Real Estate Market Sees Solar in a New Light

By Matthew Wheeland - February 25, 2011

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Once considered an eyesore by the real estate market, solar panels are now becoming a hot commodity. An influential study by NREL (National Renewable Energy Lab) caught everyone’s’ attention last year when it found that homes with solar panels sold 20 percent faster than non-solar homes and fetched a 17 percent higher asking price. Update, April 2011: New research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also finds strong evidence that homes with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems sell for a premium over homes without solar systems. Click here to read more about the Lawrence Berkeley study, or click “Read the rest of this entry” below for more about the overall trend.

One very simple reason for the trend is that more U.S. homeowners have solar panels now, so the effect is just easier to observe. Until recently, the percentage of solar homes was just too small to tell what impact, if any, solar panels had on home buying patterns. Now,  in states like California and New Jersey (where solar incentives are strong) there are enough concentrations of residential solar installations to see a distinct pattern emerging.

Of course, if the U.S. ever adopts a national feed-in tariff like the one responsible for mass solar adoption in Germany, solar panels will be as common as water heaters and probably no longer much of a tipping point in home buying. Right now, however, with soft home sales and the market flooded with an oversupply of inventory, solar panels give a house rock star status. And it isn’t just the feel-good, environmental side of solar that creates this effect. In a down economy, a home with no monthly utility bill attached has major appeal.

But do realtors know how to really sell a solar home yet? They’re learning quickly, says Ecobroker International, a national network of green-minded real estate agents. The Colorado-based organization provides online certification courses on green home improvements to real estate professionals and so far, they’ve certified over 1,700 agents. Local and state level programs, too, are springing up in states as diverse as North Carolina, Oregon, and Arizona.

In fact, green home improvements are such a selling point for homes now, they may start to take on school district-like levels of prominence in realtors’ conversations with clients. The average U.S. homeowner spends about $1200 on grid power per year (about $100 a month), so when a real estate agent mentions a home has an electrical bill of $2.20 per month, that becomes a selling point on par with outdoor fireplaces, hot tubs, and low taxes.

Or better yet, how making money from solar? In states with SREC programs like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, solar panels actually generate income for homes, and prospective buyers inherit that income when they buy. The average New Jersey solar household makes between $5,000 and $7,000 a year just for having panels on the roof.

Looks like homes are not only becoming the next big green purchase for consumers (joining the ranks of other big ticket green purchases like electric cars and energy efficient appliances), but in particularly strong solar markets they may have long-term investment appeal as well.

Further Information: Video: “How Solar Panels Add Value to Your Home

By Dave Llorens

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