Step 4 - Create the Green MLS Platform
- Green Features
- Building Certification
Design Fields & Disclosures
In its best form, good Green MLS design reflects a set of fields that will be easily used and hard to mis-use by either traditional agents or appraisers (i.e., the agents/appraisers that do not have additional green training). The best design includes a combination of carefully selected fields and an MLS policy that requires that document attachments be included (either online or manually) to back up the data entered in the fields. This approach prevents greenwashing and allows the buyer and seller to define both what is green and the value of those green features. The diagram below shows typical types of documentation.
Keeping a clear separation of features that "may be green" from a direct expression of "being green" tends to offer flexibility of expression and gives a clear avenue to mitigate risk for agents and brokers.
It is not advisable, for instance, to automatically move existing features into a "green" field or other representation of being green. As an example, a listing agent may have identified dual pane windows as a feature of a house, never intending to claim that those windows were green or efficient. But if dual pane windows suddenly are placed in a green field because of an MLS change, it potentially changes the meaning of features in existing listings. Moreover, it could create a false statement of "green" or "efficient" that the listing agent or broker was not intending at the time of input. Thus, two separate categories of features should be developed.
It is important to understand the green features most widely used by local home builders as well as those selected by owners performing upgrades. Each region of the country is different, so be sure to include features that are used in your market and plan on expanding your lists as new features become popular.
In this guide you will see mention of specific features as well as generic attributes. An example of a specific feature would be "TVA Insulation Package" and an example of a generic attribute would be "energy efficient insulation". Use of the specific features will give the details needed by industry professionals to determine the property's value and to speak knowledgeably with their clients. Use of specific features also requires more effort on part of the MLS in keeping lists up to date with the changing trends and technologies. Use of generic attributes may make it easier for the typical buyer to understand that the property has efficient aspects. Using generic attributes also requires less updating. For example, a new insulation package may emerge, replacing the aforementioned TVA Insulation Package and requiring the addition of the new feature, but the generic "energy efficient insulation" would need no updating.
Features can be a powerful tool and the MLS should give careful consideration as to the method used whether it be specific features, generic attributes or both, along with the resources that will be required to maintain those features.
For more information, please see the Sample Data Entry Forms.
The fields and enumerations that represent a building's efficiency rating may include a list of nationally-recognized certifications, but it is helpful to keep them flexible so future or local certifications can be added.
Though it is fine for individual MLSs to take creative license for field labeling, it is important to maintain the specific meanings. Because certifications change over time, can come from more than one issuing body, and normally have a rating system, the following fields should be included:
- Green Building Certification--The name of the certification awarded to a new or pre-existing residential or commercial structure. (i.e. LEED® for Homes, HERS, ENERGY STAR®, National Green Building Standard)
- Green Certifying Body--The name of the body or group providing the certification named in the green building certification field. This is often the same name as the certification name, but some certifications can be issued from different bodies, such as the USGBC, RESNET, NAHB Research Center or ENERGY STAR®.
- Green Year Certified--The year the certification was awarded. This is important, since building codes and certification program change regularly. It is possible that a home considered energy efficient five years ago may not be energy efficient enough today to meet basic code requirements.
- Green Certification Rating--Many certifications have a rating system that provides an indication of a structure's level of energy efficiency. This is commonly expressed in a numeric value, which often relates to a name, such as Gold or Silver. To accommodate such distinctions, some implementation considerations may be needed.
For instance, a simple text field would support the various numeric ratings as well as allow the listing agent to enter any of the varying colors. This would be the most flexible and require the least maintenance by the MLS. However, free text fields can lack consistency and may be a problem when searching or creating statistic.
The recommended method would make use of the fact that most certifications have a numeric rating which relate to a color. For example a rating of 10–20 might equal the gold level. By providing a decimal field during input the MLS would collect the exact rating. Using that rating, the MLS could calculate the certification level (color). Then both rating and level (color) could be displayed and searched. This method would also help to ensure that the level (color) shown is legitimate and not a case of greenwashing. However, this method requires more setup work, and the MLS will need to maintain the rating and level (color) translation.
The following green certification fields are flexible enough to cover all certification types and rating systems.
|(A Pick-list with the name or type of certification or rating system)|
|(A pick-list with the name of the body or institution providing the certification or rating)|
|(A numeric field with the year the certification was received)|
|(A numeric field with the rating or ranking received)|
Sample Field Design
Generic Green Attributes
The following lists are not all inclusive, but are examples of ways to display green or efficient attributes of properties. Because specific features, such as dual pane windows, will not always be considered green or efficient, providing the option of entering the more generic "energy efficient windows" allow sellers to promote efficient aspects in a simple way that will not age.
This approach also simplifies buyers' search for specific efficiencies. For example, instead of having to understand a number of different window types (and whether they are currently considered green), users merely need to know that they are interested in efficient windows. However, listing agents and sellers will need to provide explanation and backing of the green attributes they chose to display in the MLS.
The following is an example of six fields with their pick list options that could be considered. These lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather representative of the types of generic options you might include in your MLS:
Specific Green Features
In the previous section were examples of generic attributes and how they were simple to understand and required minimal maintenance by the MLS. The following sections address the detailed lists that will allow sellers to identify specific green features. Though these lists require more maintenance and are less likely to be searched by the consumer, their value in conveying the details of a green home should not be underestimated.
Most MLS systems have several fields containing lists of features common to most homes in a region. By keeping these existing feature fields updated with current green methods and technologies, the MLS not only helps to promote energy efficiency, but also assists listing agents and sellers in taking advantage of the proven value of promoting the green attributes of a home for sale. Further, new technology and methods emerge each year, which is why an MLS's feature lists should be reviewed and updated periodically to ensure the latest technology and methods are reflected.
The following lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but are meant to convey some of the types of green features that are in use today. Additionally, these examples show the green features in fields you may already have in your system today.
It is safe to assume that if you already have pick list fields such as those above, that you will have existing pick list options. The following examples show how the above options could co-exist with your existing non-green options.
Specific Green Features: Intermingling Example 1
In the following example, specific green features are intermingled with the normal features found in any MLS. The benefit of this approach is that a home's features, like "radiant barrier" or "double pane windows," can be expressed without the difficulties associated with directly calling those features "green" or "efficient". However, the risk here is that user members may not understand which features are considered green. This is a key reason why agent education is so important to successfully implementing a green change
Specific Green Features: Intermingling Example 2
In this second example, the use of color highlights green features. However, MLSs should be aware of the legal issues that can emerge with this approach. Given that as some features eventually will no longer be considered green, keeping up with what is green and what is not and keeping such features up to date in the MLS will be necessary to mitigate legal risk. An example of intermingled fields with highlights is provided below:
The preceding examples of listing input forms are meant to aid in the understanding of building certifications, generic green attributes and specific green features and how they might appear in your MLS. Though you can use all three, be cautious when selecting a method of intermingling your existing regular features with new green features. Also be cautious of categorizing any existing features as green and ensure that you have an up-to-date and relevant list of the latest that green has to offer.
An additional field to consider is the Walk Score. Walk Score rates cities on how easy it is for residents to reach commonly used resources, like shopping, parks and entertainment by foot. Like the Green Certification Rating, this field should be numeric. For more information see www.walkscore.com.
It is expected that there may be the need for additional fields. Ensure that a place for your idea doesn't already exist. For example, a certification or rating system that you don't see in this tool kit can be added to the existing certification fields.