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RISMEDIA, March 2, 2007-(MCT)-The Portland area's most comprehensive real estate database went live with a feature Tuesday designed to help Realtors identify and sell homes with environmentally friendly features.

The change comes as good news for home buyers who want a "green" home, and for sellers who want to add eco-friendly panache to their sales pitches. Realtors also are hoping the change will help push up prices-and commissions-for some abodes listed in their Regional Multiple Listing Service.

"Green and energy-efficient features have emerged as some of the most important and sought-after by buyers in the RMLS service area," said Beth Murphy, chief executive of the listing service. "With the help of their Realtors, sellers will now be able to market these features in their homes and home buyers will be able to pinpoint homes with those features."

The Portland effort is by far the largest in the nation and has already led others on the West Coast to follow along, said Steve Baden, executive director of Residential Energy Services Network in Oceanside, California.
"What's most significant is that appraisers use the MLS to make their market-based appraisals," Baden said. "That will serve to increase the market value of energy-efficient homes."

Earth Advantage, a Portland nonprofit behind most single-family home green certifications granted in Oregon and Southwest Washington, said this week that it is already starting discussions with appraisers, mortgage lenders and insurance companies over how to take advantage of the new service.

"There's a lot that's come out of the RMLS listing push," said Sean Penrith, Earth Advantage's executive director.

Among the possibilities that could come from the ability to search in the RMLS system, he said:

– Appraisers will be able to compare homes sold with and without certain features, to see which ones make the most difference in a home's sales price.
– With appraisal and energy cost savings information, mortgage lenders will be more willing to write loans that give home buyers better terms.
– Insurance providers may devise products that give credit for properties that have increased resistance to mold intrusion and other construction-related problems that many of the certification programs address.

News of the Portland effort has prompted agencies in Seattle, Bend, Southern Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area to start developing standards, Penrith said.

The change in Portland was initiated by Kria Lacher, an agent with Meadows Group Inc. Realtors.

Since the RMLS board agreed to the change last fall, Lacher said she has been helping listing services elsewhere make the same changes. "I'm really excited about this," she said.

Portland's RMLS offers consumers a Web site that allows them to search for homes based by price and zip code, among other criteria.

But RMLS members are allowed far more detailed searches and can input data. Realtors point to such access when arguing for their commissions and services.

There is little data on whether consumers are willing to pay more for energy efficiency and environmentally friendly features. Karl E. Sayles, an appraiser with Darty Appraisal Service in Melrose, Fla., said he compared the sales in a subdivision before they started using the Energy Star system and after they started using it.

The developer charged $1,500 for Energy Star features but they were valued at $4,000, he found in his analysis of about 20 sales.

Sayles said he brings up the issue to Gainesville-area Realtors and it goes over like a lead balloon. They've resisted adding such features to the listing service, he said.

"I think they'd have trouble unloading the inventory that wasn't Energy Star," he said. "I don't mean to trash the Realtors, but they're just out for a buck."

More than 1,000 Portland-area real estate agents have already asked Earth Advantage for more information and expressed interest in continuing education on the programs, Penrith said. The new search capability and Realtors' response has prompted the nonprofit to design a curriculum to educate agents, appraisers and lenders on green building.

"We've just got a flood of inquiries of people wanting to book us for the sessions," Penrith said.

For homes that a Realtor describes as under construction, new or proposed, the Web site has a pop-up menu that displays green building certification programs.

In other areas of the site, Realtors can for the first time select other green features, such as solar power, cork flooring or a 90-percent efficient furnace.

When searching for homes in the database, Realtors can search either for homes certified by one of the green programs or for any home with any of the certifications.

Copyright © 2007, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.