“Going green” is more than just a catchy marketing slogan. For many, green living is an environment-saving lifestyle that’s been heralded and refined for almost a century. Today’s younger generations, especially millennials, have embraced this eco-friendly attitude.
In fact, a Nielsen study found that 66% of over 30,000 surveyed millennials are willing to pay more for conservation-conscious, sustainable products.
The millennial factor is being felt in the real estate market as well. Recent statistics from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) indicate that at 34%, millennials make up the largest pool of buyers in the national market.
According to The Washington Post, this commitment to saving the environment has millennials moving to green living cities—like Seattle, where homes can get Built Green certification. The millennials’ preference for green home features has also impacted home builders, with green-certified building worldwide expected to top 60% in 2018.
Is “Green Certified” Worth the Investment?
Getting green certified may also help your home sell faster, too, because its benefits will attract more buyers. Not only do energy efficiency measures save money for buyers on their future utility bills, some lenders actually offer lower interest rates on green building certified homes.
While there are a number of third-party green certification options out there, getting LEED certified adds the most value as it is the most reputable and recognized. However, modifying an existing home to meet LEED standards is both costly and complex.
In fact, obtaining LEED certification on an existing home often isn’t possible without gutting your home and rebuilding it with an LEED certified contractor—which is impractical if you plan on selling soon.
So even if you can’t get your existing house officially LEED green certified, there are things you can do to highlight and market your home’s eco-friendly potential.
Raise Energy Efficiency to Attract Buyers
One way you can up your home’s green quotient is by becoming an Energy Star Certified Home.
A recent survey found that more than 80% of all prospective green home buyers are impacted by a home’s energy-efficient upgrades. Plus, energy efficiency just happens to be one of the top ways to appeal to millennial buyers.
But just like LEED certification, the national Energy Star Certification requirements and the certification processes are complex, time-consuming and expensive depending upon the current age and efficiency of your home.
If getting Energy Star Certified before selling isn’t practical, there are other energy efficiency upgrades to consider. Your first step is performing a DIY energy audit to determine where you can best conserve power, like replacing insulation and weather stripping.
Conserving power and cutting energy costs is why replacing attic insulation was one of the top home improvement upgrades in 2017 with a high 107.7% return on investment.
Although it isn’t as exciting a feature, energy-conscious millennials will still appreciate fresh weather stripping around your doors and windows—a relatively inexpensive project that costs an average of $168 nationally.
Of course, one of the most energy-efficient upgrades you can make to your home is adding renewable energy power sources like a wind turbine or solar panels. However your home must have the right environment like high winds or lots of sunlight—so check your environmental resources before you make your alternative power source decision.
There are a number of wind electrical systems to choose from, including off-grid systems and ones that supply partial power. Wind turbines large enough to power an entire house cost anywhere from $10,000 to $70,000.
Solar power systems are available both for purchase and lease. Depending on wattage output, purchasing a solar system costs between $11,000 to $35,000. Renting solar panels is less expensive, but the leasing is more expensive in the long term. Plus, the prospect of taking over the lease costs can turn buyers off.
Since you don’t own a leased solar system, Marni Jimenez, who ranks at #19 out of 10,482 seller’s agents in the Riverside, California area, says that they aren’t likely to increase your home’s value. However, a fully paid-for solar system might not add value either:
“I’ve had an experience with a paid-for solar system—the seller had paid $30,000 two years prior for brand new solar panels— that got absolutely zero value from the appraiser. I called my other appraiser and they said (energy efficiency) is still kind of a new space. Appraisers aren’t given specific guidelines, so they’re still struggling with how to address it from an appraisal perspective.”
Renewable energy is such a new trend that appraisers often don’t know how to value the systems. The Department of Energy has taken steps to get the real estate market to properly value green homes, but as of now, the focus is largely on new construction.
For homeowners interested in adding sustainable energy systems to their homes, it’s best to install one at least a year in advance of selling. That way, you can recoup some of its cost through the energy savings.
If you’re planning on adding one right before selling, consult with your agent first to find out if a wind turbine or solar panels increase a house’s value in your area. Your realtor may instead advise that you make less-expensive green upgrades.
Install Eco-Friendly Water Systems
While low-flow plumbing and eco-friendly water systems won’t top any must-have lists for millennials, they are a cost-effective way to add green living appeal to your home.
The expense of installing low-flow toilets and faucets is the same as installing high-flow fixtures—the price of hiring a professional, licensed plumber which costs an average of $303 nationally. The only difference is the price of the fixtures themselves.
Low-flow toilets cost a bit more than regular ones, so it’s better to buy your own rather than paying the plumber to purchase them for you. You can get a high-rated, water-saving toilet for less than $250.
Low-flow aerators are even less expensive—costing $5-10 for the faucet and $8-50 for the shower—and can be installed without a plumber’s assistance. Once installed, make sure to highlight the 30-50% water savings they provide in your marketing materials.
Water conservation organizations are ramping up their efforts to engage millennials. This translates into a rise in the millennial buyer’s interest in systems that recycle water. Sellers can appeal to this growing trend amongst young buyers by installing systems that harvest rainwater. A simple DIY system can be set up for a few hundred dollars, or you could install a cistern which can run into the thousands.
Another alternative recycles water from your sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines. Known as greywater systems, these systems pipe “gently-used” water from your plumbing to your landscaping. Greywater systems range in price from $700 to $20,000 depending upon the water source and functionality.
Opt for Non-Toxic Wall Paint and Sustainable Flooring
If you’ve been in your home for more than a year, you’re likely going to have to repaint the walls and replace the flooring. When you’re choosing paint and carpet that’ll appeal to millennials, you must consider more than the color—you need to pick eco-friendly materials.
Sustainable flooring continues to trend amongst home designers, with millennials especially interested in bamboo and cork. For eco-friendly carpeting, select natural fibers—like wool, sisal or jute—that meet the Green Carpet Plus air quality standard.
Green flooring needs an environmentally-conscious installation, so make sure your installers are using non-toxic adhesives and padding. Going non-toxic is also a good idea when you’re picking your wall paint.
While it’s most noticeable during the painting process, regular wall paint can release low-level toxic emissions for years afterward. That’s why millennials find homes with eco-friendly paint so appealing.
Paint qualifies as eco-friendly when it has a zero or low-VOC rating (volatile organic compounds), natural pigments and low chemical toxicity. Green interior paints are typically water-based, feature natural ingredients like soy and have plant-based pigments.
Can Existing Homes Go Green Enough?
Millennials buyers who are absolutely gung-ho about sustainable living probably aren’t going to be satisfied with little fixes like energy savers, low flow plumbing and eco-friendly paint. They’d rather buy newly-built, LEED-certified green homes that are conservation-conscious from top to bottom.
Luckily for existing home sellers, there are economic factors that prevent many millennials from affording the 100% green homes of their dreams.
So if you live in an area with a young, eco-friendly obsessed buyer pool, adding green living upgrades will definitely attract more millennial buyers.