Sunny homes top the wanted list

SKY HIGH: Auckland property prices hit a new average high of $589,251.
SKY HIGH: Auckland property prices hit a new average high of $589,251.

Buyers value energy efficiency, not just style, when house hunting. LIZ McDONALD reports.

Never mind the fancy kitchen and the off- street parking - insulation and sunshine is what home buyers claim to be most interested in, according to a recent survey.

And they also say they are prepared to pay for it.

The survey, questioning 1700 house hunters, was done by real estate website for Homestar, an arm of the Green Building Council and Branz set up to boost warmth and energy efficiency in Kiwi homes.

The website's head, Alistair Helm, says the research gives an insight into buyers' perceptions of what adds value to a home.

"There is a widely held opinion that the aesthetics of a home are what matters most to home buyers," Helm says.

"This survey shows the reality that this perception is changing, and that features that provide a warm and dry home are fast rising up the shopping list for buyers."

Judged top priority by buyers was the orientation of the property to the sun - with more than half rating it very high in importance and another third of high importance.

In comparison, an attractive gourmet kitchen was rated very highly important by just 16 per cent of buyers, and as highly important by 34 per cent.

After orientation to the sun, the next most important feature was a high level of insulation, which scored 46 per cent on the scale of very high importance and 35 per cent of high importance.

Helm says he was interested to see that insulation was rated more of a must-have item than a third bedroom, off-street parking or indoor-outdoor flow.

The survey also looked at whether environmentally friendly features could create a price premium on homes.

Of those questioned who were looking to sell their property or had recently sold, 88 per cent believed features saving energy, water and heating could make a home more valuable.

They especially singled out insulation, an efficient heating and cooling system and double- glazing as adding value. Judged of lower importance were low- energy lighting and materials with low toxicity.

"As for signals of value for buyers and sellers, at this stage it appears to be very much around tangible items that can be seen and touched as opposed to the environmental performance measures behind the features," says Helm.

"Time will tell if these performance measures move up the priority list and start to surpass things like the granite bench top."

The survey also investigated to what extent buyers had inquired about or looked for aspects of environmental or energy- efficiency performance. It found that buyers were on the front foot when it came to asking about the warmth and health aspects of a home, with more than two-thirds of buyers inquiring about heating, dampness, or insulation.

In an attempt to show homebuyers what they cannot see behind the decor, Homestar has set up rating tools, one self- assessed and one certified, which measure the energy efficiency and eco-friendliness of houses.

But the ratings in New Zealand are voluntary. British homes now require an energy efficiency rating before they can be sold, and a similar compulsory system is being introduced in the European Union.

Research has not been done to measure whether New Zealanders will pay more for an energy- efficient home, but Homestar says overseas evidence suggests high- rated homes overseas sell for a premium of 5 per cent or more.

The Press