THE GREEN HOUSE
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Frank Igno, who is selling his home at 520 Lunalilo Home Road #520 in the Hawaii Kai peninsula, shows off his garage with the epoxied floor that he did himself so it would be easy to maintain and keep clean since his daughter has allergies. The garage also has a ceiling vent to keep the temperature relatively low. CLICK FOR LARGE
Hawaii Kai homeowner has a green thumb
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Frank Igno doesn't have a money tree in the backyard of his Hawaii Kai peninsula home, but the property's green features make it seem that way to many of the buyers that have visited.
Igno's home, in one of Hawaii's luxury zip codes, boasts environmentally friendly extras such as dense fiberglass insulation, tinted and double-paned windows, a split-level, air-conditioning system, a water heater with a timer, a water conservation outdoor sprinkler system and toilets with small tanks. The upgrades raised construction costs, but Igno said that they have since paid for themselves.
"The high cost of living in Hawaii motivated me to upgrade," Igno said. "My neighbors spend an average of $350 to $500 a month on utilities, but I only average about $140. It was about the money first, but being green has been great."
In his quest to live green and reduce his cost of living, Igno inadvertently hit on one of the hottest trends in residential real estate. Once buyers wanted palatial homes with tons of square footage that boasted huge kitchens, bathrooms and great rooms and lawns with in-ground sprinkler systems, but increasing fuel costs have made energy efficiency more attractive.
Charles Lockwood, an environmental and real estate consultant in Southern California, has even gone so far as to say that after the deflation of the bubble, green homes will be the next big news on the housing front.
"There is a growing home-buying embrace of green homes and I think the shift in the market, which we are just at the start of, will have a substantial impact on the houses that are built in the coming years and start to impact property values," he said. "I don't think non-green homes are going to fall in value, but they won't perform as well as the green market."
That's been true for Igno who has seen his green upgrades morph into some of the home's prime selling features, he said.
"When we show the house, I emphasize all of its green features," Igno said, adding that buyers have remarked on how cool the home stays despite its high thermostat setting. Others have noticed that the tinted windows block the sun, reducing ultraviolet rays and preserving the home's furnishings. But the pile of utility bills that Igno proudly displays is what really gets attention from would-be buyers.
"They can't believe how low they are," he said. The awe and skepticism aren't out of line given that the U.S. Green Building Council has estimated that residential heating and cooling comprise 20 percent of the total energy use for the United States.
A summer push from the U.S. Green Building Council introducing the LEED for Homes program will define a green residential standard for home builders and home buyers and also is expected to further expand consumer demand for green in residential real estate circles, Lockwood said.
ALLISON SCHAEFERS / ASCHAEFERS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Howard Dinits, left, a Puna-based Realtor who specializes in the green real estate market and drives a biodiesel car, talks with client Jay Winslett, who lives in a $279,000 high-tech green house surrounded by ohia trees, ornamentals and fruit trees. CLICK FOR LARGE
LEED, which stands for leadership in energy and environmental design, is the recognized standard for measuring building sustainability.
"There is going to be a massive green renovation boom," he said. And, it will be positive for the environment, Lockwood said.
There's no doubt that green is becoming the buzz in Hawaii's residential real estate industry, said Jim Wright, president and chief executive for Century 21 All Islands, which sold over a billion dollars of real estate last year.
"Half the people don't understand what it means to be green yet, but they'll favor it because it has lower power consumption and costs less," Wright said.
While demand for green has been slower to build in Hawaii than other real estate markets, Wright said that his 450 agents have seen requests for environmentally conscious properties grow.
"Three years ago not a big deal, but today it has become important," Wright said, adding that the plethora of older inventory in Hawaii's residential real estate market combined with rising fuel costs have made buyers more appreciative of green elements.
Greater awareness of global warming will maintain the greening trend, he said.
"China is sucking up fuel like a sponge and the competition for oil is getting more and more fierce," Wright said. "Global warming is catching a lot of attention so this is one of those issues that probably won't die down with the flavor of the week."
Here to date, the greatest challenge to the spread of green homes has been lack of knowledge, he said. Historically, home buyers and renters haven't demanded green because they didn't understand it, Lockwood said. However, with the arrival of the new LEED for Homes program, U.S. home buyers and renters will be better positioned to define green and to demand it, he said.
While some naysayers think green is too expensive for the U.S. residential market to sustain and that only hippies or techno-savvy rich people live in green homes, the truth is green homes are now being constructed for every income level in every location, Lockwood said. Here in Hawaii, both Dowling Co. and Maui, Land & Pineapple Co. are constructing green residential projects on Kauai and Maui. And, clients of Ferraro Choi and Associates Ltd. are demanding green on every island.
"Residential markets -- and buyer and renter preferences -- are beginning to shift," Lockwood said. "More and more builders are constructing green homes in the U.S., Europe, Australia and many Asian nations."
Howard Dinits, a Puna-based Realtor who specializes in the green real estate market and drives a biodiesel car, said Hawaii's always had a green market, but that it was smaller in the past.
"Before, I was kind of labeled a kook," Dinits said. "Now, Re-Max is saying green is the hottest thing in real estate."
While there is a more definable percentage of Hawaii buyers who want to buy green, it's still a pioneering movement, Dinits said. And, there's quite a range as to how green folks want to live, he said.
"The demand is there but it hasn't totally hit," he said. "Many of my clients want to live off-grid, but a lot of people still want dishwashers and air conditioners in their home."
Still, Hawaii buyers have become very conscious of green features in the last few years, said Jerry Frederick, principal broker and owner of Century 21 Aloha Properties, which opened in 1989. Given two properties are exactly the same, green features will help sell a home, he said.
"It makes a difference," he said. "I've seen that happen."