What’s It Like to Be Your Own Boss as a Green Real Estate Broker?

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Do you sell nothing but LEED certified houses?  Do you work flexible hours and have incredible freedom?  Are your clients the greatest group of people you could have hoped for?  What about the kind of support you get from your realty company?  Does the downturn in the broader market hurt the green real estate broker the same as others?

I asked all these questions to Keith Hodge, green real estate broker for Green Key Real Estate, Inc. Keith Hodge lives in the Castro and particularly likes walkable communities.  One of the reasons he was drawn to Green Key was to help change the system that, he says, has been tarnished by ‘growth at any cost’ lobbying.  The National Association of Realtors, the third largest lobbyist organization in the country (in terms of spending since 1989), tends to lobby for policies that can increase sprawl, roads, and segregated communities.  This is under the guise of helping to create vibrant communities for people to live and work, but common sense says their strong emphasis on single family homes (which tend to sell for more than condos, townhomes and other higher-density dwellings and thus provide a richer paycheck to realtors) leads to the kinds of communities where sprawl is the norm and communities become ever more dependent on cars as public transit becomes less feasible.

Hodge, who earned a degree in environmental studies, saw the real estate market as low-hanging fruit for making big changes for sustainability.  Hodge has been taking classes from PG&E to learn how to help homeowners go green, a service he plans to offer to customers as part of their package when buying or selling a house with him.  While Green Key does not just represent green or LEED certified homes,

the company donates 10% of all gross commissions to greening the homes they help sell.  As a former client of Keith’s and Green Key, I can attest to his and the company’s emphasis on walkable communities.  The walkability index, a relatively new phenomenon in real estate assessments, gives a relative scale of how easy it would be to live in a particular house and walk to grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, bars, post offices, libraries, and the like.  Keith found me a home with a 97 (out of 100) on the walkability index, and as a result I use my car maybe 2-3 times per month, and am considering divorcing it.  I know how Keith would lobby if he was head of NAR, which is why I chose him to represent me when I was looking to purchase a home in San Francisco.

So what about becoming your own boss as a green real estate agent?  According to Hodge, “It’s all about networking.”  On average, Hodge spends 2-3 hours per day on the phone, and attends networking events as often as possible.  Open Houses tend to be on weekends for the general public, so he spends a lot of weekends meandering neighborhoods in San Francisco with his clients.  Clients often have regular full-time jobs, so much of a real estate agent’s client time is on nights and weekends as well.  While Green Key provides an office and access to research materials, the grand majority of the work is in the hands of the agent himself.  It’s a reality that many don’t understand before entering the field as a broker.  And it’s one of the main reasons that 90% of agents who get their certification don’t renew it at the end of their four year term.

So you have to be into networking and making acquaintances with strangers.  What about those strangers?  The realtor job is part salesman, part psychologist, part clairvoyant, part accountant, part paralegal, part housekeeper, and part bike messenger.  You have to hustle and be optimistic, and you have to know your stuff, but you also have to interpret the diverse needs of clients in a way that you anticipate what will make them happy.  It’s not an easy job.

What about the economic downturn?  Do green homes sell for more than traditional couterparts?  “Absolutely,” says Hodge.  “The data bear it out, though the degree of separation is not crystal clear.”  As a sure sign that energy/water savings and healthy homes are in high demand, “even Republicans are doing it,” according to Hodge.  Stop the presses!

Scott Cooney is a happy San Francisco homeowner who bikes to work and walks to get his groceries at Rainbow Grocery