Shop Around for Green Technology

The time has come to reconsider the value of your network when making purchasing decisions, especially in the new realm of green technology.

Every time I speak with a real estate professional about how they choose the companies to contract for a given project, I get the same cliché answer: “Real estate is a relationship business,” the presumption being that they prefer trusting recommendations within their network to shopping around on their own. And it’s across the board too, from commercial brokers to mixed-use developers to single-family home flippers! The time has come to reconsider the value of your network when making purchasing decisions, especially in the new realm of green technology.

Green has transitioned from a hip buzzword to a legitimate business directive, and chances are all the chatter has you at least curious about the feasibility of “going green,” say by exploring the implications of taking on a renewable energy, LEED building or efficiency project. But the contacts and staff you’ve trusted for recommendations over the years are new to green too. They’re just going to shrug, refer you to a chance encounter or do some cursory research in hopes that an uneducated answer is better than admitting ignorance to the boss.

Let’s take a look at your network:

•    Your finance guy doesn’t know green. It’s perceived as unreasonably expensive, and it didn’t exist as a line item when he was in grad school.
•    Your GC doesn’t know green. His business hasn’t changed since the beginning of time, but he’ll gladly fake it and hire some low-wage workers to try and install whatever you want.
•    Your designer doesn’t know green. It’s new and not very shiny.
•    Your broker doesn’t know green either. Though she does vaguely know somebody in the green industry she met at a networking event, and she owes them a referral.
•    Your old business partners? Too busy licking their wounds to try anything new.

Until the industry matures, consolidates and thins out the pack of pretenders trying to capitalize on the hyper-growth green marketplace, you’re going to need some help finding the right business partners for sustainability initiatives. Lucky for you, there are a slew of experts ready and waiting to take a look at your property and present reasonable suggestions for ways to operate more efficiently and possibly profit from becoming an energy producer, along with realistic financial projections. Unlucky for you, there’s just as many companies posing as experts that would like nothing more than to gut your property, install their ‘greenwashed’ wares and bolt some solar panels or wind turbines to the roof, whether it’s a savvy investment or not.

Ok, so now what? Forget you’re in real estate and get back to what we Americans do best: shopping—not necessarily buying, but shopping around to get a feel for the marketplace. Plus, times are tough across the board, and it’s probably a good idea to re-evaluate your buying processes to be sure you’re making savvy purchases in all aspects of your portfolio.
Whether you already know what sort of project you’re interested in pursuing, like installing a solar panel array or more energy-efficient building controls, or you’re seeking the services of a consultant to guide you through the options, you could research companies in your market using any of the following:

Search Engines:
Pro: Use any terms you want to try and find the best match.
Con: The companies with the biggest marketing budgets usually win.

Online Directories:
Pro: Search by location, peruse reviews and choose who to contact.
Con: Fragmented listings that may miss major or niche players.

Green Building Forums:
Pro: Passionate opinions and honest recommendations.
Con: Tend to favors smaller companies that may not have the most resources.

Services that match your needs with appropriate companies:
Pro: Save time tracking down reputable companies and compare multiple proposals.
Con: Lack of control for which companies you initially engage.

Green technology projects don’t have to be daunting, but you can’t trust your existing relationships for the best advice in a new sector of the real estate market either. Shop around! Maybe it will be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Brian Koles is president & founder of GreenTechBuyer.org, an online service that educates real estate decision-makers about green technology and matches them with the best companies to get proposals for their projects.