With a slumping economy, real estate agents are learning how to tout more than spacious living rooms and elegant kitchens. They're learning how to become more "green-minded."
Acquiring the education to be able to sell homes that are more energy-conscious doesn't make realtors just "real estate agents" anymore. Now they're called EcoBrokers.
Dickson Realty just added its sixth certified EcoBroker to its company through its South Lake Tahoe office, more than any other real estate agency in the state.
"It's actually a pretty comprehensive set of information," said Trudy Brussard, who has the certification at her Dickson Reno office.
Brussard has been with Dickson for 17 years and she's constantly learning new information to help prospective buyers and sellers better prepare for finding that right house.
"(The training) tries to guide you through what the issues are and who to direct people to, solutions for their problems, how to help people find green homes," she said.
Attaining the certification requires completing a curriculum of courses, some more involved than others. It can take up to six months.
Thinking green is the basis for the up-and-coming seekers of the EcoBroker designation. It requires realtors to learn about energy-efficient appliances, solar panels, window protection, everything a developer would add to a new home to make it adhere to green standards. It can involve anything, down the way a house "breathes" with its air filters, Brussard said.
As they take courses, EcoBrokers receive a number of resources that they can pass on to their clients to help them make changes or additions to their home if they want more cost-reducing features, Guy Johnson, an EcoBroker with Chase International, said.
They also work with home inspectors, appraisers, developers and auditors to learn the specific features and orientation of a house.
"I do work with a woman who ... does energy audits," Brussard said. "We spend a lot of time talking about the issues. If possible for a housewarming gift, someone could give them an energy audit and see what's needed and what they want to do. If I'm listing a house, I would love to have an energy audit before it's sold, but that's new. That's next-generation."
Johnson, who has spent the last few days in New York City at a technology conference, said the continuing education makes a difference professionally.
"If my client has a question regarding green buildings, like radon or mold, I know where to go if I don't have it at the top of my head," he said.
It's one of many areas of specialization a Realtor can pursue, he added.
"Real estate agents like to get a designation and put it behind their name," Johnson said. "It appealed to me because it seemed very pertinent and timely with everyone's interest in the eco-movement and living green and going green. It's also so relatively new it would differentiate me as a real estate agent. Not too many people in the Reno-Sparks area have it yet."
Brussard said it's still a new concept in Reno and Sparks. There is a higher concentration of EcoBrokers near Lake Tahoe.
"A lot of people coming into the community will look for this designation," Brussard said. "From a business point of view, it's very good. But everyone I know ... is doing this because they're committed, they care, they're really involved and really want to help the planet, that we really do reduce energy consumption and recycle things."
The EcoBrokers Web site, www.ecobrokers.com, allows visitors to locate various real estate agents with the designation in their area. It also offers information on energy efficiency and home repairs or upgrades homeowners can use to build a green house.
Johnson also said www.renorealtyblog.com can offer insights about market trends from various contributors, including himself.
Johnson said, though, there are still other credentials prospective homeowners should consider when choosing an agent.
"I would hope a prospective buyer or seller would choose an agent for more than a designation," he said. "But as agents, we're always trying to better ourselves in terms of our education. It's constant. Most agents try to take additional classes."