7 September 2011 – An opportunity for adequate and accurate information about residential building efficiency lies with the continually postponed Residential Building Mandatory Disclosure Proposed Measure .

The proposal,  first put forward in 2009 by the Council  of Australian Governments, was supposed to be up and running one month ago.

The Regulatory Impact Statement is under consultation and  webcasts went on until  Tuesday, 6 September.

I attended the NSW webcast yesterday, which wasn’t really a webcast more of an online chat with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and Allens Consulting answering any questions I had about the RIS.

I was unable to see anyone else’s questions or answers so it was not a very insightful event for me.

The need for RBMD has come about due to an information shortfall amongst buyers and tenants of how much a house will cost to run.

There is a scheme that has been operating in the ACT since 1999 and it affects sale prices considerably where similar houses can command differences of 3 per cent in sale price for each star out of a ten star system.

It has always struck me as stupendously ridiculous why we don’t have such a rating system nationally considering a home is the largest purchase most people make in their lives and the residential building sector accounts for around 10 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

If you went to buy a car and the salesperson couldn’t or wouldn’t give you accurate and verified information on its fuel economy, how would you feel?

Why do we accept the same situation in the real estate market? The Australian residential real estate market is already heavily overpriced and unaffordable by world standards.

The data that supports the market is almost exclusively collected by parties that benefit from higher sale prices and combined with negative gearing and the seemingly unperturbed desire of Australians to own their home and make investments in other people’s homes (ie renters) it can only benefit Australian householders to have accurate information on the efficiency of these so coveted homes.

Apart from perhaps correcting the housing market in Australia somewhat I think there exists a far greater opportunity to introduce the concepts of internalising of previously externalised environmental costs, and long term thinking around sustainability.

The lack of understanding and practice of these two concepts is one of the major barriers to sustainability in any context.

If people start to think about long term running costs of housing and this affects the amount they are willing to pay in the short term then those costs that were previously overlooked or externalised, have been internalised somewhat and brought to bear on the sale price of the house.

In turn those costs relate directly to greenhouse gas emissions through energy usage.

Once this sort of thinking and understanding becomes a greater part of people’s lives the benefits will spread well beyond the housing market.

The RIS contained a variety of options ranging from meaningless self assessment to full thermal assessments.

I only hope that a rigorous scheme will be adopted so that everyone can benefit. Even real estate agents may experience reputational benefits through actually providing useful and accurate information?

Richard Nicol is the director of Building Green Business which advises small to medium sized businesses on a wide range of sustainability and energy saving initiatives. See website

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