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'A great step'

Finding or selling a "green-certified" home in Southern Oregon might get a little easier next month, thanks to a move by the Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service that's been in the offing for nearly a year.

The board of SOMLS, the largest real-estate database in Southern Oregon, voted last week to add a drop-down menu to its online listing form that lets home buyers and Realtors search for houses that have been certified by the three most common earth-friendly building programs in this region: Energy Star, Earth Advantage and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

"We're expecting it to start in the first part of March," says Gary Stine, CEO of SOMLS.

"This is a great step, and it will lead to greater awareness (among builders, Realtors and the public) that there are more energy-efficient and better-built, high-performance houses out there," says Don McCoy, of Exit Realty in Medford, who worked as an advisor to SOMLS as the board decided what kinds of "green" features to include on MLS forms.

Many builders and homeowners have added "green" features to their dwellings, such as bamboo floors, solar water heaters, energy-efficient appliances, nontoxic paints and recycled materials, McCoy says. But the existence of a few "green" features does not necessarily constitute a "green house," adds McCoy, one of 14 certified EcoBrokers in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The difference between a house with green features and green-certified house is that the latter has received inspections and a stamp of approval from a third-party verifier, such as the U.S. Green Building Council, which administers the LEED program, or Earth Advantage, a Portland-based nonprofit organization.

Those inspections include such things as blower-door tests, which measure how much air leaks out of a house, and duct-blaster tests, which ensure the integrity of a home's heating and cooling system.

To achieve Energy Star certification, a home must meet energy-efficiency standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy, which includes high-efficiency appliances, energy-efficient lighting and adequate insulation. To achieve Earth Advantage or LEED certification, buildings must go well beyond Energy Star ratings to include such features as recycled materials, nontoxic paints, water-wise landscaping, solar power and more.

By including only houses that have achieved third-party verification, SOMLS will avoid what is known as "green washing," says McCoy, "where people call things green that aren't really green."

SOMLS is the central repository for information on the housing market in Jackson and Josephine counties. Realtors use the database to list properties, and to search for properties that have features a buyer wants. A Realtor can use the listing service to easily search for houses in certain neighborhoods, in a specific price range, and with a certain number of rooms or square footage. The new drop-down menu will also allow them to search for houses that have been certified as "green."

The move will bring Southern Oregon Realtors in line with their counterparts in Portland and Bend, who have been able to search for green-built houses since early last year. Portland's Regional Multiple Listing Service launched its new "green" feature Feb. 27, 2007. That same week, the Central Oregon Multiple Listing Service announced plans to follow suit.

"It has had a wonderful impact in Portland," says Kria Lacher, of Meadows Group, Inc., who made the first proposal to include green listings on Portland's RMLS, and has since helped set up similar programs in Seattle, California, New Mexico and Texas. "It has raised the bar because people are now more aware that there is environmental certification."

To illustrate how the system in Portland works, Lacher did a quick search for green-certified homes listed in the downtown Portland core on Monday. The search revealed 237 green listings, which included 54 pending sales.

"That's huge because before you wouldn't have seen them," Lacher says.

To help Realtors become versed in what the change means — and the factors involved in green certification — SOMLS will be offering classes to help real estate professionals learn the principles and lingo of green building, Stine says.

Builders and Realtors "will have to be educated," says McCoy, "for when a clients comes in and says, 'I want a green-built home.'

"They'll need to know what the different levels and options are."

"It creates a buzz and people need to be ready to learn the differences between these programs," agrees Lacher, offering some advice based on Portland's year of experience with the system that is about to start here.

"It impacts everybody in the housing industry. People need to be ready for it. Either they embrace the change or they'll be left behind."

Reach Mail Tribune Feature Editor David Smigelski at 776-8784 or dsmigelski@mailtribune.com.

The first four townhouses at Green Brae Village in Talent are set for completion in early April. The 12-unit project, by builder Scott B. Owings and developer Ross Kersey, is Energy Star-certified, with numerous green features such as low-VOC (volatile organic compound) finishes and Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber. Green-certified houses such as these will be easier for buyers to find when the Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service adds a green feature to its database in March. - Jamie Lusch