Home buyers look to real estate agents to help them search for the perfect house. Now, in addition to the three-bedroom in a good school district with a nice yard, savvy buyers compare one home's "green" features against another. Home sellers also need agents who know how to push their house's energy efficiency and other green charms.

A small group of Jackson county Realtors stepped up to meet this changing market need by becoming certified EcoBrokers, real estate professions knowledgeable about energy-efficiency, sustainability and healthier homes and buildings.

Don McCoy of Medford, Oregon's first certified EcoBroker, said having this knowledge is now an important aspect of real estate.

"Helping identify those features for buyers and builders is the future of real estate," he said.

McCoy said more and more people are paying attention to energy efficiency.

"They're asking, 'How much are the utility bills on this home?' McCoy said. "There's a secondary concern about how healthy the home is. Many have allergies or environmental sensitivities and are more aware of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in glues and paints and sealants. They also want to know how sustainable the materials are that were used to construct houses."

McCoy said agents must be prepared to discuss non-formaldehyde glues, Forest Stewardship Council certified lumber and flooring, on-demand water heaters and the difference between a 3.7 and 4.5 kilowatt photovoltaic system.

"If agents are serious about their careers, they will start learning about green features," he said.

Joe Charter, Ashland's first agent with the certification, said, "I became an EcoBroker because it was a way to integrate my personal values with my livelihood."

Charter, who was an attorney before becoming an agent last year, wrote for the Ecology Law Quarterly while a law student at the University of California, Berkley.

"I wrote for solar access rights," he said. "It's always been an interest and focus of mine. In the 70s, we were poised on the threshold of the solar age, but it just didn't come. Today, we're seeing things move in that direction because we recognize we have a limited amount of natural resources."

As an EcoBroker at Real Estate Depot in Ashland, Charter said he sees buyers making decisions based on a home's green features. "New construction is more appealing to buyers if the home is energy efficient." And McCoy said in California, houses with solar panels sell faster than homes without.

Chris Toogood of John L. Scott Real Estate in Ashland said his interest in the environment is why he pursued the EcoBroker certification. "I was an environmental education major at Southern Oregon University," Toogood said.

He said the knowledge he's gained through the program has definitely come in handy with clients who have totally green homes, as well as people looking for green homes. "I'd say air quality is the biggest concern with my clients."

Toogood is taking the EcoBroker message one step further by promoting the ideas to builders. "I'm trying to show Ashland builders how to make their homes more green, and showing them that there is a demand," he said. "This would give them an edge in the future, both monetarily as well as in good conscience."

McCoy said that the lull in the housing market is a perfect time for contractors, developers and builders to pay attention to the newest building trends in the green movement.

"They should be taking advantage of the organizations that are out there like Earth Advantage and Energy Star. The U.S. Green Building Council is a true leader in this movement with its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. A Rogue Valley branch of the USGB has formed and meets the first Thursday of every month at Phoenix Organics in Phoenix."

McCoy said, "The Ashland City Council's recent approval of the Verde Village is an excellent example of how the green movement is becoming a reality. There are all kinds of opportunities that are going to be presenting themselves in the very near future."

According to the Earth Advantage Web site, "The high percentage of homes achieving a third-party green certification shows green building is rapidly becoming part of mainstream building practice," says Bruce Sullivan, Green Building Consultant for Earth Advantage, Inc. "It's a growing trend that tells us builders and consumers are no longer satisfied with the status-quo. But rather, they want homes that are more efficient, create less waste, have lower environmental impact and provide healthier living spaces."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x226