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Read Part I of this two-article series.

Home energy score in first pilot project

PlugFest was a fun way to start exploring the opportunities, but another project operating along the same lines is doing an even deeper dive. 

Several organizations, including the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP), have received funding from DOE in partnership with the State of Vermont to automate the flow of Home Energy Score (HES) information to local MLSs. Increasingly, homes in the Northeast have obtained a Home Energy Score, according to Carolyn Sarno Goldthwaite, senior program manger at NEEP. 

In Connecticut, conducting the assessment is paired with the utility’s energy-efficiency program and incentives. “Right now, that information stays with the utility and the homeowner,” says Goldthwaite. “But no one really knows who owns the data and where the right place is for that information to sit.” 

As a solution, NEEP is setting up a publicly accessible database called the Home Energy Labeling Information Exchange (HELIX), which will provide data security and privacy protections while automatically feeding into the region’s MLSs. By pilot-testing this project in 10 states, Goldthwaite expects that energy information for upwards of 30,000 homes will be brought to the industry’s fingertips within the next three years, though some homeowners might opt out of sharing their data.

The MLS is making changes too

Even while existing energy databases explore aligning with the MLS, the MLS is bettering itself. 

The National Association of Realtors recently required that all MLSs adopt the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) data dictionary. This will help ensure common fields and clear definitions for those fields. RESO has also embarked on its own certification effort and has required “core” green fields to be adopted by 2018 in order for MLSs to achieve its silver designation. “If all MLSes have standard fields, then vendors will have standard fields,” says Stukel. “We’re really excited for the innovation that will come from that.” 

One product of this alignment is already coming to fruition. Homes.com, the popular real estate search site, has had a search function for green homes for some time, but because every MLS with green fields was different, the website had to go through those listings individually, according to Andy Woolley, vice president of Homes.com. He estimates that 10 percent of the site’s 3 million listings are currently marked with a green leaf icon, indicating any one of a number of green features. 

“When we are able to consume the data the same way for every MLS, we will pick up on more features, and those green fields will become more prominent,” says Woolley. Homes.com is already planning on adding new filters by specific green feature in preparation for this influx of more-detailed data. 

“We’re preparing ourselves to use this data because we’ve seen green become important to the industry: the MLSs see it as important, and the National Association of Realtors see it as important,” adds Woolley. “It’s one of these things that provides color around an interesting listing. Everyone is looking for depth of information.”

Start studying your labels and ratings

With big companies like Homes.com preparing to capitalize on greener, more standardized MLSs, experts want to make sure that the everyday real estate professional is prepared too. 

“I think that a lot of real estate agents think green is just a trend,” but they don’t really believe it will have staying power, says Laura Stukel. “It’s important to recognize that consumers are subtly asking for this.”

Studies by her firm and others suggest that green is a real influencer in current markets. Savvy real estate agents will be able to realize advantages by leveraging a home’s green credentials—but only if they know what they mean! 

“Being knowledgeable about the different labels in the green building field allows [real estate agents] to be at the center of the transaction in a way that we haven’t been able to do in the past,” argues Stukel. Getting the information into the MLSs is the first step, but using it for competitive advantage will quickly follow.

Learn more about green home sales