The benefits of an energy audit
WASHINGTON — It may be the best-kept secret in home real estate: For a couple of hundred dollars, a potential buyer can ask for a formal energy audit along with the standard inspection clause. That audit, in turn, can save the buyer thousands of dollars in future operating costs and pinpoint the specific features of the house that need to improve efficiency. It might also be a tipoff to a sobering reality: This house is an energy guzzler. Either the asking price comes down, the seller fixes the problems, or I walk.
Though energy audits have been available to consumers for years — the best known is "HERS" (Home Energy Rating System) — few in the real estate field promotes them to buyers. Of the 120,000 HERS audits completed last year in the country, according to experts, just 12,000 were done on existing houses — a trivial number in a market with 4.5 million resales. The rest were performed on newly built homes.
Since energy costs rank high on the list of ongoing expenses for many homeowners, and multiple studies have demonstrated that energy-efficiency renovations more than pay for themselves in utilities savings, why aren't more audits performed? Shouldn't buyers know about the operating costs of the houses they are bidding on? Shouldn't energy audit contingency clauses in purchase contracts be common?
Real estate agents who primarily list houses and represent sellers say buyers almost never ask for them. Nor do sellers, who prefer to avoid giving buyers ammunition to make lower offers during negotiations or demands for repairs before closing.
Leland DiMeco, owner and principal broker of Boston Green Realty LLC, said that although not all clients opt for an energy audit, "I do bring it to the table" with everyone. "It just makes sense. Most buyers want to feel comfortable that they've done their due diligence and know what they're getting."
Steve Baden, executive director of RESNET, the organization that trains and certifies inspectors for HERS audits, says that although the "adoption rate" on existing homes "has been low," builders of new homes have been enthusiastic. Forty percent of all new homes constructed in the United States now get HERS audits and scores, he said.
About 4,000 auditors are now certified to conduct HERS studies — they can be found along with information on contractors to do energy efficiency improvements at resnet.us. Equally important to homebuyers, said Baden: RESNET has negotiated agreements with two of the largest home inspection networks to begin offering lower-cost energy efficiency surveys and performance audits as add-ons to standard inspections. Once this becomes commonplace, there may be little need for separate contract contingencies for energy. Energy efficiency will just be part of the package.