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Residential solar is booming. Despite the economic uncertainty and the physical challenges of COVID-19, a sense of urgency has been created by the federal tax credits sunsetting in 2021. Some demand could be attributed to the growing awareness of the effects of climate change or the drive for energy independence but solar as a financial solution has been the driving force for adoption.
Residential solar companies have built their message around the financial benefits of solar, and these companies are increasingly relying on the hope that decreasing equipment prices and favorable tax policies will keep up the current demand for solar.
But as we all know, these kinds of economic and policy-driven environments are too volatile to be counted on for very long. The only constant is change and it is sure to come our way — perhaps sooner rather than later. How will we survive when that time inevitably comes for the solar industry?
An untapped market
Fortunately, there is another untapped market force yet to be unleashed: solar as an equity building home improvement. It seems obvious to those of us in the industry: a home that produces its own energy, costs less to operate, and guards against ever-rising utility rates is inherently more valuable than a typical home. But proper valuation faces major hurdles — especially in the real estate industry and home sale process.
But there is demand for high-performing homes. Recent surveys have shown that 69% of prospective buyers want — and are willing to pay for — energy-efficient and high-performing homes. Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are especially interested in investing in renewable energy and homes that allow them to live out their environmentally conscious values. Yet relying on values-driven purchases alone is not enough in this economy, and few homebuyers are aware of the true long-term value that solar adds to the home.
The burden of proof
For years, solar sales teams have stated or implied that solar adds value to a home. The challenge has been to make the equity-enhancement benefits of solar concrete and measurable. Solar sales teams have had little to rely on — other than a few outdated studies conducted in other markets, or the rare publication that shines a glimmer of light on this common-sense value proposition.
Clearly, the ability to effectively demonstrate the measurable benefits of solar as an equity-building asset would be a powerful sales tool that could change the game for our industry. Even a demonstrable increase of 2% to 3% would effectively replace the value now provided by the federal tax credit.
Imagine solar as a recognized and recommended home improvement! Tapping into the $17 billion-a-year home improvement market and giving rise to a rapid nationwide adoption of solar would have enormous implications for the industry and would turbo-charge economic growth and environmental stewardship.
Real estate woes
Unfortunately, the real estate industry has also historically failed when it comes to properly incorporating the value of solar. All too often, appraisers, agents, and brokers view solar as an obstacle rather than an asset. To complicate matters, in the rare instance that an appraiser is qualified and willing to properly value an array, the documentation they need is often difficult or impossible to obtain. Installers are hesitant to share the necessary information with agents and appraisers, while homeowners misplace paperwork, and so on.
When solar is passed over in the valuation, marketing, and, ultimately, listing price of the home, the original investment goes unrewarded. If even a single link in the chain breaks, the valuation process can fail. For example, if a buyer agrees to pay a premium for a home with solar but the appraiser doesn’t properly value it, then the loan will not match the ask. Or if an agent isn’t comfortable marketing the solar home, it will be more difficult to attract the right buyer. It is an uphill battle — and it seemed that we would need to wait for the real estate industry to jump on board. So while generally, demand should drive supply, the slow response of those in the business of buying and selling homes has negatively impacted the solar market.
Happily, this is not the nature of our industry. Solar has always been in the business of persevering, overcoming, and innovating. We have endured bad policy, attacks from the fossil fuel industry, misinformation, tariffs, and more. So it isn’t all that surprising that, when presented with the opportunity to satisfy the overwhelming demand for high-performing, eco-friendly homes and create a new value proposition for selling solar, some of the best minds in the industry put together a solution.
Seeing the light
Seeing the problem in its entirety and understanding that market demand will influence the change we seek, Pearl Certification created a clear path to the proper valuation of solar homes — starting with the way contractors/installers market and sell solar to homeowners.
Pearl Certification helps solar sales teams sell more by providing a new value proposition: that solar not only saves money now, it also builds long-term equity in their home.
A solar system is one of the largest purchases a homeowner will make; it makes sense that having the added security of licensed and approved documentation will encourage more fence-sitters to take the plunge. Enabling solar installers to effectively communicate the message that solar is an equitable home improvement and provide approved and licensed documentation helps homeowners justify the cost and feel confident in their purchase. Now, homeowners no longer fear their investment in solar will turn into a stranded asset, should the need to move arise.
If and when the time to sell comes, Pearl continues to provide solutions throughout both the appraisal and home selling process. Collecting and housing all the data needed for proper valuation and marketing, Pearl guides the appraiser through the process to ensure the investment in solar is recognized and valued.
Pearl then solves the real estate problem by ensuring appraisers are given everything they need to conduct a proper valuation, and that agents are equipped with all the necessary marketing materials to attract both the right buyer and the premium asked. When presented with a willing buyer, a proper appraisal, and enthusiastic agents, lenders have everything in place to finance the deal in a way that rewards the seller for their solar investment.
It’s a true win-win solution. Pearl closes the gaps and creates a continuous “loop” or mutually beneficial, cyclical business process across every major sector of the residential solar housing industry/market. This is the kind of innovative and forward-thinking solution our industry needs to adopt if we want to stop relying on volatile market forces and policies, so we can ensure long-term growth and success.
Again, unsurprisingly, the best solution lies within our own industry rather than outside of it. I hope you will join me in advocating for this internal, team-oriented, solutions-based approach as we head into the future of solar in the U.S. Together, we can ensure the unbridled and stable success of our own businesses and the industry as a whole.
John Blattner is a solar sales executive at Pearl Certification, a national firm that certifies high performing homes: homes with solar panels, energy efficient heating and cooling systems, smart home devices, and high quality ventilation. Pearl’s Certification Reports drive demand for these features by making them visible at time of sale. They enable home sellers to capture the value of their investments and buyers to find the homes they want.