September 4, 2009

Real Estate Goes Green ~ via Claire Pearson.

Environmental issues aren’t just for environmentalists anymore, everyone seems to have jumped on the ‘green’ bandwagon, whether it’s to save money, slow global warming, decrease oil dependency or simply leave the world a little better for the next generation. A great deal of attention is suddenly being paid to going green within every facet of life.

However, there is one industry immersed in wasteful environmental practices that has been slow to adopt green procedures: real estate.

What exactly is so wasteful about the real estate profession? For centuries, real estate professionals have relied heavily on the use of paper to secure and close deals. According to Bob Connors, President and Founder of Real-a-Save, a Boulder-based online real estate agency, a typical real estate transaction consists of approximately 100 pages (with the agent, broker and both clients receiving document copies), which gives us 400 pieces of paper for one home sale. The average sized tree yields 9,000 sheets of paper, thus for every 22.5 homes sold, one tree is sacrificed. Last year alone, 266,666 trees were sacrificed in national real estate sales of almost six million properties.  On top of this astounding figure is the fact that most of us shove our real estate contracts into a drawer, never to be seen again.

Some real estate agencies have taken a stand and decreased their paper usage by going digital. “We’re very aware of how behind-the-times our industry is in terms of environmental issues,” says Connors. “At Real-a-Save, we leverage online technology to the best of our ability by exclusively utilizing digital files and signatures. Our fully-online system encourages other agents we work with to do the same, since we engage with them in a digital fashion from the beginning – even the paperwork originated by these realtors enters our system in a digital manner.”

Another amazing waste of paper in the real estate industry is advertising. Real estate programs typically include flyer-boxes outside a home (taken by curious neighbors and discarded minutes later), glossy home-introduction mailers, 20-page market comparisons, home flyers sent to other agents, MLS listing printouts, and silly agency gimmicks like newsletters with no real news and local event calendars.

“American mailboxes are inundated with over 100,000,000,000 pieces of junk mail a year (more than 800 per household).  It takes over 100 million trees to produce this much paper,” says Connors. “Real estate agents can contribute to changing this by re-evaluating their marketing programs. Over 80% of home searches are initiated online, so that is where marketing efforts should be focused, not on brochures or glossies. Potential homes to view can be sent to clients digitally, notes kept in handheld devices and later emailed, communication between agents conducted via telephone or email, and client-retention gimmicks removed entirely by providing amazing service from the start,” Connors continues. According to ForestEthics, by the year 2010, almost 50% of the solid mass in landfills is expected to be paper and paperboard waste. It’s hard to stop this number so late in the game, but we can prevent it from continuing to rise by ceasing our immense dependency on paper.

The real estate industry relies more on the automobile than most others; scoping out a potential home for buyers, transporting buyers to view homes and attending closings.  While some of this is a necessary evil (how else will buyers decide if they like a home), one key change could go a long way in reducing the 5,762,050 metric tons of carbon dioxide outputted in the US alone last year: the hybrid vehicle. The average hybrid gets approximately 50mpg, and can go about 800 miles before refueling. If agents made the commitment to conduct business in hybrid vehicles, we’d see less oil usage and dependency, slowed global warming and decreased pollution in our atmosphere.

Real estate is all about networking, and agents know hundreds of people in every possible industry. “Our agency is committed to environmental change, only using and referring to professionals who also act in an environmentally responsible fashion,” Connors says. “If nothing else, other agencies should adopt this simple idea, as it makes a big difference,” he continues.

Although the housing market is currently a bit slow, times will change and real estate will again become a large, formidable industry. This next time around, let’s hope brokers consider the environmental effects of their actions, and take some easy steps to initiate real change. If one Boulder-based company can do it, the rest of them can too.

Real-a-Save is a green, online real estate company specializing in properties in the Denver and Boulder area. They also share 50% of their commission with their buyers and offer flat-fee sales of any home for $2,500. For more information, please visit their website.

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