Why do we keep making it so hard for people to get what they want?
If you haven’t read my piece from last week, take five minutes to scan it. It lays out one utility’s excellent approach to simplifying energy efficiency retrofits – making it easier for people to get what they want.
I got several comments, individually and in our blog forum, where folks pointed out that a straightforward, all-inclusive, good-better-best approach is what works best in terms of helping people see what they’re really buying (the benefit) and moving them to action.
One other piece of context: we’ve written a lot over the last year about the trend we’re seeing in our data related to a massive cultural shift we’re in the middle of. Americans are increasingly greener – in preferences, attitudes and behaviors – and they expect the same from the brands they buy from and in the products and services they buy. This is especially true in the homes market.
In fact, the profile of the folks who want greener, better performing homes is essentially the same profile as that of people in the market for a new home.
The profile of folks who want greener homes looks like a barbell – they’re either in their early 30’s, well educated, with good, well-paying jobs and they have young kids; or they’re older empty nesters, also well-educated with good, well-paying jobs. They want similar things: low, predictable monthly costs, good indoor air quality (they won’t say it this way…they’ll express concerns about moisture or mold and possibly about chemicals in the materials used in the home), comfort (meaning ambient temperature, consistent throughout the home), quality (and they believe a high-performance home is a higher quality home) and walkable communities.
If you were to profile people in the market for a new home, you’d create a very similar profile. Again, people looking for a new home are essentially looking for a higher performance home. And, again, as Americans we’re all getting greener and our baseline expectations on that front are increasing.
So why do we keep making it so hard for folks to get what they want?
I’m actually going through the home buying process right now. I’ll be purchasing an existing home with lots of air quality, moisture and energy efficiency problems – largely because it was built in 1928, but also because it’s been added on to/updated over the years without any thought about building performance. I could tell in my first visit in the house that it’s wasting energy, and there are air quality issues in the finished basement and attic. I pointed all of this out to my realtor, who’s a personal friend and knows what I do for a living and that I have high performance and quality expectations of a home. Yet, does she recommend, “let’s make your offer on the house contingent on a comprehensive energy and air quality inspection?” No. She says, “let’s make your offer contingent on a home inspection.” In my experience that’s almost an automatic now. Every realtor I’ve worked with over the years has recommended a home inspection, never an energy/air quality inspection. My guess is they simply don’t know to. And what a missed opportunity! Imagine if every realtor in America recommended making home offers contingent on an energy audit as well as a home inspection! Imagine how we’d open eyes and change the game!
So that’s not where we are. We’re also not at a place where I can make one phone call in Knoxville, TN, and hire a home inspector who’s also an energy auditor. No such thing in Knoxville, TN. In fact, all my searches turned up only one BPI-certified energy and air quality inspector within a 50-mile radius of Knoxville, TN. And he’s not also a home inspector.
That means I hired two guys (one of whom was literally my only option) to crawl through the house and give me their recommendations. My feeling was that the home inspector was a lot more thorough than the energy/air quality inspector. And the report from the energy guy included lots of recommended air sealing and insulation actions with price points – but no comprehensive recommendation on the HVAC. And, as has been my typical experience, no statement of the end benefit – if I do all the things he recommends how much will I improve the comfort, how much will I improve the air quality, how much will I lower my environmental impact?
Let me recap again:
- The folks buying homes – particularly higher-end homes – want higher performing, greener homes.
- In my experience realtors are not set up/not trained/not inclined to recommend an energy audit as part of the offer process the same way they recommend a home inspection.
- It’s hard/impossible to find one person who can do both a home inspection and an energy/air quality inspection.
- Energy/air quality inspection reports often lack a statement of benefit – what are you really buying/what improvements can you really expect? And they’re often not comprehensive – you have to call someone else to give you a recommendation on the HVAC system. And who knows if that person knows anything about building science and can size the units right for a home that’s been tightly sealed? Sounds like a set-up for a lot of finger-pointing down the road to me.
So let’s change this game! Let’s get every realtor in America trained to recommend energy audits! Let’s get every home inspector trained to do an energy audit! And let’s train those auditors to give comprehensive prescriptions for truly improving a home’s air quality, comfort and energy waste!
When we accomplish that, we’ll make it a heck of a lot easier for today’s home buyer to get what they really want.