How REALTORS® can become climate leaders

Climate change and the environment emerged as key issues for Canadians in the leadup to the recent federal election. And with climate negotiations taking place in Madrid this December, the spotlight continues to shine on these pressing issues—and it’s an area where REALTORS® can play an important role.

We’re “past greening,” says Beatrice Olivastri, Chief Executive Officer of Friends of the Earth Canada. No longer are we talking about reducing the use of paper or using energy-efficient lightbulbs; those are table stakes. For REALTORS®, being eco-focused is both a need and an opportunity.

Climate change presents challenges and opportunities

“We’re living in a time of an acknowledged climate emergency,” says Olivastri. “In order to speak to the population who understands the climate emergency, there’s some basic homework real estate professionals should do.”

An energy audit can be a useful marketing tool, she says, “but agents have to know how to use it.”

On an older property, an energy audit will bring to light any costs which might be involved in upgrading to a more eco-friendly property.

“By having that information, you’re managing a potential client’s fear of very high costs,” says Olivastri. “[They might think] it’s going to be some huge number in order to bring in a high-efficiency furnace, but these are costs that can be considered manageable if you’re folding it into the purchase price.”

With newer properties, there are several options in the certification world. LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, for example, is fairly well understood, but clients may not understand exactly how it adds more value to the property. Real estate professionals can help potential clients understand how the certification could, for example, lower their utility costs while decreasing their carbon footprint.

Leading on climate is good for business

In a sense, REALTORS® are in the business of creating communities. That’s why they have an opportunity to be climate leaders, says Gideon Forman, a policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. “We think there’s a role for [REALTORS®] to show their concern for the communities in which they work and to protect those communities.” 

But it’s also good for business. Research from real estate investment advisor BentallGreenOak (formerly Bentall Kennedy) found that buildings with green and/or wellness credentials outperform other buildings at all points in the market cycle.

This means real estate salespeople have an opportunity to focus on properties that provide more value and longevity, such as: high walk scores; proximity to bike lanes, car shares and transit hubs; and access to parks, farmers’ markets, shops and restaurants.

Bike lanes, for example, help to improve air quality in communities— they’re also good for business. Research by The Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) found that, despite the removal of 160 on-street parking spots and one traffic lane in a bike-lane pilot project on Toronto’s busy Bloor Street, the number of customers increased—as did customer spending—during the pilot.

“The future is going to be much more about walking, cycling and public transit,” says Forman. “[Real estate agents] can encourage people to live in areas that are well served by transit. They can also encourage people to look at the energy profile of a property.”

An energy profile could include anything from how well the building is insulated to whether it’s capable of supporting electric vehicles. Millennials, for example, might not be interested in owning a car but do want to be near transit or car-share programs—and those are all important selling points.

Listing agents should ensure their listing information clearly highlights green items such as new energy efficient furnaces, electric charging stations, solar panels or any type of certification.

REALTORS® can lead by example

REALTORS® can also practise what they preach by demonstrating those liveability features. The job often requires a lot of driving and, “with real estate, nothing replaces personal contact so you still need to meet with clients,” says Olivastri.

But, if you’re trying to demonstrate the walk or transit score of a listing, “you might try to take transit and walk to the property,” she says. “It depends who your client base is and what you’re trying to promote.”

If a vehicle is necessary in your geographical location, Forman recommends purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle. “It’s a small thing but it shows their client that they’re environmentally responsible themselves,” he says. “And it matters enormously to young buyers.”

Electric cars can save a lot of money in the long run, he says, and there’s virtually no maintenance. While the upfront cost might be high, there’s a federal rebate on electric vehicles, as well as additional money in Quebec and British Columbia.

Olivastri recommends agents take time to brief themselves on the green attributes of a listing; those attributes provide a different lens they can apply to the interests of their clients. If a client is considering three or four different properties, this information can help them make a better decision.

“The green attributes are going to add value and comfort to a certain extent because there’s anxiety around the climate,” says Olivastri. “Assess the cost of operations—not just the cost of the property, but the operating costs over time.”

More liveable communities are better for the community and better for business, says Forman. “We’d like to see the industry talk in those terms and get out there and be a voice,” he says, “[because] it’s only upsides.”

Do you have tips for conducting a more eco-friendly business? Leave them in the Comment section below.

The CREA Café team is responsible for the official blog of The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). The CREA Café is a cozy place for CREA to connect with our valued members and friends by sharing our thoughts and insights over a virtual cup of coffee.

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