REQUIRED READING: Here is the scenario: A homeowner spends $20,000 turning his home from an energy-sucking abode into an efficient, cost-savings oasis. This individual installs solar panels, ultra-efficient appliances, a tank-less water heater, energy-efficient windows and blinds, and paints the roof white. As a result, the property can now reap the rewards of almost no monthly utility bills while helping to improve the environment.
But what happens when the homeowner brings in an appraiser to value all of these new features? Do not be surprised if the appraiser tells the homeowner that the house isn't worth any more than what it was originally.
This scenario is happening more frequently as homeowners and builders ride the atmospheric green wave to make homes more energy-efficient. There is a big problem here: The mortgage industry has not yet caught up with the green wave. It is going to take the support of both the mortgage and appraisal industries to ensure energy efficiency is valuable to the market and not just to the homeowner.
Admittedly, this is still a relatively new trend. Thus, the cost of building green is relatively high, and to a certain extent, the cost outweighs the short-term benefits. The average cost of installing solar panels on a home is $35,000 – and with an average savings of $1,700 a year, it would take approximately 20 years to recoup the total cost.
Furthermore, due to the lack of comparable sales and unknown actual cost savings by appraisers, it would be relatively difficult to evaluate the home's energy efficiency. So what needs to be done to green up collateral valuations? There are several considerations that need to be addressed.
First, utility-bill data must be available on multiple listing services (MLS). Appraisers cannot take into account information they do not have. An MLS indicating a home is ‘green’ means nothing to appraisers, thus making it very difficult for them to make adjustments due to unknown information.
In most states, home sellers are required to put 12 months of utility bills in the addendum of the contract. Having this information available for the appraiser on the MLS would enable an apples-to-apples comparison of the subject's home and comparables. If a home that is ‘green’ has utility bills that total only $1,000 a year versus a typical house that averages $4,000 a year, an appraiser is able to make tangible adjustments and give tangible value to the home.
Next, mortgage-backed securities need to give better pricing to green homes. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) is a step in the right direction, but conventional lenders and the secondary market need to catch on. If lenders are concerned about the qualified residential mortgage requirements and the homeowner's ability to pay the mortgage on a monthly basis, they should also be concerned with the utility costs.
The principal-and-interest payments on home loans do not change month to month, but utility bills do. Depending on the harshness of the weather, these monthly bills can skyrocket.Â
Homeowners will default on their mortgage before they will have their heat or electricity cut off. Having homeowners with lower overall utility costs will make a significant impact on their monthly ability to pay the mortgage. For this reason, homes that are built with green items should get special pricing for being lower-risk. This would give homeowners an incentive to make the green upgrades – not only for a better mortgage product, but also monthly savings and a better environmental footprint.
Furthermore, the appraisal industry needs to recognize the benefits of green improvements. The appraisal industry is quick to adapt to what lenders want and require, but it will not make the first move to create the curve. The industry needs to ensure that the market has clearly recognized that there is tangible value in energy-efficient homes before value will be given to them.Â
Currently, there are no standards for valuing green homes. This makes it difficult to place a value on the property – after all, what are you comparing it to? Until the appraisers are supported with MLS information on recognized standards for the valuation of green homes and tangible evidence that the mortgage community places weight on green homes, appraisers will not be able to do anything.
Finally, green technology needs to be easily accessible to homeowners. Of course, this is outside of the control of lenders and appraisers, but it needs to be addressed. Energy-efficient technology is still fairly pricey, but over the next two to three years, it is likely that favorable price developments will be witnessed in solar power, solar thermal, geothermal and small wind solutions, as well as energy-efficient household appliances. If the price point is friendlier to the average homeowner's budget, more homeowners will adopt the green home solution.
None of this will happen overnight, of course, but it is coming down the road. Lenders and appraisers need to recognize that this issue needs to be resolved before tomorrow's solutions become more commonplace today.
Brian C. Coester is CEO of Coester Appraisal Group, based in Rockville, Md. He can be reached at (888) 485-1999.
(Photo courtesy of USPS)