In early December, the Bend City Council will consider whether to approve the Community Climate Action Plan—a series of recommendations aimed at reducing fossil fuel consumption in the city by as much as 70%, from current levels, by the year 2050. It's an ambitious plan; one that comes with a set of voluntary recommendations and just one proposed mandate: require all homes sold in Bend to come with a Home Energy Score.
- US Department of Energy
That scoring process, based on a system developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, rates a home's heating, cooling, hot water systems and structure to arrive at a number that can give prospective buyers a more tangible view of the efficiency of a home, as well as recommendations for improving the score. It costs as much as $175 (or less) to complete in Portland, where it's been required since January 2018.
We support the proposed mandate. The Central Oregon Association of Realtors does not. Its spokesperson Tyler Neese told the Source Weekly that his organization supports incentives and voluntary programs that allow buyers to make informed decisions, but that a mandate adds cost and complexity to transactions. While we understand the concern, it does not outweigh the benefit.
Buying a home is the biggest purchase most people are ever going to make—and having a full picture of the state of that major purchase is fair. Energy efficiency ratings are available on less-costly items such as washing machines, and people surely use the information when buying appliances. Many do the same when buying a car; a higher miles-per-gallon rating definitely matters to those concerned about watching where their money goes.
And while COAR is correct in asserting that there's already a voluntary system in place that could potentially show a buyer how a home stacks up, that system has less significance when one home has a rating and another doesn't. Sure, we could let the free market reign and wait for the majority of sellers to get on board, but that's a slow road to getting buyers informed. And yes, buyers can currently pay for the scores themselves if they really want to know how a home stacks up—but that's a far more costly prospect than simply asking each seller to pony up the small amount of cash needed for the score. With home values in Bend going up by healthy amounts every year, the $175 needed for the assessment is hardly going to put a seller out. With the median home sale price being around $470,000 as of August, the assessment amounts to roughly .037 percent of the home price.
(What's more, a plan is in place to allow struggling sellers to waive the assessment, as our Take Me Home columnists outline in this week's column on page 41.)
And while COAR argues that adding more costs into the selling process is a concern in a market that struggles to keep housing affordable, we believe the opposite: Having more information about the efficiency of a home is going to help those buyers on limited budgets choose wisely, potentially saving them more money in utility costs down the road. In a seller's market, as we have long seen in Bend, these scores are not going to slow sales.
COAR also argues that there is a lack of people trained in doing the ratings in the Central Oregon market. That's true now because the system is entirely voluntary. The City's mandate could very well account for that by setting up a grace period for the mandate, or by offering incentives for local people to acquire the training needed to complete the task. Current inspectors could also roll this into the services they provide, as many inspectors currently do in the Portland area.
Given that commercial and residential buildings account for nearly 12 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, having more information about how to lower those emissions (and save money) is the right thing to do, even if it puts a seller—and the real estate agents that earn a commission from it—out that .037 percent.
The Bend City Council is expected to vote on the Community Climate Action Plan Dec. 4. Write to share your concerns at: firstname.lastname@example.org.