Selling a House with Leased Solar Panels? Follow This Game Plan

A solar lease gave you the opportunity to run on sun without having to pay the $11,000-$14,000 that it costs to install panels in one fell swoop. You’ve saved energy, lowered your low utility bills, and felt the undeniable pleasure of sharing these perks when the topic of solar came up with anyone who would listen.

Now, you’re ready to sell your house and suddenly your leased solar panels are looking more like a speed bump than a green light. You wonder, just how much will my solar lease impact my home sale?

Here we’ll cover your options and how to communicate the benefits of solar power to prospective buyers. For added expertise, our guide features advice from top real estate agent Elmer Morales who has 18 years of experience selling homes with solar panels in Ontario, CA, the state leading the way in solar energy

Paperwork for a house with leased solar panels.
Source: (Kelly Sikkema/ Unsplash)

Decide whether to transfer or buy-out your solar lease

When selling a home with leased solar panels, you must either transfer the lease to your home buyers or purchase the panels from the solar company to conclude the lease early. Both options have their pros and cons so you’ll need to review the terms and conditions of your contract to evaluate which is best for your particular situation.

Transfer your solar lease to eliminate extra costs when selling

Transferring your solar lease gets you off the hook for any payments owed in the remaining duration of the lease. The process of transferring the lease is fairly straightforward, but does require a reasonable amount of coordination between all parties involved in the transaction: you, your real estate agent, the solar company, the buyer, the buyer’s real estate agent, and even the buyer’s mortgage lender.

Pros: 

  • No upfront cost to buy the panels; you can invest saved money in other value-adding improvements to increase your home’s marketability like painting and staging
  • No early buy-out fee

Cons:

  • Complicates the selling process; necessitates more discussion between the seller and buyers
  • May turn off buyers uninterested in taking on lease
  • Limits your offer pool to buyers who are able to qualify for the solar lease in addition to a mortgage
  • Extends closing period until the new buyer is approved to take on the solar lease
  • Potential lease transfer fee

Follow these steps to transfer your solar lease to the new buyer:

  1. Notify your solar company that you are selling your home. Most companies will connect you with a service transfer specialist who will provide you with information on transferring the lease.
  2. Connect your agent to your solar service transfer specialist. The solar representative will provide them with a copy of your solar agreement and supply information on the leased solar panels so your agent can effectively market your home and communicate solar benefits to interested buyers
  3. When you’ve found an interested buyer, provide them with a copy of your solar agreement and give them your solar service transfer specialist’s contact details in case they want to discuss the details of the lease.
  4. The buyer will need to bring the solar agreement to their mortgage lender when they apply for their home loan. The lender will review the agreement and check that it contains a transferable warranty. Basically, the lender needs assurance that the buyer is not responsible for costly repairs to the solar panels which could disrupt their ability to pay their mortgage.
  5. Once the buyer receives the green light on their home loan, reach out to your solar lease transfer representative and request they send the service transfer form to you and the buyer. You’ll both fill out and sign the form—a process you can usually take care of digitally via editable PDFs or online forms.
  6. The solar company will run a credit check on the buyer as they will be responsible for making the payments. Most solar companies require a credit score of 680 or higher though some may allow for lower scores in exchange for a higher interest rate on the lease.
  7. The solar company will send you and the buyer a document confirming the buyer is approved as the new tenant under the solar lease. The approval window can take as little as 2-3 days, depending on the solar company.
  8. Lastly, you need to inform your solar transfer specialist when the home escrow closes to finalize the transfer.

Complete all of these transfer steps before you finalize your home sale to ensure the buyer is officially responsible for the solar lease payments. Otherwise, your credit can be harmed for missed payments.

Money transferred when selling a house with leased solar panels.
Source: (Mackenzie Freemire/ Death to the Stock Photo)

Buy out your solar lease to add value to your home

Some solar lease contracts include an early buy-out option, allowing you to buy-out the remainder of the lease and own the solar panels outright. When you own the solar panels, you remove the solar lease from the home sale equation and boost your home’s market value.

To decide if buying-out the panels is a practical option for you, compare the purchase offer to the estimated value owned solar panels add to homes in your market. For instance, if the buy-out offer is $6,000 and the solar panels are likely to add $8,000 to your listing price, it might be worth purchasing the panels for a more straightforward selling process.

Consult your real estate agent to assess how much value owned panels would add to your home to help you make the decision.

Pros:

  • Selling and negotiation is straightforward without the complication of an attached solar lease
  • Potentially sell your home for more with owned solar panels, using the extra profit to cover your buy-out costs
  • Widen the scope of qualified buyers; buyers can apply for any mortgage with a broader range of lenders without the complications of qualifying for a solar lease
  • No extra paperwork for transferring a solar lease
  • Reduced time to close home sale (it can take two weeks for your solar company to approve lease transfer)

Cons:

  • Buying the solar panels is a hefty upfront cost to pay before your home sells
  • There may be large penalties for early buy-outs (we’re talking thousands of dollars)
  • You can lose money if the penalty fee outweighs the solar’s return on investment in the home sale
  • You’re purchasing older solar panels which may not be as efficient as newer designs, reducing their value to prospective buyers
A house with leased solar panels that will sell.
Source: (zstock/ Shutterstock)

Hire a top real estate agent to sell the benefits of solar

Whether you choose to buy out or transfer your solar panels, work with a top real estate agent who has experience selling homes with solar. An agent’s expertise is especially essential for the following components of your home sale:

  • Thorough marketing to highlight solar benefits:
    Every platform your home listing appears on should highlight the solar panels and the renewable, affordable energy they generate for the house. Your agent can articulate the benefits and details of the lease or ownership concisely in the marketing campaign, making your home’s solar capabilities an attractive extra for buyers.
  • Communicating the details of solar with buyers:
    Real estate agents experienced in navigating deals involving the transfer of solar leases can explain the process to wary buyers who do not understand how it all works. If the buyer gets cold feet at any point of the process, your agent can get them back on track by providing information and bridging the gap between them and the solar company.

Educate prospective buyers on your solar agreement

Research shows that today’s buyers desire energy efficient homes and are attracted to green features. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 59% of real estate agents said clients were interested in energy efficiency and sustainable housing features. Another 69% said that promoting energy efficiency in the home listing “was very or somewhat valuable.”

Nurture buyers’ go-green instincts by supplying them with the specific benefits of your house’s solar system. Give your real estate agent these persuasive details for their sales pitch:

  • The total you paid for utilities last month
  • The difference between your energy bills before and after you installed solar
  • If the buyer is interested in buying-out the lease at a later time, inform them of the estimated value solar panels add to homes in the area
  • An overview of the little maintenance required to maintain leased solar panels.  Typically in a solar lease, the solar company provides routine maintenance on the panels including repairs covered by the warranty.  The homeowner can easily wash dirt and debris off the panels with a hose if needed.
  • The coverage the transferable warranty provides if applicable
  • Environmental benefits of solar energy

If you’re transferring the lease, you’ll also need to provide buyers with the following information:

A group of women selling a house with leased solar panels.
Source: (CoWomen/ Unsplash)

Choose the best offer to close the deal

When you buy out your solar lease, choosing the best offer will be fairly straight forward. On the other hand if you’re transferring the lease, you’ll need to find a buyer who can meet the credit requirements of the third-party owner of the system.

“Typically if you’re able to qualify for a home loan, then there’s no reason why you don’t qualify for the solar panel purchase or lease…I’ve yet to see it and I’ve sold quite a few homes with solar leases,” Morales explains.

While this is usually the case, buyers who can barely afford the down payment could disqualify for a home loan once the mandatory solar lease is added to the payment calculations by their lender. To avoid hiccups, let prospective buyers know they will need to pass a credit check to take on the solar lease as early as possible. Provide them with a copy of the solar agreement and your solar representative’s contact information to give to their mortgage lender in case the lender has outstanding questions about the lease.

Leased solar won’t stop you from selling your house

Leased solar panels add a dimension to your home sale, but they won’t stop your home from attracting buyers or receiving attractive offers. A recent study on homes sold with solar leases by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that 77% of the leases were successfully transferred to the new property owner, while only 20% of study participants said the leasing agreement scared off potential buyers.

“Early on, maybe five, six years ago when those solar leases were a bit newer to people, I think buyers were a little shy when it came to dealing with those types of homes and those types of contracts. But now, I feel like buyers are a lot more receptive to solar leases than they used to be,” Morales reassures.

With this in mind, remember there’s no need to stress so long as you take the necessary steps to educate buyers when selling your home.

Header Image Source: (Robert Kneschke/ Shutterstock)

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