Tag Archives: Green Real Estate

Climategate & You: The Real Estate Edition

The science is SETTLED, I say!

The science is SETTLED, I say!

If you live in the United States, and rely solely on Pravda New York Times or similar for your news, you’re probably unaware of Climategate.  Basically, the entire premise of the global warming/carbon footprint craze of the past few years turns out to be totally bogus.  From the RealClearPolitics.com overview:

Global warming “skeptics” had unearthed evidence that scientists at the Hadley Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia had cherry-picked data to manufacture a “hockey stick” graph showing a dramatic-but illusory-runaway warming trend in the late 20th century.

But now newer and much broader evidence has emerged that looks like it will break that scandal wide open. Pundits have already named it “Climategate.”

A hacker-or possibly a disillusioned insider-has gathered thousands of e-mails and data from the CRU and made them available on the Web. Officials at the CRU have verified the breach of their system and acknowledged that the e-mails appear to be genuine.

For even more damning evidence of a conspiracy to defraud the world, pervert the scientific process, and cover things up, check out this post from Australia.  Because they still have, you know, “journalists” interested in investigative journalism there.  One day, we might import some of these useful fellows from Australia to the United States….

While Climategate is a scandal of the first order, and all Americans (indeed, all humans) should care about it, as real estate people, we need to take a look at how Climategate will impact the industry.

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The Green Premium in NYC Rental Market Heads Towards Zero

A really fun discussion on Twitter with Robin Greenbaum (@cobrokenation) led me to just do a very quick, very back-of-napkin, and likely very inaccurate comparison between two rental units.  As Robin pointed out, since comparisons are very difficult, depends on many factors, and the like, no matter what I come up with, this is likely to be wrong.

Nonetheless, I’m curious to see if we might see any interesting bits of data.

One unit is a 1BR at 22 River Terrace, a luxury rental building constructed in 2001:

22 River Terrace

22 River Terrace

Detailed info can be found here, but the vitals of the unit are:

Floorplan, 22 River Terrace

Floorplan, 22 River Terrace

725 sq. ft., monthly rent of $2,880, 23rd floor but facing east (aka, no river views).  I know the floorplan is hard as heck to see, but it’s pretty standard fare for NYC apartments.

The second unit is located at The Verdesian, a LEED Platinum certified building located right by 22 River Place.  See the map here.

LEED Platinum certified, The Verdisian

LEED Platinum certified, The Verdesian

The Verdesian is a newer building, built in 2006, and LEED Platinum is not given to just about anybody with a solar panel or two.  There was quite a lot of thought and technology devoted to the building.

The unit here is a 1BR as well:

Floorplan of 1BR at Verdisian

Floorplan of 1BR at Verdesian

The vitals here are:

750 sq. ft, $3,065 per month, and east-facing on the 13th floor.  Clearly, the little alcovey “Den” area means a smaller living room, but the floorplan might be better for some, worse for others.  Who can say?

On a straight $$/sq.ft. basis, however, the difference is only $0.12 between the newer, eco-friendly unit and the older, non-green unit: $3.97/sq. ft. for 22 River Terrace vs. $4.09/sq. ft. for The Verdesian.  If we hold the square footage equal at 725, that means a monthly rental difference of $87.00.

To my untrained, unpracticed, and non-realtor eyes, this seems rather insignificant and would tilt the decision towards the Verdesian.  According to GreenbuildingsNYC.com, the Verdesian’s advanced systems, EnergyStar appliances, and various other design & architectural choices, means a 40% savings on electric bills for residents.

According to ConEdison, the average NYC resident can expect to pay $104.97 per month in electric bills.  A 40% savings on electricity alone is $41.99 per month.  Nearly half of the “green premium” (if that’s what it is) is taken care of simply from savings in electric bills.

Now add in the fact that The Verdesian is five years newer, and offers “Fresh filtered air, continuously humidified or dehumidified, depending on climate conditions” to every unit, and it isn’t clear to me that the green premium starts to head towards zero.

Again, comparing different units, different buildings, with slightly different amenities and the like is hazarding error.  But it does seem significant to me that the actual cost difference may be as low as $45 or so per month — less than the cost of a cup of Starbucks latte per day.

If this is true, then the green premium at least in the NYC rental market is heading towards zero, and renters really have to ask why they would go to a non-green building vs. a green building.

I for one would love to see some real comparisons by real professionals — realtors, appraisers, I summon thee!


PS: Note that I am a heretic when it comes to anthropogenic global warming hype, so this has nothing to do with religious views on carbon footprints and such nonsense.

Thoughts On Green Real Estate (Report from the 2009 YAREA Conference)

Here is the house / Where it all happens - Depeche Mode

Here is the house / Where it all happens - Depeche Mode

So it turns out that in addition to ruling the world from the Skull & Bones tomb, Yalies also get involved in real estate from time to time.  There’s even a group called Yale Alumni Real Estate Association (YAREA, pronounced Y-Area) that just held its annual conference.  I was invited, so… I went.

Since the theme of the conference was on “Green Real Estate”, and this was an area about which I was more or less wholly uneducated, the day turned out to be one of the most enlightening of my career in real estate.  A blogpost is really not the place to describe everything I’ve heard and learned, and the people I’ve met, but I do want to touch on some of the high points.

Green Capital also means yknow... the other Green

Green Capital also means y'know... the other Green

Green Capital

It turns out that in the world of real estate high finance, green is more or less a requirement.  Panelists such as Cherie Santos-Wuest, the Director of Global Social and Community Investments for TIAA-CREF, and Victoria W. Kahn, Managing Director of ING Clarion, made it clear that for them to consider investing in real estate projects, those projects have to meet certain green standards, such as LEED.

Considering that these folks have billions-with-a-B dollars under management, and make eight and nine-figure investment decisions… one would do well to take notice.

Which makes me wonder whether large-scale residential developers, such as Lennar or Hovnanian, ever put together a green subdivision.  And by that, I do not mean — and the folks at the conference do not mean — slapping solar panels on McMansions and calling them “green” houses.

My thought is that while this development is still limited mostly to high-end commercial real estate projects, I see the requirement to be much more environmentally conscious filtering down the ranks first to regional banks then local banks.  It might not be tomorrow, or next year, but I could see a time in the near future when your local S&L will be demanding that the local developer putting up a spec home include rain harvest and greywater recovery systems.

Green Ain’t Mainstream Until It Can Move to the Suburbs

One thing that was very evident — primarily because one of the panelists on the Green Cities panel said it — is that there is a very strong hostility to suburbia.  The green movement is the urbanist movement is the green movement.

The reasoning is extremely solid.  Cities cut down on transportation from one building (your house) to the next (your office, the store, etc.).  Cities enable walking or biking to locations, or public transportation, whereas suburbs are inherently built for the car culture.  Indeed, one might say that the American car culture would be impossible without suburbia, and that suburbia was made possibly only because of Henry Ford and his progeny.

Having said that… unless there is a wholesale change in American culture, most families and people are going to head to suburbia at some point in their lives.  Homeownership is the American Dream, and for whatever reason, owning a co-op ain’t really the same thing psychologically.  Also, people tend not to feel the need for more space and a backyard and such until they are expecting their second child… but once they do….

Plus… let us face facts.  Living in the city — in any city — is far more expensive than living in the ‘burbs on a per-square-feet basis.  I would have loved to have stayed in New York City with my two kids, but the equivalent space I have in my tiny little house in Millburn would have cost not double, not triple, but quadruple in NYC.  To me, it seems a simple matter of supply & demand.  Cities have less land; more people want the convenience of city living; ergo, prices will be high.

My sense right now is that this movement is here to stay, whether you believe in the whole Anthropogenic Global Warming thing or not.  (For the record, I do not, and I think Al Gore is a buffoon.)  Because there are other economic benefits to green buildings — lower energy costs, less water usage, and better health are all great things to have even if you think carbon footprint is something to be maximized if at all possible.

But equally clear at the moment is that the green building movement is still restricted to large commercial developments or large multifamily projects, and remains a fairly small niche.  Until it can cross the gap into the suburbs, impacting single family residences and suburban buildings, and leave behind the elitist disdain for suburbia, I don’t think green buildings can be a mainstream phenomenon.

Costs of Green Technology Must Come Down

A big part of the equation is the cost of green technology and green building techniques.  I got to listen to what was one of the most fascinating discussions about Green Buildings by some of the premier practitioners of the craft.  Architects such as Mark Simon of Centerbrook, Stephen Kieran of KieranTimberlake, and Rafael Pelli of Pelli Clarke Pelli gave presentations on some of the techniques they used on their green building projects and… let me just say that my respect for the architect profession increased by orders of magnitude.

The amount of thought these talented architects put into things like designing a wall — a topic to which I have never given a moment’s thought — is simply amazing.  And the impact of that design is similarly amazing.  I wish I had slides of Stephen Kieran’s presentation where he showed that a properly designed wall has three times the impact of solar panels on energy efficiency.

Kroon Hall, Yale University

Kroon Hall, Yale University

This intellectual work has to make its way into the mainstream of American homebuilding industry before the crossover can truly happen.  We’re starting to see it with EnergyStar appliances, and with double-pane windows and such.

But technology like geothermal heat pumps, dual-flush toilets, greywater recovery, rainwater harvesting, and of course the photovoltaic cells have to all come down in price and become far more widely available.  I was privileged to take a tour of Kroon Hall, the new home for Yale’s Forestry and Environmental Studies Department, and the building is simply a marvel.  I wanted almost all of the features in that building in my house — and keep in mind that once again, I do not believe in AGW — but the cost is still exorbitant for single family homes.

Last, But Most Important… Consumer Demand

Today, the consumer demand for green buildings is simply… meh.  In other words, all things being equal, people would prefer to be in a green building.  But all things can’t really be equal when you’re investing in green technology.  Yes, for large multifamily or for big commercial buildings, the savings in energy alone could probably pay for the investment.

But as yet — and based on like, no evidence, but plenty of anecdotes — consumers aren’t willing to pay a significant premium for green homes.  There has to be a relatively short horizon for payback on any investment for consumers to take green buildings really seriously.

Having said that… the Green Building trend is here to stay.  And it will accelerate and continue to do so.  Even after the whole global warming fraud is exposed as pseudo-science, the green building trend will stick because so much of what it proposes is common sense: use less energy, use less water, be smarter about designing buildings, and don’t stuff your home with dangerous chemicals if you don’t have to.  As prices of technology come down, and smart architectural and materials design continue to filter downwards from the big commercial projects, I think consumer demand will be there.

I think I got a glimpse of the future last Friday.  And the future is green.