There’s a great discussion going on in the Twitter-verse today about solar-powered technology and the value it can add to real estate.
I wrote a story about the solar trend in September, which is very timely – especially in light of the president’s seemingly renewed push for green energy that was touted in his inaugural address this week.
Here is a re-posting the story that ran on LoHud.com Sept. 29….
“I’m looking forward to getting my first bill.”
This seemingly absurd statement was made recently by Gerry Angel, a local real estate broker with Keller-Williams in White Plains, who just moved back into her Holbrooke Road home after transforming it into a “green” paradise.
She fitted the home with energy-efficient amenities, from recyclable mahogany furniture and eco-friendly artwork to a state-of-the art lawn irrigation system that uses only rain water and genetically altered “No-Mow” grass that stops growing at a certain length so gas-guzzling lawn mowers don’t need to be used.
But Angel’s favorite amenities are the ones that keep her energy costs down, particularly the 32 solar panels that cover the roof.
“A lot of it started with me getting angry at those oil bills,” she says. “It started with economics.”
During winter months, it used to cost more than $1,000 to heat her home, but now she expects the entire year’s worth of electricity to cost less than $1,000.
The trend is slowly catching on with Lower Hudson Valley homeowners as they continue to be squeezed by a weak economy and rising taxes and energy expenses.
Roger Van Tassell of Yonkers is one of these green customers who just had his home outfitted with 14 solar panels from a California company called Sunrun.
“It’s putting out like crazy,” Van Tassell says. “It’s unbelievable.”
He paid $4,750 for a 20-year commitment with Sunrun, which installed the panels and will maintain them for the length of their contract. Under the terms of the deal, the company collects government incentives and uses them to reduce Van Tassell’s costs. Last month, he paid Con Ed $66, compared to last year’s $200 bill for the same month.
“It pays back in 4½ years,” he says. “I’m a happy camper right now.”
The installation took about three days, and some trees had to be trimmed because they were blocking the sun from the roof.
Susan Wise, a Sunrun spokeswoman, said these systems are ideal for roofs that face toward the south and cover at least 250 square feet, otherwise the panels might not generate enough power to make it cost-effective. The roofs also have to be in good condition and some surfaces, such as clay and nettled rooftops, make it difficult to install solar panels.
In addition to cutting their bills and helping the environment by going with solar power, Angel and Van Tassell are also betting that these eco-upgrades will be desired by future buyers.
“I think down the road the re-sale will be valuable,” Angel says, predicting that energy-efficiency will come standard in new homes over the next decade or two.
Van Tassell’s situation is a bit different because he doesn’t technically own the panels. He hosts the system for Sunrun in exchange for their electricity — an arrangement that could benefit the next owner of the house as well. “You have a home you could market with lower electricity bills and we can transfer the agreement to the new homeowner,” Wise says.
The Sunrun business model is poised to catch on in New York as well, following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent signing of a measure to benefit non-ownership solar users like Van Tassell, Wise says.
With new technologies and trends, though, comes more uncertainty in the market.
“Not that many houses offer these features so it’s hard to say how much they increase value,” Angel says. “I think the more people that buy with their pocketbooks, they’ll be looking for these features.”
But for now, the local housing market hasn’t seen much solar activity.
“We haven’t had many deals for houses with solar,” says Catherine Jarrett, a Sotheby’s agent on the Sound Shore and a member of the Rye Brook Board of Architectural Review. “It is very hard to judge … We’re still in the beginning.”
Some developers are turning toward a green program called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a standard for design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. The process of attaining LEED certifications, though, has become arduous and so loaded with red tape that many developers have opted to go green without the certification in a move that essentially bets that low electric costs are enough of a selling point by itself and that the government “LEED” label isn’t needed.
“Energy expenses are so high in this area,” Jarrett says. “If a house does have solar panels, it’s more acceptable … It would make a house a little more interesting to the purchaser.”
How much more someone would pay for a green house remains to be seen. Real estate in the Lower Hudson Valley is among the most unaffordable in the nation as it is, according to a recent national survey that compared quarterly homes sale prices to the area’s median salary.
Jarrett says the economic benefits of going solar are worth it, but it’s still a hard sell to get buyers on board. Even those in the industry have a tough time figuring out how much a green home is worth, Angel says.
“It becomes hard for appraisers to valuate,” Angel says. “They look at it as a renovation update as opposed to a green update.”
Hopefully, Angel says, the appraisal process will change, and green modifications — particularly cost-savings ones such as solar panels — will add value to local real estate.