Monday, May 21, 2007

Q: I enjoyed the ten week class you sponsored on sustainable/green building and remodeling.

All the speakers were interesting and some were really excellent. I'm left with some confusion about how to determine which "green" elements I want to incorporate into my remodel project. There were so many things to decide and so many products to choose from that I feel overwhelmed. Any ideas where to start???

A: The BuiltGreen checklist is the best place to begin your process. There is a check list for building, and one for remodeling. Look for the checklist on the BuiltGreen website ( and review the whole list. You can work with their point system to help you make choices on your project.
Like so many decisions involving real estate, it's all about trade-offs. The point system lets you choose from a menu of options. By looking at those options, you can get an idea of what works for you, and what professionals recommend to create a healthier, more energy efficient home.
   Let's take an example: Upgrading to a high efficiency water heater is worth 7 points on the BuiltGreen list. But, let's say you really don't want to spend money on that right now. Instead, you can gain up to 5 points for converting your lighting to compact flourescent bulbs; a much less expensive choice. Then, by installing a front-loading or an Energy Star rated washing machine, you can earn an additional 3 points.
   You may be hoping to convert to solar power one day using photovoltaic panels. That can get you 25 green points! But, if that's not in your budget right now, you can gain that same 25 points by replacing carpet (which can have a high level of toxicity) with non-toxic materials such as sustainably-harvested wood floors.
   I also recommend you consider using salvaged materials. There are several stores in the area that offer some beautiful materials at very low prices.
Green remodeling and building address issues of health, site preparation, materials choice, lifestyle changes, and design elements. Get to know these issues using the BuiltGreen list, and then choose what works best for your project.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Q: We are in the middle of buying a house and just got finished with the inspection.

There were several things that needed fixing. The seller prefers to just reduce the price by the amount they think it would take to fix things, but we’re not sure that’s a good choice. We are working with an off-Island real estate agent who says we should ask for an allowance to cover the costs instead. What do you suggest?
I have a preference for having the work done and the seller paying for it prior to closing. I have been doing this long enough to have sold a few houses more than once. It’s always distressing to find that the same repairs that were needed a few years ago are still not completed because the buyers took a price reduction or an allowance and didn’t do the work. It also means that what might have been a minor fix years ago is now a major expense.
The agent involved realizes that, in most cases, his commission will be reduced by a price reduction so that may be why he is lobbying for an allowance. The allowance may be a good idea if it reflects the true cost of the repairs but without bids from professionals who can do the work, neither you nor the seller has any idea how much it will cost. You could take an allowance or a price reduction and then find that the repairs cost twice that much.
I would suggest trying to negotiate having the seller do any major repair work before closing and then offering you an allowance for the smaller stuff that you can do after closing. Keep in mind that some repairs could be called out by the appraiser in which case someone has to pay to have the work done before the bank will close on the sale. Then the most important thing….do the repairs!