Trish Holder Interviews Eco-broker Sarah Olson from LEAP Realty
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? Let’s hope not.
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.
In this, the first part of a 2-part interview, I asked Sarah some questions about what it means to be a certified Ecobroker.
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 there 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.