Help People See the Unseen with a Home Certification

Help People See the Unseen with a Home Certification

Energy-efficient upgrades provide plenty of benefits to homeowners, but they are mostly invisible. Find out how a home certification can change that.

Whether a home was built above-code to meet voluntary standards (such as an ENERGY STAR Certified Home or LEED home) or renovated to incorporate “green” or high-performing homes (HPH) features (such as heat pumps or upgraded air sealing and insulation), you might think that would be something to highlight to potential buyers. 

Unfortunately, that is far from the industry norm. Most high-performing homes’ features and benefits are not understood—and therefore completely ignored—in the real estate marketplace.

As one illustration of that problem, the team at Pearl Certification analyzed listing information of homes that were certified under the National Green Building Standard (NGBS) and were subsequently resold (e.g., the initial homebuyer selling to a homebuyer). Would the listing highlight the value of the NGBS certification, and all the associated benefits such as enhanced energy efficiency, indoor air quality and comfort?  They found… virtually nothing. 

Of the 226 homes that were found to have been resold, three-quarters of the listings had no mention at all of the home’s HPH features. The remaining quarter of homes still left most of the home’s HPH features invisible, but at least there was some mention of an ENERGY STAR appliance or that a “green” Multiple Listing Service (MLS) field had been filled out.

“There was plenty of information about granite counters and hardwood floors, but almost none of those high-performance homes mentioned the NGBS certification or even energy efficiency,” says Casey Murphy, senior vice president of Quality and Standards at Pearl Certification, a company that provides residential certification for high-performance homes as well as education about home upgrades and access to a vetted network of contractors. “Our tagline is ‘we make value visible,’ which means that we want to demonstrate what makes a high-performing home better in terms of comfort, indoor air quality, and your wallet.”

A “Living Certification” Solution

Pearl-Gold-Certification-Report-1775-Denison-Rd-H-007630_zgwrs9_Page_01_(1)Pearl provides builders, real estate agents, lenders, contractors, appraisers, and homeowners, buyers and sellers with education and information about the value of various green upgrades.

“We’re a ‘living certification’ program that can be updated as the homeowner adds energy-efficient and high-performance assets to their homes. As they do, they ascend in our tiered certification system and can earn ‘badges’ for upgrades, such as a Solar badge when they add solar power or an Electrified Home badge when they upgrade to an all-electric house,” Murphy says. 

“We don’t compete with other green certification programs such as NGBS, LEED, HERS, ENERGY STAR or Net Zero Ready,” Murphy says. “In fact, we often integrate those ratings and labels into our certification materials. In that way, we can be seen as a ‘Carfax’ or a diary for the home. And when the home is sold, we are a Rosetta Stone, translating the home’s certified features into benefits that home buyers, agents, and appraisers can understand and use in their respective decision-making processes.”

Pearl Certification is available on newly built homes as well as existing homes with documentation to support their high-performance features. 

“Most new construction homes typically meet Silver or Gold level Pearl Certification through our points-based system,” Murphy says. “We also have Platinum Certification that reflects a home in which all the systems and appliances have been installed to work together for maximum performance and resilience.”

Beyond certification, Pearl’s goal is to show homeowners that they can make incremental improvements so they don’t have to live with high energy bills, an upstairs that’s too hot or a basement that’s musty and cold, Murphy says. In addition, Pearl educates homeowners about the potential return on investment for upgrading their home with energy efficient improvements. 


Opening the Green Door

While some homes earn their Pearl Certification from the builder, in other cases, contractors and real estate agents work with homeowners to fulfill requirements. In addition, homeowners can sign up on the Green Door website or download the free mobile app from Google Play or the App store to learn about the program.

“Green Door provides education to homeowners and rewards them for steps they take to improve the energy efficiency of their homes,” Murphy says. “If their goal is to get to Net Zero, we can help them get there, but if not, we’re also able to help them see which improvements might work for them.”

Homeowners can provide information about their home through the app and receive investment ideas, data, and education based on the goals they set. They receive points for projects as they’re completed.

“We wanted to gamify the process to incentivize homeowners, so they earn points based on building science,” Murphy says. “For example, we know that air sealing a house is more impactful than buying a new dishwasher, so things like insulation and air sealing earn more points.”

In addition to energy efficiency, homeowners can learn about indoor air quality, increasing their comfort in the home and making their home more resilient to climate change and natural disasters. 

“We’re a conduit for information and to connect real estate professionals and homeowners, but we’re not in the home,” Murphy says. “We can give homeowners a list of what we know and help them prioritize tasks, but for more actionable, granular information they need a qualified professional in their home. We can connect them with someone to do an energy audit on their home and to our network of qualified contractors.”

While homeowners can work with their own contractors if they prefer, they’ll need to provide extensive documentation to earn points towards a Pearl Certification. 

"We want to be just like Carfax except for your home, which is a lot easier if you work with a vetted contractor who can provide the details we need,” Murphy says. “If you install a new SEER 16 air conditioner, we can get the model number and details from you, but we can’t say whether it was properly designed and installed for your home without knowing the contractor’s qualifications and processes.”

The Green Door app also includes a rebate and tax credit search to help consumers find financial support for their projects. If a homeowner completes a project that is eligible for a tax credit, Pearl sends them a reminder with documentation to share with their tax preparer early the following year in time for filing taxes. 

A maintenance tracker on the app keeps homeowners up to date. Homeowners can upload manuals and other documents related to their home.

Pearl Certification for Sellers and Listing Agents

Among the many reasons Pearl was created is that the founders saw that in the commercial real estate world buildings that achieved LEED certification were more highly valued than those without LEED certification. 

“On the residential side, homeowners could spend $20,000 on upgrades but not see that reflected in their valuation,” Murphy says. “We work with real estate agents and appraisers to differentiate high performance homes.”

Two appraiser-led studies have found that Pearl-certified homes sell for 3% to 5% more than homes without energy efficient upgrades. These two studies build on other industry studies that show a price premium for high-performing homes.

Pearl completes the Appraisal Institute's Green and Energy Efficient Addendum for each home that earns a Pearl Certification, as well as letters to the homebuyer, lender, and appraiser, helping appraisers understand the physical and economic characteristics of the property so they can take them into consideration when forming their opinion of value. 

For real estate agents, Pearl offers a marketing package with each home certification, so agents can showcase these listings' high-value, energy-efficient features to potential buyers and appraisers. Additionally, membership in Pearl's complimentary Real Estate Network grants agents access to specialized training and resources on energy-efficient homes and helps them navigate the market shift towards sustainable homes.

The Green Door app is free for homeowners, who only pay for the work done on their homes. Listing agents pay a small fee if they want a home certified, and contractors pay a fee to be vetted for the Pearl Certification program.