengthening partnerships between builders — those who integrate sustainability behind the walls – and REALTORS® — those who focus on promotion of a home’s features and benefits. It allows for an effective way for home buyer and sellers to see and understand the link between features and benefits. Plus, REALTORS® offer the unique opportunity for continued touchpoints with clients. Members of our respective associations can head there to see first-hand accounts of home performance technology and systems through virtual tours.
Can you identify some topics to watch in sustainability in the built environment?
One thing that always surprises our members and volunteer leaders is the depth and breadth of sustainability topics. Priorities ebb and flow based on region, risks and policy, and sustainability is about so much more than the environment.
The annual publication of NAR’s ESG+R Report helps frame the wide range of important topics under each pillar of our Sustainability & Resilience Plan (Environment, Social, Governance and Resilience). Our members are talking about important topics from energy and water efficiency to electrification and zoning. They’re prioritizing renewable energy policy and insurance as it relates to climate risk.
REALTORS® see resilience issues in just about every market through drought, wildfires, flooding, sea level rise, and more. Research from NAR’s REALTORS® & Sustainability annual report shows 34% of agents noted rising anxiety about the impact of climate change on their business. Half of our members have helped clients buy or sell a home with green features in the past 12 months, and 63% value energy efficiency promotion in listings.
This year, our Sustainability Advisory Group — a group of volunteer leaders that live within NAR’s governance structure — is focused on three distinct areas: research, sustainability culture, and state and local association engagement. They will continue work on resilience research as it relates to transacting real estate, and explore actions to take in response to NAR’s carbon footprint. Additionally, they are building and launching a toolkit for state and local associations to use when implementing sustainability strategy and committees. Finally, they will focus on supporting NAR’s Strategic Plan, which addresses leadership in sustainability and climate and using an environment, social and governance (ESG) lens in decision making to positively influence association culture. This dedicated group of volunteers works proactively on many sustainability issues and is responsible for growing interest and engagement from REALTORS®.
How can builders benefit from working with REALTORS® on sustainability in their market?
Partnerships are essential to sustainability success and help drive how sustainability looks to our respective associations. There’s a quote from a former Kohler executive stating, “You can’t do sustainability to people; you do it with them.” Activating that partnership mindset is key when considering strategy behind impact in this space.
Consumer preferences are changing to include the benefits that high-performance homes and systems provide. Plus, NAR research shows that one in five Millennial and Gen X buyers will compromise on the condition of their home. By working together, builders and REALTORS® can bring an increased value proposition to home owners by offering solutions that highlight the benefits that sustainable home improvements bring to the table.
Partnership brings sustainability to the forefront for consumers, which is wonderful as we continue to see home buyers and sellers prioritizing the benefits that sustainable features provide. It also positions you as trusted professionals that can help the public navigate how people talk about things such as quality, comfort, costs and health. Providing solutions together creates a stronger way forward. It helps buyers feel heard and comfortable with their purchase or renovation decisions, and it elevates your professional value in an increasingly competitive market.
Find REALTORS® in your market who are leading on sustainability — perhaps they have an NAR GREEN Designation. Seek out leadership voices in your industry. Build connections with a variety of professionals in the built environment so efforts and progress can be more streamlined.