SCOTT SIMON, host:
You know, it's no secret that the housing market is still slow across much of the country. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren found that a growing number of Realtors, homeowners and builders are trying to lure buyers by pitching their properties as green.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN: In Alexandria, Virginia, a huge for-sale sign hangs outside a new condominium complex. It promises luxury with a conscience.
Ms. JENNIFER HALM (Real Estate Agent): What I have to show you are two furnished models. They are both two bedrooms.
SHOGREN: Real estate agent Jennifer Halm is showing the place to a prospective buyer.
Ms. HALM: One of the really exciting things is, we're using geothermal heat and air.
SHOGREN: That means instead of a conventional heat pump, these units use a system that pulls heat from the Earth during the winter, and reverses the process in the summer. Halm says it saves so much energy that residents will pay $100 a month less in utilities, and they'll qualify for big tax breaks.
Ms. HALM: That is going to boil down to at least $7,000 per unit that you'll be able to take as a credit.
SHOGREN: It's the property's flashiest green feature, but there are lots of others.
Ms. HALM: We use recycled lumber. All of the water is filtered before it's sent back out to the Chesapeake.
SHOGREN: The condo's own Web site is full of details about energy-efficient windows and lighting, water-saving toilets and cleaner paints. And Halm posted ads touting the complex's Earth-friendly enhancements on other real estate Web sites. Even so, the units aren't moving fast. But Halm says they are selling better than the competition, and she thinks the environmental features help.
Ms. HALM: It's an added bonus that we're green. I don't think it's as important to people. They want to think it's important, but I think the tax incentive and the savings are more important.
SHOGREN: Green hasn't been a silver bullet for architect Robert Nehrebecky, either. He built an environmentally certified house in Bethesda, Maryland, and his Realtor advertised it on a national Web site for green homes.
Mr. ROBERT NEHREBECKY (Architect): We had absolutely zero interest locally because of that ad.
SHOGREN: Nehrebecky says potential buyers didn't care about the expensive sustainable wood floors he installed. But many walked away when they learned the house didn't have a two-car garage. It took seven months to find a buyer for the house, and he had to sell it at a loss.
Mr. NEHREBECKY: The green component is, I think in most people's minds, considered an amenity. And there's a very small section of the population that I found that has got to have green.
SHOGREN: Those people have a hard time finding the eco-friendly properties that are out there, and sellers don't often get a payback for their green improvements.
That really irritates Kria Lacher, an agent in Portland, Oregon.
Ms. KRIA LACHER (Real Estate Agent): I would notice things like a 1920s house with all of its original appliances, heaters, windows, all of that. And then another 1920s bungalow that had a high-efficiency furnace and the Energy Star appliances, and the seller had done all these things to make it green. And they were selling the same per square foot. And that just made me really upset.
SHOGREN: Lacher says the problem was there was no way to search for green homes in the multiple listing services that agents use to advertise properties and appraisers use to value them. So she decided to change that. Now, Portland's multiple listing system makes it easier to match up buyers and sellers of green properties.
(Soundbite of music)
SHOGREN: Like this ranch house on a busy street in Northeast Portland.
Ms. LACHER: Well, this house has had quite a few things done to it to make it greener. It's got all new windows, and it's got 8 inches of blown-in cellulose insulation.
SHOGREN: And it sold at asking price in 22 days � half the average selling time in the neighborhood.
Lacher has also helped Seattle, Truckee, California and northern New Mexico develop greener listing services. And the country's biggest multiple listing service � which covers the Washington, D.C. area � has changed its searching system to help agents promote and find eco homes.
That creates a new challenge: How will buyers evaluate all the green claims?
Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News.