Just out of curiosity, Libby decided to look for green homes being sold in Melbourne at the moment. Call it a bit of market research done with a simple website search. What are the green features on these dwellings? How do the homes compare with our design?
The results were interesting to say the least.
Hard to search for green homes in Domain.com.au.
First cab off the rank was the Domain.com.au website. We couldn’t find a search option that specifically identified sustainable design features.
Using “sustainable” as a key word was our attempt to tease out any relevant advertisements.
The featured property from this search was a vacant block of land which we assumed could be developed as part of a sustainable lifestyle.
Rightio, not a good start to the investigation. It’s not easy to find sustainably designed dwellings on Domain.com.au. It seems the website designers rely on vendors putting key words into their sales pitch and then informed buyers knowing the right keywords to use in order to locate suitable properties. Seems a bit hit and miss.
Better luck with RealEstate.com.au.
For our next search, we tried another popular website – RealEstate.com.au.
This looked more promising as we could search for specific green features. It’s a list, but not a great list. The website designers know that dwellings are given an efficiency rating, but they aren’t explicit. Since all new homes must meet a minimum 6 Star NatHERS rating, does this mean the Energy efficiency rating – Low (not shown on this screen shot) is a dwelling that complies with the standard. What does a Medium or High rating mean? Our homes are 8.4 Stars so is that a High rating on this website?
What did we find when searching Melbourne for a dwelling with solar panels, a water tank and a Medium rating?
Perhaps there is more to this property than the blurb indicates. For a place with eco-friendly features, we were expecting to see more than a statement about complying with the 6 Star rating, rainwater harvesting and solar powered lighting.
Sadly, our quick survey agrees with the results presented in a recent article about looking for an energy efficient home in Greater Melbourne. Less than 5% of the advertisements for Melbourne dwellings listed sustainable design features.
What can be done to correct this situation?
Add NatHERS and BESS ratings to the websites.
First, update the websites so vendors can provide specific information about the green features.
Let’s get specific with the NatHERS rating. When listing a new house, give the vendor a simple choice. Either they tick a box to say the home is compliant with the 6 Star minimum or take an option to list a higher rating that reflects a greater emphasis on sustainable design. New homes could then be grouped according to a NatHERS range (eg 8 to 9). Including this data on the listing means potential buyers can easily compare relative efficiencies.
But, energy efficiency isn’t the be all and end all of sustainable design.
To get an overall view, buyers need to see the Built Environment Sustainability Scorecard (BESS) rating. Although relatively new, this rating is becoming increasingly common. Nineteen Melbourne Councils already subscribe to BESS and some require the rating as part of the planning permit process. BESS covers a broad range of sustainable design features – energy, transport options, waste, urban ecology, stormwater, etc.
Like the NatHERS rating, there is a minimum requirement with a score of 50% being an effective pass. Anything above 70% is defined as excellence in design. Again, website designers should add a section where the vendor provides the BESS rating. The listing shows either compliance with the 50% minimum or a higher figure. When inspecting a property, potential buyers can ask to see the BESS report to find out exactly how the score was calculated.
Lift the profile of sustainability features.
Second, give users the option to search for sustainably designed homes anywhere in a particular region (eg all Melbourne suburbs). The current arrangement is to select a location, then choose options for properties in that area. Making sustainability a higher priority is an attractive option for buyers who want to quickly identify suitable dwellings irrespective of the location.
How might this help with a search for green homes?
Making specific NatHERS and BESS ratings standard inputs on real estate websites would immediately assist buyers who are familiar with the concepts. It would also help consumers easily spot differences between the green credentials of new homes on the market.
Buyers who aren’t yet aware of the relevance of this information begin to be educated by reading the more informative descriptions. Provide a question mark next to the rating numbers. This takes readers to a short explanation of what the NatHERS and BESS numbers say about the dwelling’s sustainability credentials.
Now it’s over to the real estate websites.
I’ve sent Domain.com.au and RealEstate.come.au a summary of our recommendations. We’re waiting on a reply.