Shopping for a single-family home, Elahna Paul and her husband, Hal LaCroix, compiled a pretty typical wish list: high ceilings, hardwood floors, good closet space, and a big backyard. Four years into their search, they toured a 110-year-old Victorian in Somerville’s Spring Hill section and liked what they saw. Not only did the home check many of the items on their list, it also had all new dual-pane windows. “That was a plus,” says Paul. “It meant the energy costs would be lower.” The couple bought the house in August 2011.
Paul and LaCroix are environmentally conscious, but they would be the first to tell you their energy-efficient windows didn’t close the deal. They paid for the whole package, not one feature. Same when they installed solar panels in 2014 — they wondered what the panels would do to their home’s value but took the plunge without being able to settle that question. And that makes the pair pretty typical for the Greater Boston housing market.
“Buying and selling green homes is in its infancy around here,” says Somerville-based agent Thalia Tringo, “but we’re moving to a more educated public.” Similarly, real estate agents, sellers, and appraisers are learning more about the wide variety of green-home features now available, trying to determine how they can affect a property’s value. Since green renovations don’t translate into dollars and cents as easily as traditional renovations, it can be tough to calculate the value they add — or perhaps subtract — when it comes time to sell.
A few years ago, real estate broker Craig Foley, chief of energy solutions at RE/Max Leading Edge, wondered whether “buyers were speaking with their wallets when it came to lower energy costs for homes.” He studied about 4,600 homes in Greater Boston, measuring whether buyers preferred natural-gas heating to oil, which tends to be more expensive. It turned out that natural-gas homes commanded $11 more per square foot — that adds up to a $22,000 premium on a 2,000-square-foot house. “Those numbers,” says Foley, “reinforced a number of studies nationally that said for every $1 of annual energy savings, it equates to $15 to $20 at the time of sale.”
Foley believes those figures speak to buyers’ general desire for lower home operating costs. And that desire, he noted, increased after last winter’s frigid temperatures left many owners with sky-high energy bills. Still, when greening up your home, it’s hard to know where to put money down.
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