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by G. Sax, Director of Growth Management, RESO

Three Questions is an interview series that introduces you to real estate industry professionals, their businesses and how they interact with real estate standards with a goal of humanizing the tech side of the industry, fun included.

This week’s interview is with Meg Garabrant, Senior Manager of Real Estate Services and Green Building Registry Lead at Earth Advantage. We talked about the green movement and RESO’s relationship with organizations outside of the MLS sphere. Enjoy!

Greg Sax and Meg GarabrantQ1: You have been a powerhouse for green initiatives in your career, keeping the RESO Data Dictionary up to speed with resources like PropertyGreenVerification and PropertyPowerProduction, while bringing new ideas to the table during workgroup meetings. You even wrote a white paper about RESO green standards.

Where does this passion come from?

Meg: Don’t forget the new PowerStorageType field!

RESO: Of course. How could I forget power storage, haha.

Meg: It all started when I rode my bicycle to the MLS office in 2008 to sign my new hire paperwork, lol…

But really, this has always been an interest, and it is a lifestyle passion of mine to be kind to our planet, because it’s the only one we have. And it’s been through worse, but we haven’t.

This was also the first year that NAR’s GREEN designation was out, and our CEO at the time also saw this as an opportunity to better serve our members. Starting in a new position at the MLS with a data, tech and marketing background, I got to tackle a lot of new initiatives that I have loved throughout my career.

I frequently spoke with builders and homeowner associations to make sure that we were keeping pace with our changing housing stock and what was happening in our local markets of New Hampshire and Vermont when I was working at the New England Real Estate Network (NEREN).

There is always a lot going on in the real estate industry, and I really saw this data segment as an opportunity to provide more information about a property that is now readily available in the market. It not only impacts affordability, but comfort, health and safety. It’s objective property data and information I think any buyer would appreciate knowing. It is my way of helping to make positive change with greater access to this data.

Q2: As you mentioned, you worked at NEREN, now called PrimeMLS, for the better part of 11 years, most often as the Director of Marketing and Communications.

It’s evident that you started your work toward greening the industry while there.

Was that a result of your MLS’s values, your personal values or a combination of the two? And how can other MLSs get more serious about adding sustainability fields to their offering? Or rather, are you finding that most MLSs are already doing so?

Meg: This is a big question! For us at the time, I’d say it was MLS values and my personal interest that allowed me to tackle this project. This was all new for me – the MLS industry and identifying data fields.

I became very involved with local and national working groups to explore what fields were available and then how we can source this data to get it into the real estate transaction process.

The Vermont Green Home Alliance was helping to push us toward having fields available for their energy-labeling initiatives. We were even able to source photovoltaics data in Vermont and implemented the first data auto-population of this information into listings in 2018!

We began implementing the RESO green standards when we went through an MLS vendor conversion, so that’s one example of a good time for MLSs to incorporate green fields that they might not already have had in their system.

But, honestly, every MLS should be adding these standard fields now. Most MLS software vendors are now versed in them, so it should be a relatively easy process. This data exists in every market, and we have intelligence at the Green Building Registry to help MLSs make smarter decisions about the green verification enumerations they should add to their systems.

I am seeing more MLSs adopt these data fields. Some associations are also hiring for sustainability positions (yay!). I think this is great, and I’d encourage everyone to identify a subject matter expert to have on staff to learn about these fields and to keep tabs on what’s happening at state and local energy offices.

There is a lot happening that is driving greater and faster change in our housing stock along with requirements to be able to support this information in the real estate market. The industry has largely not voluntarily moved forward on this, and outside pressures are going to force this along.

The Inflation Reduction Act passed last year is providing hundreds of billions of dollars to update our homes to be more energy efficient. This includes incentives for home energy scoring (PropertyGreenVerifications). In addition, if a state applies for this money, they are also required to submit a market transformation plan outlining how they will ensure the market can recognize the value of upgrades made to homes through their rebate programs, including at the time of sale. This is exactly the type of data we make available to MLS systems through the Green Building Registry. 

Sustainability is also one of the four pillars of the National Association of REALTORS® strategic plan, and the Sustainability Advisory Group is now in its fifth year. Data is a component of this plan. MLSs can easily source this data now and make it available in their public marketplaces. Consumers are looking for it, and it provides an easy way for consumers to factor sustainability into their property search and purchase decisions.

This data, though, is just invaluable to the real estate transaction process. It delivers greater transparency that helps build trust, provides insight into total cost of ownership, gives a more holistic view of the market, helps a buyer make a more informed purchase decision and can help a seller recognize a greater return on investment for energy improvement.

With millions of properties having this data, why wouldn’t you want to support it in your market? Sustainability should be a part of every organization. It provides business opportunities, and it’s what consumers are looking for.

It also helps unlock green mortgage products for buyers. We support ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] reporting for the single family green mortgage-backed securities market, and since this data usually doesn’t exist on listings, it’s a disjointed process to identify properties that have solar photovoltaics or green verifications.

Getting more of this data into listings supports a healthy flow of information throughout the real estate transaction process and allows for the appropriate market response to this information.

Education remains a key component in understanding this data, how best to utilize it in the marketplace and how to learn about what is driving change in your marketplace. There are a variety of resources available, and there are several areas where I can help MLSs navigate this landscape, including:

RESO (to the reader): Yes, folks, Meg came up with all of that during the in-person interview. That’s how well she knows her stuff.

Meg: It should be noted that there is no stigma attached to low energy scores. These scores provide an opportunity to improve for both the buyer and seller. At least 69% of our housing stock was built before 1990, before the 1992 Energy Policy Act mandated more stringent building energy codes.

Q3: In your experience, is RESO welcoming enough to non-MLS organizations like yours, or are we still a little too focused on MLSs and MLS vendors?

Meg: I was working in the MLS world first, so that’s tricky for me to answer. But I’ve always found everyone at RESO events to be very open and welcoming.

In my role now, I’m walking the line between the energy world and the real estate industry to help support each in overlapping areas. The one thing I’ve noticed is that while data interoperability is a critical component, RESO has largely been focused on the data output from an MLS. We’re working to auto-populate data into listings, and there are still some technical challenges to support this.

I’m also working in data standards across the real estate and property data ecosystem. I’m looking at the HPXML data standard used in the energy-rating world, the RESO standard used in the real estate industry, the new UAD [Uniform Appraisal Dataset] being adopted in the appraisal industry and the MISMO [Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization] data standard used in the mortgage industry.

It’s a lot of data standards to harmonize across industries, but without data standards it would be much harder.

I’m always looking at and thinking about how we can take more of a holistic view of property data in general to bring all of this information together for the benefit of anyone working with property data.

As a self-proclaimed data geek, this is where I get really excited about new data emerging in the market. I’m always asking how we can support it and provide greater value to consumers with it.

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