What the Heck Is An Ecobroker (R) and Why Should I Care?

Trish Holder Interviews Ecobroker Sarah Olson from LEAP Realty
Jul 6, 2011 7:00 PM ET

Greenspiration Home Blog

(3BL Media / theCSRfeed) July 6, 2011 -

An Interview by Trish Holder

Real estate agents.  The very word conjures up images of cheesy looking business cards with fake smiles and a lot of air brushing.  But a new type of broker has emerged that has me intrigued—the Ecobroker®.  Are they the same overdressed, overeager, over-perfumed lot we’ve all caught putting their lipstick on in showcase home powder rooms?  We'll see.

I don’t think Sarah Olson, co-owner of Leap Realty in Winston-Salem, NC is (or ever was) that type of agent.  She’s smart, down-to-earth, and knows more than a thing or two about how a house actually works and there’s a good reason for that.  She became an Ecobroker after a mold situation in her home caused one of her daughters to have serious respiratory issues.  This situation led to a full-blown mold remediation and a self-imposed crash course on indoor air quality.  That’s when Sarah decided she wanted to “bridge the gap” between what she had learned and what her clients did not yet know.

Trish:  Sarah, what exactly is an Ecobroker?

Sarah:  EcoBroker®Certified professionals help clients market properties with green features, save money, and live comfortably through energy efficiency and environmentally-sensitive choices.  EcoBroker® is the first and largest green real estate training and communications program in the world. It offers education and tools to real estate professionals that in turn help consumers take advantage of energy efficiency and environmentally sensitive design.

Trish:   How do you become an EcoBroker?

Sarah:  You must pass a three part educational session to become certified. Although there are ‘live’ classes, many real estate professionals take the course online. There are a series of educational explorations on the web, researching sites such as the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and many others. Then, with the knowledge gained, we are required to complete an exam and series of written essays, which are reviewed and critiqued by an EcoBroker instructor. For me and the other agents at LEAP Realty, the course took about 6 weeks to complete.

Trish:   Are their competing green certification programs for real estate brokers?

Sarah: In late 2009, NAR [National Association of Realtors] released their own green designation for realtors, called GREEN. The NAR designation offers instruction to realtors on how to -- in my opinion -- greenwash your business. I am pretty strict on education, and flew to Orlando to be in the first GREEN class.  Having experienced both, I believe that EcoBroker is still the best education program for real estate professionals. GREEN offers great tools for marketing and their educational curriculum is expanding, but the program still markets to the typical realtor.

Trish:   How does the EcoBroker program enhance your ability as a realtor?

Sarah:  Brokers learn how to recognize features in homes that are ‘green’ and energy efficient. This knowledge helps both sellers in a marketing aspect and buyers in comparing one property to the next.  It also helps us make valid suggestions to sellers for improvements to the homes they are selling.

Trish:  What attributes are you usually marketing when it comes to these homes that you list and how do share this information with potential buyers?

Sarah: We go through a ‘green’ property checklist, which covers everything from Low-E windows and geothermal systems to ceiling fans and distances to parks. We make this checklist available to all potential buyers and their agents.

We also place removable wall graphics throughout the houses we list that explain the benefits of things like programmable thermostats, windows, appliances, etc.  We also tag the items with additional informational resources that can be scanned with a smart phone and viewed later.

Trish:  Are the homes you list always “green”?

Sarah:  Most of the homes we sell are existing homes that are not certified green or Energy Star. Our value-added benefit comes from marketing the features already present in the property, making suggested improvements to the sellers that would attract the ‘eco-conscious’ consumer, and differentiating our properties from the competition. However, now that our brand has become more familiar, we are listing more existing homes in which sellers have made energy efficient and sustainable upgrades.

Trish:  I hear it all the time – a lot of people just don’t think real estate brokers earn their paycheck.  Is that fair?

Sarah: In some cases absolutely! Just like any other industry, you have those that work and those that work around working.  But for the most part, realtors work hard for their paychecks.  Their time, knowledge and transportation time adds up. Sometimes they work hard for no paycheck at all such as when a client’s needs change and they no longer wish to sell a property that’s been listed or their financing falls through on a home.

Trish:  How does your commission compare to standard brokers?

Sarah: Our rates are competitive in the local markets. Our fees are 6% for marketing homes and 3% when working with buyers (of which is typically compensated through the seller via MLS).

Trish:  Do you approve of the way real estate brokers are compensated for the sell of a home?

Sarah: I actually do not care for the pay structure of our industry.  Real estate is a ‘service’ industry and by paying commission percentages it is turned into a ‘selling’ industry. As a consumer, I don’t want my realtor to ‘sell’ me anything. I want them to represent my best interests (which, by law is what we are supposed to do). I believe a percentage of the price of the home is a convenience and an industry bad habit of paying for professional services.

Trish:  How do you “earn” your paycheck as an Ecobroker

Sarah:  Our first step is always to have an in-depth conversation with the client.  We simply talk about their needs, where they are going now, and where they wish to be in the future. This conversation lets us know what’s important to them. Do they have allergy or asthma issues? Are they on a tight budget where energy efficiency will be a benefit?

Real estate is an investment and should be addressed as such from the beginning. We educate our clients every step of the way, helping them find the best home for their needs and giving them resources and guidance to improve their investment after the sale.

Trish:  You also work with custom home clients.  How do your services and rates differ for that type of client?

Sarah:  We do work with custom home clients, and those rates can be a percentage of the build or an hourly rate depending on the need of the client.

For custom home clients, we assist in pulling the entire team together from architect to builder, assuring that the finished product is a dream home that fits the client’s specific needs.  When working with green builders, we are involved throughout the entire construction process, making sure we understand techniques the builder uses so we can explain them and their benefits to the consumer.

Trish:  How is the eco-consumer different from the average consumer?

Sarah:  The eco-consumer is a wise consumer.  Many of our clients are already well versed in sustainability. You cannot ‘sweet talk’ your way around an educated consumer when talking green.  You’ll end up with egg on your face.

Trish:  How do you practice what you preach?

Sarah:   We are the only real estate firm to partner with NC Greenpower, offsetting our carbon footprint through donations we make to renewable energy technologies here in NC. Our website is hosted via AISO, solar powered servers. Our marketing materials are sourced locally and printed on sustainable materials. And we are truly a paperless firm.  We use online document storage, paperless contracts with our clients, and we provide our agents with tablet pc’s so they can be paperless on the job. No local firm comes close to what we do for the environment!