What Home Buyers Want vs. What They Expect

Homebuyer Most Wanted List courtesy of EyeOnHousing.org

The NAHB recently published an interesting article entitled “Home Buyers True Preferences.” It points out that “those in the home-building world who lived through the housing crunch are now looking with optimism toward the future. However, they recognize that more than ever, they need a source for measuring what home buyers really want and what they are not willing to give up despite the economic realities of today.”  The NAHB Economics and Housing Policy Group has been collecting information since the early 1980s, and the predominant theme of their research is that buyers want energy efficiency.

This is understandable but also a bit frustrating.  It is understandable because the price of ownership is a significant issue. Comfort, safety, and building durability are core housing values that are significantly ensured when a builder focuses on efficient building science-based construction.  It is frustrating because time and time again builder sales agents tell me that home buyers are not talking about efficiency.  So why the disconnect? The old slogan, “if you build it they will come” comes to my mind. Buyers have all kinds of expectations for their houses, many of which they never talk about in the sales process. The question is, can you capture more of the market if you focus on things we know the buyer wants but is not directly asking for?  We know for sure that location and aesthetics are key drivers in the decision-making process. I was reminded recently that every decision we make is based on emotion so it makes sense that if you fall in love with a neighborhood or aesthetic feature like hard wood, granite, or floor plan that will drive a decision to buy.  But what if all your competition is offering exactly the same thing, then the rational part of our mind looks for justification for the emotional decision.

So, if we can wed location, aesthetics, efficiency, and sound building science-based construction, we offer a package that can’t be resisted emotionally and rationally. We bring the buyer in with our neighborhoods, floor plans, and features and we assure them that they are making the best choice possible by the quality of our construction. The quality is proven through third party verification and quantification of the house’s performance with the HERS Index score (or ENERGY STAR label, or EnergyLogic Energy Use Guarantee).  We have seamlessly married emotional and rational and made the homes we work with irresistible.

Best Regards,

Robby Schwarz and the EnergyLogic Team.

 

Fact:  Energy efficient homes sell faster and for more.

________________________________________

Letting a Home’s Utility Analysis Drive the Audit

DSCN0902

I’ll admit, when I first began auditing I performed the obligatory utility info analysis on a home as a required part of the audit without reading into it. I printed the graphs, handed the sheets to the homeowner, explained a couple things and moved on to testing and measuring insulation. Looking back I realize how naive that was. Right before me was a great tool not being utilized, the utility bill! The one day, I handed over the keys and let the utility info take the wheel of my audit instead of the other way around.

The first step was realizing how useful it could be.  I had a day, an audit, an example, that opened my eyes.  I walked into the homeowner interview and asked, “Why the audit?” They responded with “Increased utility bills over the past 18 months and a warm house in the summer.”  I assumed I’d be looking for the usual suspects.  Then I entered the utility room, knelt down in front of the water heater and observed a recirculating pump.  I’ve seen this before so I asked the homeowner when it was installed.  The answer was less than two years ago. His plumber told him that the recirculating pump would help to make the house more efficient.  I suppose this may have reduced water run time while waiting for warm water to reach the shower, but this wasn’t evident on the utility bills.

While putting together the report it hit me like a bug splatting on the windshield.  It was right there in front of me before I even knocked on the front door.  I saw an increase in water heating energy use following the install of the new water heater.  The increased water heating load added another small monthly amount to bills. Then I pulled out my infrared camera and began pointing it at interior walls.  Low and behold I was looking at warm wall cavities where the plumbing lines ran through the house.  During the summer this warmed the house and caused the air conditioning to run more.  With tiered rates in place during the peak use summer months this bumped up the bills even more.

Now, we haven’t emptied the tank getting more insight from the utility bills just yet.  It turns out they are extremely useful when prioritizing recommended improvements and creating a simple return on investment.  I’ve learned that most homeowners equate efficiency with lower utility bills. You can’t ignore this when making recommendations.  Take for instance; installing a high efficiency furnace when the heating energy use is already low.  If they don’t currently spend much money heating the house this will make the payback stretch further out.  It’s hard to save 20%-30% on heating bills when your BTU’s per square foot are already low.

It’s best not to lose sight of one of the reasons we are in the house to begin with… to lower utility bills. Although there are many other components to a Home Efficiency Audit, they all need to fit together nicely to produce optimal results.

Brad Smith epic.0013

 

  • Brad Smith
  • EnergyLogic Rater and Auditor

I’ve Scheduled My Chemotherapy, Now I’m Off to get a Doctors Opinion.

My neighbor, “Bob”, invited us over for a beer to proudly tell me how he had signed up to have an energy audit performed on his home and he recognized our company name, EnergyLogic.  The reason for the audit?  His surgical patientenergy bills have been very high and he has decided to get solar installed; the audit will qualify him for some additional rebates.

I couldn’t resist … “Tell me a little bit about what you’re getting done?” I asked him.  He was very excited to describe how helpful the solar company had been to do all the work to analyze his bills, design a system to meet his current needs, do all the paperwork for the federal rebate (that went directly to them to help reduce the cost of the system) and to work out all the financing with the utility that would bring his average electric bills down from $250/month to a fixed rate of only $180 … for the next 40 years.

I tried not to sigh too loudly or garner the stink-eye from my wife, but I just had to ask, “So, what are the putting in?”

“A 16kW system,” he replied.  “Just 4kW short of commercial grade.”  He seemed almost proud, as if the solar sales person had convinced him this was a good thing.

“Seriously?”

“Yup.”

Ugh … here comes the stink-eye.  I’d better hold my tongue.

Bob’s a pretty smart guy – he owns his own business, he has an engineering degree and I’ve always found him to be pretty thoughtful about things.  However, this seems like signing up for chemotherapy because you aren’t feeling well, and then making the appointment to see your doctor.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against solar (or chemotherapy) – when it makes sense, but to go down that path without first having a full check-up performed seems a bit ill-considered.  I can’t fault Bob so much, I think he was duped by one of the less scrupulous solar sales people.  After all, why would they recommend an audit before they did the specifications for the system and had a signature on the dotted line?  What if they lost the sale?

I can understand after-the-fact audits (to qualify for rebates) in situations like a furnace that has stopped working or some other time-sensitive event.  But it still baffles me that utilities and others allow such expensive and questionable work to be performed and the homeowner will still qualify for the rebates before having an audit performed.

Back to Bob – With such an investment already underway I tried to choose my words carefully.  I told him our auditors could probably make some additional efficiency recommendations he should consider.  They would likely help decrease his actual energy use whereas the solar system was merely controlling the cost.  Unfortunately, my genteel way of saying, “You did this backwards,” was not lost on Bob and I could see the look of dread on his face.  On the bright side, I enjoyed the free beer and at least for a moment, Bob wasn’t too mad.  What else can you do?

Lorey_ArticlePic

 

Will Lorey
COO
EnergyLogic, Inc.