They’re seen as holding the key to improved residential sustainability, but research out of RMIT has provided evidence that real estate agents just aren’t sold on solar.
RMIT property senior lecturer Neville Hurst worked with University of Technology Sydney associate professor Sara Wilkinson to analyse Melbourne real estate ads spanning five years between July 2008 and June 2013.
Despite almost 13 per cent of homes in Victoria being fitted with solar, this was rarely used as a selling point.
Hurst told The Fifth Estate he expected a similar percentage of ads to mention solar, however only 5-6 per cent did so. Some areas fared better than others in terms of mentions, with particular areas in the north showing the expected percentage of solar mentions, while other areas consistently ignored solar.
Hurst argues that the lack of agent response to solar points to a lack of homebuyer demand.
“If there is market demand for solar from home buyers, it would be seen in advertising campaigns, as real estate agents would promote technologies if they perceived a buyer demand,’’ Hurst says.
“Yet our study showed agents and vendors believe they have limited appeal to prospective buyers.
“Real estate agents are very adept at interpreting market appetites and this could be behind the lack of mention of such technologies in advertisements, so perhaps we need more direct government intervention.”
Information gap part of the problem
The findings seem odd as Australia has a particularly high take-up of residential solar, with 1.5 million households – or 16.5 per cent of the housing stock – with a solar PV system under 10kW.
Hurst notes that the findings aren’t conclusive and other factors could be at play.
One factor could be real estate agent knowledge, which has been identified as a key barrier to promoting, and giving financial value to, residential sustainability.
A lack of understanding of sustainability and its subsequent disregard has had the effect of diminishing the return-on-investment for sustainability features like solar, as they are rarely calculated when setting house sale prices.
“People say, ‘Why bother installing when I’m going to sell my house and won’t get the money back?’” Hurst says.
There are programs that aim to help real estate agents improve knowledge of sustainability benefits, such as Chiara Pacific’s Green Gurus and LJ Hooker’s Liveability tool, though industry-wide education is lacking.
“If real estate agents want to know more information [about sustainability], it’s up to them. Not all people are going to go and do that,” Hurst says.
The Liveability rating tool, led by Cecille Weldon with help from the late Dr Chris Reardon, had planned to roll out to non-LJ Hooker agents, however after company chairman L Janusz Hooker took full ownership of LJ Hooker, the program took a back-seat, according to Ms Weldon, who parted ways with the company last year.
An LJ Hooker spokesperson would not comment to The Fifth Estate last year as to whether there were still plans to expand the Banksia-award-winning program to the rest of the industry.