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A smart, green, spring housing market

Corridor Inc
Catherine Hoffberger
May 2010

Not very long ago, it was the belief of many American consumers that bigger was better. Big meant luxury and luxury was king — the house with a Hummer in the driveway likely boasted a two-story foyer, and a 48-inch Sub-Zero refrigerator in the kitchen, all of it bought on credit.  Then came the great recession.  Those same luxury items that had symbolized success in 2007 became the very images of the conspicuous consumption that had driven the economy down the tubes.

Today, spring 2010, our economy is brightening again, including in the housing market.

“Clients today want to feel confident they’re not overspending or stretching their money too far,” said Columbia Realtor Cindi Arnold with Weichert Realty.  “They are concerned about financial uncertainty and want to be sure they’ll see a return on their investment.”

Arnold, who was one of Maryland’s first Eco Brokers (a certification earned from the Eco Broker Institute in Denver, Colo.), is delighted to hear clients ask about energy-efficient appliances, window and insulation quality, and heating and cooling options.  An environmentalist at heart, Arnold earned her certification three years ago but was disappointed to find her expertise overlooked.

“I marketed myself as a “green” broker, but virtually no one came to me,” she recalled.  “But now that has changed — clients are looking for ways to save money, and now they know more about energy efficiency.”

Five years ago, consumers all talked about big kitchens, granite and stainless steel.  Today, those materials have not lost their appeal, but consumers are more interested in making smart choices.

To Brad Rogers of Baltimore Green Construction, a trend toward smart choices is a trend towards green. “The best of green design is really just smart design — they want to maximize what they are putting into their homes. Maybe before they thought they couldn’t afford the better windows, but now, they have learned that better windows means increased energy efficiency.”

Rogers, who holds a law degree as well as a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University, began work as a general contractor, renovating Baltimore City homes with business partner Prescott Gaylord.  Their firm’s renovation of a Charles Village townhouse epitomizes smart design — a three-story staircase at the house’s center was left open, and capped with skylights. Light pours into the house, eliminating the need for lights to be turned on during the day.

“I like this project because rather than building it on open land, we took an existing building and gave it a new life.  Renovating, more than building, is an inherently responsible thing to do,” Rogers said.

Baltimore Green Construction is breaking ground later this year on the Glens at Guilford, a Howard County development so energy efficient the homes will produce utility bills 50 percent lower than traditional homes.

The design is so green, the project design is predicted to earn a LEED certification level of Silver, or possibly even Platinum, from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The entire philosophy is about high quality green design at a low cost,” Rogers said. “A home can function well, be stylish, have earth-friendly amenities and still be affordable.”

While the first priority for most homebuyers today is affordability, there are still consumers who are looking for a big house. Annapolis Realtor Kristi Neidhardt with Century 21 finds that big-house clients are looking for energy efficiency and for usable space.

“What we’re getting is a lot of curiosity from buyers,” she says.  “There’s some confusion over green and its many shades. The value of green shows in energy efficiency — people looking for small houses or big houses all want to know how their utilities will affect their wallet.”

Neidhardt, who, like Cindi Arnold, is an Eco broker, represents The Preserve at Severn Run in Gambrills.   “We want to eliminate the notion that green is ugly.  Green can be beautiful and grand,” Neidhardt said.

The Preserve at Severn Run’s model home is beautiful and grand — and green.  The stylish, roomy house uses the best of green materials, from Energy Star windows and appliances to a tankless water heater to locally harvested oak flooring. It was given the Emerald certification for green building — the highest designation ever in Maryland.

With the installation of the nation’s first coastal plains outfall system — a series of swails and holding ponds to help manage storm water — The Preserve has earned an Energy Star and National Association of Home Builders certification.

If the consumer’s drive to save money on utilities does lead to a green revolution in home buying, Baltimore City’s Westport Waterfront village will be ready to move to by the end of this decade.

The 50-acre Turner Development Group project will be a mixed-use green community, combining residential, retail and office spaces.

Eric Turner, whose recent Silo Point project in Baltimore was green in theory if not LEED certified, said: “Silo Point was a green project in the sense that we took a 15-acre wasteland and put it back to good use.”  The high-rise building’s chic apartments are popular with young professionals working in Baltimore and Washington. But Westport, is an opportunity for Turner to design from scratch.  “We’ll determine what materials we use and how to use them.  It’s our goal to achieve Platinum LEED distinction on the entire site and LEED certification on all of the buildings as well.”

Westport will offer 2,000 residential units, two hotels, 500,000 square feet of first-floor retail space, a grocery store and three million square feet of office space. Walking trails, bike trails and a Light Rail station will round out the offerings.

“Baltimore is seeing the return of businesses and a boost from BRAC,” Turner said. The 5 million square feet of green space, he believes, will be just what Marylanders will be looking for just a few years from now.

“I was not ever really an environmentalist,” Turner said.  “But I have learned how important it is to be environmentally conscious, especially in building.  I know this [green building] is the future, and this is our opportunity to bring it to Maryland."

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