26 November 2013 — LJ Hooker’s Cecille Weldon knew she was onto a winner in her sustainability training for agents, when the questions kept coming and the classes were running over time. They weren’t asking on behalf of clients, she realised. They were asking about their own homes. Welcome to the newest – and possibly the most influential of all – sustainability converts.

House hunters are increasingly becoming interested in sustainability. Real estate agents say buyers now routinely ask for electricity and gas bills, and about what energy efficiency features a property contains. The problem is that agents typically lack the knowledge to promote sustainability.

To combat the problem, and in a first for an Australian real estate agency, LJ Hooker has rolled out a residential sustainability initiative that combines real estate agent training in sustainability with detailed information for consumers on how to live in a sustainable house.

The initiative aims to assist the buying, selling and renting of sustainable residential real estate, an area that has until now received little attention.

A key barrier to getting sustainable housing the attention it deserves is the real estate agent. They are a key source of information to consumers regarding a house’s features, yet their knowledge of sustainability is often rudimentary or non-existent.

Cecille Weldon, head of sustainability at LJ Hooker, told The Fifth Estate the company had noticed a growing trend of people seeking more sustainable homes – ones with reduced running costs, increased comfort and a greater connection to community.

There’s a market out there, but it isn’t being tapped into, Weldon says.

For the past three years, however, the company has been undergoing a “quiet revolution”, developing a model to put sustainability front and centre in decision-making.

The resulting Liveability program has only recently been revealed to the industry.

According to Weldon, the long pipeline has been due to the fact LJ Hooker wanted to make sure it was done right the first time.

“This is about doing it properly based on deep knowledge,” Weldon says.

“We know that it’s robust and has had due consideration.”

Cecille Weldon

Sustainability’s impact on real estate

The starting point for the Liveability program was the question: “How is sustainability impacting real estate?”

There was a lot of conflicting information, and consumers were “very confused”, says Weldon.

However, a joint study by Bond University and LJ Hooker found that 37 per cent of respondents to a survey rated energy prices as either becoming a concern or currently “a real concern”, much higher than the expected figure of of 8-15 per cent.

More than 50 per cent of respondents ranked cutting power use as “very important”, however 64 per cent said they suffered from a lack of information.

What the results showed, says Weldon, is that consumers are starting to care about sustainability – at least in terms of energy efficiency – and that it does affect perceived property value from the point of view of a consumer.

Weldon says that despite agents noticing that clients are increasingly asking for utility bills, and are worried about whether they could afford to live in the house, they lack the sustainability knowledge to help buyers.

“Agents know that north facing is good, but they don’t know it can reduce the running cost,” she says.

And there’s now over one million solar panels now on roofs, but few agents are taught how to recognise a good one.

They simply “haven’t caught up with what consumers are doing, and what designers and builders are doing”, Weldon says.

This can have serious consequences.

The designer and/or builder of a house could have spent time and money putting in good insulation, glazing, cross ventilation and energy efficient appliances, but at the point of sale this can count for nought if the agents aren’t selling it to the potential buyers/renters. And when these features aren’t capitalised on, there’s no return on investment, which can jeopardise their further use.

Another problem is the time agents spend with clients. Weldon says you generally interact with an agent initially for a minute or so, possibly another hour if you like the place, and maybe a further hour to do an inspection.

This was a key factor in the design of the Liveability program. It had to be so simple to fit within the maximum three hours of contact time an agent will have with a consumer.

The 17 Things Checklist

The end product – the 17 Things Checklist – was something “congruent to an appraisal checklist”, says Weldon, so agents could readily understand it and integrate it into their everyday practice.

LJ Hooker worked with sustainable housing design consultant Dr Chris Reardon to flesh out the most important aspects of liveable houses and develop training programs so agents could identify common property features that might add value.

The checklist contains features that could contribute to a more liveable or sustainable house. To be eligible to use the “Liveability Property Marketing Features” symbol when selling or leasing the house, six or more key criteria (in bold) must be met.

The 17 things are:

  • Climate zone
  • Living locally
  • Orientation
  • Cross ventilation
  • Zoning
  • Insulation
  • Density of building materials
  • Windows (glazing)
  • Shading or sun control
  • Efficient heating and cooling devices
  • Energy efficient lighting
  • Efficient hot water system
  • Solar photovoltaic system
  • Low water garden
  • Water efficiency devices
  • Rainwater tanks
  • Energy rating

Agents with this information can then meet consumer and market demands for sustainability, and start to change the way property is bought, sold, rented and eventually valued.

Using the features

While a property’s features are important, the Liveability program recognises that it’s the way in which an occupant uses these features that is the most important element in achieving reduced running costs and increased comfort.

So on top of the agent training and marketing materials, Liveability continues to help residents live sustainably through a website that includes information on how to make sense of the sustainability features of their houses, and utilise them appropriately.

Weldon says the website is about completing the information lifecycle and not leaving anyone behind.

“All an agent does is talk about potential,” she says, but it’s up to the inhabitant to maximise this.

Training

Agent training has been key to the success of the Liveability program, and LJ Hooker has some previous experience in the field. Its 3P program, which launched in early 2012, assists real estate agents in their national network to cut their biggest business costs – power, petrol and paper.

Weldon says 3P is about framing sustainability as efficiency.

“It just makes good business sense,” she says.

It is a prerequisite for any agent involved in the Liveability program to have been completed the 3P program. This helps the cause, Weldon says, because agents then have a concrete understanding of the benefits sustainable practices can have on running costs, and can extend this understanding to their clients.

The popularity of Liveability training has been immense, and is currently being rolled out across the country.

During first training session, Weldon says, people wouldn’t stop asking questions, and they weren’t going to finish on time.

Weldon realised the agents weren’t asking on behalf of their clients. They were asking for their own property. They’d become converts.

She then realised that the agents weren’t asking on behalf of their clients. They were asking for their own property. They’d become converts.

The director of LJ Hooker in Bondi Junction, Robert Paradis, said he had been won over by the program after being sceptical.

“Initially I only did the training for the CPD points,” he said.

“Since the training I have truly become a convert.”

There will be around 100 trained by the new year, says Weldon, and, surprisingly, she says the organisation is keen to open up the program to other real estate proprietors, and not keep it as a competitive advantage.

“I think the thing is that we’ve gone through the journey – we have the pathway there,” she says. “We know it’s going to work in the real estate culture.

Industry involvement

Engagement with industry has been key. And judging by the immense levels of support in the industry, they must be doing something right.

Endorsements have been received from Master Builders Australia, Clean Energy Council, Archicentre, Alternative Technology Association, Building Designers Australia, Bond University’s School of Sustainable Development, Association of Building Sustainability Assessors, and the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney.

ABSA’s chief executive Rodger Hills said that lack of knowledge and lack of incentive of property marketing professionals was a significant obstacle for the industry.

“It is heartening to know that your Liveability Property Marketing program is changing all that, by up-skilling property agents with the right skills and knowledge to be able to advise buyers and sellers on the benefits of sustainable housing design,” Mr Hills said in a letter to LJ Hooker.

“Without the provision of this key expertise home buyers and sellers do not know the benefits of energy efficient properties and, as a consequence, significantly undervalue, or worse, place no value on these features.”

Even Master Builders Australia is on board, with national training director Alex Maroya saying: “This has enormous potential to focus consumer attention on the benefits of liveability features to the quality of living and ongoing value provided by a home.

What about energy rating schemes?

Weldon says that Liveability can be seen as an interim step and a complement to a potential national energy rating scheme for housing.

The piecemeal approach of the states is not effective, and a national approach was needed, says Weldon. However, while the company supports national mandatory disclosure, this is a conversation that is being left to the states and territories.

One point Weldon makes is that ratings focused only on energy can miss the “big deliverables” of sustainability – more liveable homes, better health, better communities.

That’s part of why the name of the venture is “Liveability”.

“We realised in the beginning that we had to reposition sustainability,” Weldon told The Fifth Estate.

“People were hearing sustainability and not understanding all the existing opportunities in it.”

The word was seen as highly politically charged, and sometimes conceptualised only in terms of the environment or energy.

Weldon says there was a feeling that people needed to “get to what was really going on”.

It’s not just “greenies” who are interested these days. It’s mum and dad; it’s pre-retirees wanting to cut costs.

Whether the wider real estate community can swallow its pride to sign onto an initiative created by a competitor is yet to be seen, but nonetheless the program aims to go some way to making visible the importance of sustainability in the residential space.

“There is now a big opportunity for sustainability to impact property if it is positioned correctly,” Weldon says.

“We need to get out there and support consumers.”

11 replies on “LJ Hooker: how to convert real estate agents and start a revolution”

  1. Euro double Glazing has been doing this in Europe for the last 25 years very successful. We add a window -don’t replace it- it’s better for the environment. Our system is virtually invisible and it protect against Heat, Cold, Noise and it adds Security. All those factors are now a days important for the buyer and seller.Our system is stylish and beautiful frameless glass panels which open anytime you desire.We look forward to your response and are willing to help in any sort of way, good start LJ Hooker.

  2. I had no idea how much energy was used in heating and cooling, that’s incredible and it leaves room for lot of improvement. Heating in the winter, cooling in the summer, if only there was a way to leverage all the wasted energy.

    -Mike
    PA

  3. A great article and ‘good on them’ for their initiative!
    Just a note that Sustainability is not an element that is included in the National Training Package for Real Estate Agents – so naturally it is not something that many of them would be aware about…..that said, PV panels, insulation, solar hot water and rain tanks are ‘features’ that Real Estate Agents are trained to factor into the Comparative Market Analysis that they prepare for every house or unit as part of the listing process.
    I found the creation of the Residential Property Liveabilty Index that they did with Bond Uni very interesting – maybe Bond should explain this a bit more…..or some comment from Livable Housing Australia may add to this.
    Also in Qld the residential Sustainability Declaration was scrapped in June 2012 (it involved house owners and agents) after some damning reports (including one from QUT) – a pity because the question was wrong – they concluded householders don’t care about sustainability, whereas in fact it was just that the declaration form was atrocious – wish they had noted that 84% of Queenslander’s are concerned about environmental issues (ABS) and on average roughly 15%of SEQ homes have solar PV (so clearly it was important to them).

  4. Great story! One of the a key findings of my Ph.D research in which I conducted a qualitative survey of stakeholders involved in bringing sustainable housing to reality, was the knowledge and awareness of sales persons. Sales persons are very adept at selling a product, and can sell any product easily, if they know and understand the product well themselves. This informed my work on the Ecoliving Display Home project that I was involved in recently with Clarendon Homes and Landcom. I conducted training sessions for the salespersons and also to all the departments, targetted to their specific work, to the particular part they were playing in the process. If I can contribute in any way ,with the knowledge and experience I have gained so far, I would be most delighted.

  5. Similar story, 2 years ago I did a ring around of about10 real estate agents to effer energy efficiency training, and only one place took it half seriously. The rest thought it was irrelevant to them and something people weren’t interested in.. even though many were.

  6. Great to see Isulation on the list given that 40-60% of household energy is used on heating and cooling, and whch can be easily lost by not having insulation. However buyers should beware that all isulation is not the same (so much rubbish was allowed to be imported during the failed insulation scheme that just does not meet Australian Standards) and in some cases the type of insulation used can break down very quickly or create health problems due to chemicals used. Home owners should only use reputable Australian made insulation, and preferably made from POLYESTER which is the longest lasting (life of the building) and made with no chemicals or water effluent.

    1. Really good point and a subject matter we should revisit – and which has stayed on the backburner after the unfortunate bad press of a few years ago. We asked an architect at the time to run though some of the main issues with types of insulation that should be used. Turns out this varies quite a lot according to useage. Here’s the article, but will add a link to the LJ Hooker story too, https://fifthestate-launch.newspackstaging.com/archives/9448/

  7. Funny how things change, I worked for LJ Hooker in Queensland and I am a Sustainability Assessor and I tried to get agents to look at this seriously, everyone thought it was a joke and didn’t want to know about it. If LJ Hooker ever wants anybody to help with this program I would be more than willing after trying 4 years ago,
    Kim

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