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Legislation calling for home energy audits faces resistance

PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK
Lawmakers are considering a controversial measure that would require an energy audit at the time a home is listed for sale.

BY THOMAS GRILLO

The real estate industry is taking on housing and environmental advocates over a measure that would require an energy audit when a home is for sale.

At issue is legislation that would mandate disclosure of a home’s energy use when a dwelling is being sold. If passed, information about a house’s energy consumption and cost must be available when it goes on the market. The Senate bill also requires the state to track and report the number of home energy audits conducted and ratings issued.

Proponents say the statistic would be similar to estimated miles per gallon (mpg) for cars or energy efficiency ratings on appliances.

But opponents insist the mandatory home energy labeling would hurt the housing market. They say it’s unfair to tag an older home with an inefficient energy label, that it would be like putting out new mpg requirements on cars that were built more than 50 years ago, the median age of a Massachusetts home.

“If these mandatory energy inspections become law, the bill causes more harm than good,” said Annie Blatz, Massachusetts Association of Realtors (MAR) president, in a statement. “This comes down to the unintended consequences of trying to mandate a one-size-fits-all approach. It will hurt the housing market for all homeowners, especially those low-income homeowners with older homes who can’t afford to improve their score prior to selling their home.”

Advocates for the bill say it’s a common sense approach to providing key data for potential buyers.  

“Why would the real estate community be upset about providing information?” asked George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and supporter of the measure. “Our case for it is very simple: why shouldn’t there be an mpg sticker on your largest purchase?”

MAR has lent its considerable clout to fight the plan. It argues that adding an audit to homebuying would exacerbate an already complicated process of buying and selling a home. Requiring an energy audit prior to listing a home will lead to homebuying delays, they said.

But Bachrach said the no-cost provision will have no impact on sales. He said homebuyers choose a property based on location, price and size.

He noted that sellers can get a free energy audit from Mass Save, an initiative sponsored by Massachusetts’ natural gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency service providers, and pass the information on to potential homebuyers.

“The energy provision is just an additional piece of information that will give potential buyers some sense of how much it will cost them in energy uses, in addition to the purchase price, to actually live there,” Bachrach said.

Still, Patrick Maguire, a salesman at Re/Max Advantage, which serves the North Shore, said the energy information could be misinterpreted and cause confusion in the market.

“Most of the homes in this region were built in the early 1900s,” he said. “This might put a stigma on these otherwise very good homes.”

MAR said the measure is unnecessary since home inspectors already provide consumers with information about home energy audits at the time of a home inspection.

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