ASHEVILLE - After the Great Recession put the brakes on the drive toward high-end housing, an emerging green trend has put new life into Asheville's real estate market.
(Photo: Erin Brethauer, firstname.lastname@example.org )
Green building accounts for about half of the new home construction underway inside the city limits -- 25 certified green homes out of 59 new single family projects. West Asheville is even hotter for green building -- eight of the last 13 home projects that sold and closed in the past six months were certified green.
"If you're a builder in West Asheville, you should build it green," said Mary Love, a Realtor for Keller Williams, who chairs the board of the WNC Green Building Council.
Green homes are still a fraction of the total Buncombe County market, where some 1,300 homes, mostly existing, are up for sale. But builders, real estate professionals and others are seeing an edge for a home that's certified to be energy-efficient, conserves water, pollutes less into the atmosphere and has better indoor air quality.
These homes aren't just advertized as having green features, but are specially inspected and certified along a long checklist that includes technical and specific guidelines requiring more insulation, tighter windows and doors, more efficient heating and cooling systems, even the landscaping outside to prevent runoff.
"Going green makes it a lot easier to sell. Green used to be a special category. At this point, you're at a disadvantage if you don't build green," said Mike Figura of Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty and board treasurer for the Green Building Council.
A focus on green building has given an edge to builders and real estate professionals as consumers started looking at smaller, quality-built homes that will save them money on power bills.
While many builders and brokers focused on high-end properties before the financial meltdown of 2008 and the collapse of the housing market nationwide, many did not survive, Figura said.
"But green building held its value better, and many consumers saw it as a hedge against another downturn, even though they were paying a little more upfront," he said.
Green certification sells
To be listed in the Asheville Multiple Listing Service as green, a new home needs to be certified as North Carolina Green Built.
Formerly known as the NC HealthyBuilt program administered through the N.C. Solar Center, the program shifted to the WNC Green Building Council two years ago after the center lost its funding in state budget cuts.
For a fee around $1,200, a third-party appraiser will come in and test a house for energy-efficiency, going through a long checklist that looks at insulation in the walls and attic, tighter windows and doors, more efficient heating and cooling system, water conservation, landscaping and site selection as well as Energy Star-rated appliances.
That additional fee more than pays for itself in the re-sale value of the home over time, as well as saving the homeowner on heating and cooling bills, said Figura.
Green homes sold for a median price of $198 per square foot in the past 12 months in Asheville, compared to $175 per square foot for conventional homes.
Asheville's reputation for green homes extends nationwide. Love hears Asheville mentioned in the top five cities like Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., where green homes have gone mainstream in the housing market.
With relatively low inventory and the desirable location of urban Asheville, green homes are moving fast and at higher prices than green homes out in Buncombe County. Part of the cost comes with higher prices for the relatively few lots left in the city for new construction.
West Asheville leads way
Green fits with the urban ethic of Asheville as more consumers are looking to walk or bike to work, shop or dine out. And West Asheville is the epicenter for the green boom given the recent construction starts, according to developer James Boren.
"West Asheville is teaching Asheville about green, and Asheville has embraced it. Asheville is going to teach the rest of the Southeast, Charlotte and Charleston and Florida," Boren said. "Green is going to be the norm for all new construction in the next 10 years."
Boren got his start as a builder in Charleston, S.C., often working on high-end custom homes in the Low Country and in Florida. Over the past 25 years, he's built about 100 structures, but he decided to change his focus when he moved to Asheville about five years ago.
With his Green Earth Developments, Boren has about 18 green projects ongoing around Asheville. He's working closely with building contractor Beach Hensley, who's gone exclusively green in his construction in the past decade.
"We're seeing a demographic who are seeking it out. They are looking not just to save on their utility bills, but they like the satisfaction of helping the planet," Boren said on the porch of an unusually green cottage he remodeled on Norbeth Avenue.
Boren layered the shingle roof with containers of sedum, a hearty green plant that creates a no-fuss a green roof with plenty of insulation in both winter and summer
Next door, Hensley's workers are framing up another home for Boren, tucking a well-designed home on a footprint to save some mature hardwoods. Boren doesn't see much point in clear-cutting a lot to then put a green home.
That green sensibility extends not just in the house, but the whole construction process. Boren runs his trucks on compressed natural gas, trying to cut down on his carbon footprint. "It's part of our responsibility," he said.
For Hensley, "sensibly crafted homes" makes more sense as a tag-line as green becomes more common and building codes require higher grade insulation and less duct leakage.
And more consumers are seeing "green" as synonymous with "quality," since most green homes will boast granite counter tops and tile in the kitchen, hardwood flooring and other amenities.
While many designs will incorporate passive solar features such as windows and skylights for heating and light, green homes don't necessarily feature solar power. Tax credits go to homeowners rather than builders who leave it to a buyer to add solar panels.
A green home means smarter construction with higher insulation and tighter envelopes that keep heat from escaping the house in winter, or cooler air in summer, while letting in ample fresh air and plenty of light. There's also a focus on building materials that aren't toxic or omit any noxious smells or chemicals.
Locally sourced hardwood harvested from Western North Carolina forests also counts since less gas is burned to haul the wood to the site.
"The main reason for people to buy green is the energy efficiency, but there are a lot of buyers 50 years and up who are looking for better indoor air quality," Love said.
Green can cover a range of architectural styles from modern to more traditional arts and crafts. Hensley's finding a ready market for homes prices at $350, 000 up to $500,000.
But as more people want a green home in an Asheville neighborhood, demand is not keeping up and prices are starting to rise. "It's hard to find a green home for $350,000" Figura said.
While mortgages are standardized for homes, Figura said banks have become more willing in recent years to finance green builders, seeing how well the product has been moving.
"Green is not a fad. It's here's to stay in Asheville."
Green homes are certified in North Carolina through the WNC Green Building Council's NC Green Built Program
Green Homes certified to date in WNC: 863
561 of those are in Buncombe County, of which about 400 are in the city limits.
There are 120 Green Built homes in progress.
-Both the City of Asheville and the Town of Black Mountain offer permit fee rebates for certified homes.
85 percent of the state's Green Built certifications are in Western North Carolina.