Buyers look at a lot of things when considering whether to buy a home, from whether to roof needs to be replaced to whether there is a commuter rail stop nearby.
And buyers may be able to see how well a home stacks up in terms of energy efficiency as well, including how much they can expect to spend on heat and electricity, if a bill being debated at the State House passes muster.
When they put their home on the market, sellers would be required to have an energy audit done of their home and provide the results to potential buyers.
State officials, in turn, would be tasked with establishing an energy efficiency rating system for homes so homebuyers can get a sense of what their energy costs will be.
However, the proposal, tucked into a larger energy bill dealing with wind and other alternative power sources, is facing stiff opposition from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.
The group, which represents real estate agents across the state, says it could put owners of older homes – and by extension communities where older, less energy efficient homes dominate – at an unfair disadvantage.
“It will hurt the housing market for all homeowners, especially those low-income homeowners with older homes who can’t afford to improve their score prior to selling their home,” said 2016 MAR President Annie Blatz, branch executive at Kinlin Grover Real Estate on Cape Cod, in a press statement.
Supporters compare the audits to the mile-per-gallon ratings on cars.
Eugenia Gibbons of Mass Energy Consumers Alliance said just getting an audit would not put sellers under any obligation of doing work to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
She can foresee scenarios in which the seller would hand the audit to the buyer as a blueprint for potential improvements. Or it could be financed as part of the sale.
As for low-income homeowners, there are a myriad of programs offering tax credits and other subsidies to improve a home’s energy efficiency.
Gibbons said whatever new system is rolled out would likely be accompanied a major public education campaign that would alert homeowners to the various public and private programs that offer help with everything from insulation to solar panels.
The upgrades, in turn, start paying for themselves right away through lower electric and heating bills.
“Just because you get the assessment doesn’t mean you have to do anything,” she said. “It may mean equipping the new home owner with the information they need.”
But real estate brokers fear that requiring an energy audit before a home is sold will only serve to make the already complicated process of selling a home even harder.
The concern is that it could delay homes hitting the market at a time when there is already a dire shortage of listings for buyers to look at.
And for buyers and sellers interested in energy audits, there are already options that can be taken without resorting to a government mandate.
Home inspectors are obligated, under state law, to provide buyers with information about energy audits. The standard MAR purchase and sales agreement also allows for the buyer to have an energy audit done as part of the inspection process.
“The Massachusetts housing market is starved for homes for sale and Realtors feel that this bill would put one more roadblock in the way of needed inventory reaching the market,” Blatz argued.