By Cameron Jewell
6 February 2014 — Real estate agents hold the key to sustainable property, says Chiara Pacifici, the head of Green Gurus, a sustainability education and consultancy firm for the real estate industry in Perth.
As part of Green Gurus, Pacifici provides real estate agents with training in sustainability so they can better identify and promote sustainable property, helping to build greater market demand.
“Real estate agents influence property development, whether we like it or not,” Ms Pacifici told The Fifth Estate.
“The evidence is very strong that we need to do more of this education with the frontline. Teaching real estate agents – not only teaching but inspiring them to talk about this stuff – is the most important part of building momentum.”
The Fifth Estate recently wrote about LJ Hooker’s move into sustainability training for real estate agents (which Pacifici says she is an enthusiastic supporter of), though Pacifici has been slugging away training agents in Perth for the past four years.
“My little experiment has actually developed into something I’m hoping will revolutionise the real estate industry,” Pacifici says.
But it’s not just the sales agents who need to understand sustainability, she says, it’s the property managers and the strata managers.
“If the property manager doesn’t know about [sustainability], how the hell is the lot owner going to know about it?”
Green Gurus provides a full day workshop that aims to give a holistic overview of sustainability in housing to a wide range of real estate stakeholders, with topics including energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable energy solutions and waste management for residential buildings.
It’s delivered in partnership with the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia, which Pacifici says is the only institute of its type that has partnered with an organisation such as hers on the sustainability front.
“It would be lovely to see the other states do the same,” Pacifici says. “For whatever reason they haven’t, I don’t know.
“REIWA has certainly showed leadership, and I believe the reason why they have is because they believe it is helping its members do business better.”
The training is also recognised by the WA Department of Commerce, with agents getting seven of the required annual 10 compulsory professional development points for completing the workshop.
Pacifici says the training has been extremely popular, and close to 500 agents have gone through the program, with more workshops due in the next couple of months. The popularity of the course, however, doesn’t come as a surprise.
“Would you not give your property to an agent who actually knew that the living area facing north helped with providing more thermal comfort in the peaks of winter and summer?” she says.
Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of sustainability and are looking to agents for advice, Pacifici says.
“If a real estate agent was asked, ‘Do I put granite in?’, wouldn’t it be wonderful if that agent said, ‘Well, actually, there’s no income back on that, whereas solar would reduce your cost of living and granite just looks nice? And, did you know, there’s potentially a cost premium paid for your house because you’re generating electricity.’ These are just the little simple things to communicate. But you need to empower people. The real estate agents and the industry as a whole need to be empowered. So that’s what I’m trying to do: bridge the knowledge gap.”
Psaros leading the way on sustainable residential
Pacifici’s work on this front has also landed her a gig as head of sustainability for Psaros, a mid-tier residential developer based in Perth, which she says is leading the way when it comes to green initiatives.
She says that thanks to the “very savvy and very smart” managing director Mike Enslin and chief executive Danny Psaros, the company has “bitten the bullet” and made a firm commitment to developing long-lasting, sustainable buildings.
“I wouldn’t be working for them if their values weren’t strong in that sense,” Pacifici says.
The company’s contact with Pacifici began at a City of Vincent workshop Green Gurus delivered, which was attended by property developers, real estate agents, strata managers, architects and engineers.
The workshop involved an engaged dialogue for four hours, and featured Vincent’s mayor talking about council initiatives in sustainability, where passive solar design had been recently spelled out in recent amendments to planning policy, which Pacifici says aimed to emphasise to property developers “to stop giving us substandard buildings”.
“These two gentleman came down to the event last year, and the next day called me and said, ‘We want to do this but we don’t know where to start.’”
Since working with Pacifici, Psaros now is building with sustainability in mind from the concept stage – using life cycle analysis of the building – including embodied and operational energy, Pacifici says.
“They’re really pushing the envelope. And I’ll tell you why: they’re doing something no one is doing.”
Psaros, in its residential apartment block developments, is installing solar panels as standard for each individual unit, with systems of 1-2 kilowatts in size.
“No one else is putting solar into apartments as standard for individual use,” says Pacifici. “I don’t know any other mid-tier residential developer in this country who is putting in renewable energy for each individual apartment.
“The reason why the carbon footprint is being reduced – embodied and operational – is because of the renewable energy component.”
They’re also affordable purchases, with many apartments available for less than $500,000, Pacifici says.
An example is Psaros’s Sellenger apartment block on Beaufort Street, Perth, the units of which feature solar passive design, a PV unit, solar hot water, smart metering, energy efficient lighting, and efficient appliances and water fixtures.
But what’s in building to high standards for a resi developer like Psaros? In the commercial property sector, developers might have a long-term relationship with their buildings, and have a market highly attuned to sustainability, meaning it makes sense to build to a high standard. But the benefits to a resi developer, whose relationship with the building might be a short one, is more questionable.
“They see it as a very strong point of difference in the marketplace,” says Pacifici.
“I’ve already had purchasers tell me they’ve Googled ‘sustainable buildings and investment in Perth’ and Psaros has come up.”
Psaros, she says, also wants to see the longevity of its product.
So it’s a good branding exercise, but for it to pay off ultimately consumers will need to understand sustainability better, which means agents will have to know how to sell it. If the real estate agent can’t explain the differences between these units and those built to a lesser standard, it is always going to be a tough sell, Pacifici says.
“If you speak to any of the players in Perth – the large development firms that probably have 5-10 sustainability personnel – they’ll say the same thing: ‘We need the frontline to be better equipped to communicate to the buyer.’ That’s the pinnacle. Then you can go to the next level, which is hopefully the collective – all of us – understanding [sustainability] better.
Luckily, Pacifici’s work with Green Gurus is moving to do just that.