The green building story can be appealing to buyers on multiple levels. The better they understand how the systems behind the walls can impact their lives, the more excited they will be about their new home. Builders who have made a commitment to sustainability say that their marketing efforts focus more on education than persuasion. Sales staffs need to be able to both explain the benefits in practical ways and to answer technical questions—or at least know where to find the answers. The key is to make sure the experience mirrors the message.

Green Incentives

Not every builder can guarantee energy savings.

Incentives are a major sales tool in today’s real estate environment. To promote green building, the incentives tend to be a bit different.

Louisville, Colo.–based McStain Neighborhoods has offered such incentives as Vespa scooters that get 100 miles to the gallon and a subsidy for customers selecting wind power for their homes. Harvard Communities, based in Greenwood Village, Colo., offered a Toyota Prius Hybrid last year.

The best incentive for green builders, though, appears to be guaranteed energy savings. In a 2007 study, an astonishing 98 percent of buyers told Washington-based real estate market consultant RCLCO they would be more likely to purchase a home with energy-saving features if offered an energy-savings guarantee. One way to accomplish this is through Environments for Living (, a program run by Masco Contractor Services (MCS). It guarantees the energy used to heat and cool the home won’t exceed a pre-set amount over 12 months. If it does, the homeowner is reimbursed for the difference. The comfort guarantee assures homeowners that the temperature at the thermostat won’t vary more than 3 degrees from the center of any air-conditioned room in the thermostat zone, or MCS will identify the problem and coordinate necessary repairs with the builder.

Harvard Communities has offered the guarantee for about three years, president John Keith says. “We’ve never had anyone call us up and say the house isn’t performing,” he says.

ICI Homes also offers the guarantee and recently stepped that up even further, offering to pay their customers’ power bills for three years. The guarantee was a hit at ICI’s recent Parade of Homes show home.

“The biggest thing that got people saying, ‘What? Wow!’ was our written, three-year guarantee that the cost to heat and cool that 3,400-square-foot house isn’t more than $67 a month,” says Steve Reeger, ICI’s vice president of building science. “Then we turn around and say, ‘We’re so sure of those energy bills, we’ll pay your electric bill for three years.’ It was pretty remarkable.”

Making A Sales Center Statement

For green builders, the sales center serves as a place to explain to buyers why they should get as excited about blown cellulose insulation as they do about neighborhood schools and a soaking tub in the master bath.

Austin, Texas–based Green Builders spent considerable time designing its sales center because it needed to be as innovative and sustainable as the builder's houses and neighborhoods.

“The typical builder putting in a sales center in a converted garage spends $30,000 to $50,000 and then throws it all in a dump when they’re done with it,” says Green Builders CEO Clark Wilson. “We were really struggling with this.”

He wound up collaborating with architect John Blood, a professor of architecture at Yale. The result was Studio G. While built on a traditional trailer base, the sales center “looks bigger than it is, which is kind of the point,” Blood says. “We have glass where it counts, up front and in the center. The connection to the outdoors and the experience of that is an essential part of the experience. It’s different than curling up and saying, ‘I’m not going to damage the planet.’ You want to live in it.”

The center incorporates such green principles as a rainwater-collection system on the roof, solar panels, recycled building materials, and wide overhangs for protection against the sun. And it’s reusable.

“It’s bolted together in the middle so we can move it from one phase to the next,” Wilson says. It’s currently in use at Georgetown Village in Georgetown, Texas, a community of single-family homes from the $190,000s.

“It’s just really, really different,” Wilson says. “But that’s what you have to do now.”

But a green sales center can exist in a garage, too. Atlanta-based Haven Properties, which builds all its homes to EarthCraft House and Energy Star standards, makes good use of cut-aways mounted to the garage-based sales center wall to show buyers the elements that will make their home comfortable, quiet, and energy-efficient. In its inventory homes, simple but effective posters spotlight the energy-saving features in each room. That way, prospective buyers can learn as they tour.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.