According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Massachusetts has been the single most energy-efficient state in the country for the past five years, a rank of which the 24,000-member Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® (MAR) is justifiably proud. But when a bill in the state legislature this past session threatened to require an energy audit to produce an energy score for all houses being listed for sale, MAR leapt to the defense of the state’s homeowners.
Annie Blatz, MAR’s 2016 President, is quick to point out that protecting the environment is a priority for its members, and that the association supports sound policies and programs aimed at protecting and conserving energy. However, she notes, REALTORS® oppose any policy that arbitrarily restricts private property rights. “Massachusetts housing stock is among the oldest in the country at an average of 54 years. A mandated mechanism that rates homes in terms of their perceived energy efficiency would impose an unfair advantage on older homes entering the market.”
The concept of required energy audits and scores has actually been in the air for years, explains Robert Authier, MAR’s CEO. “Our Government Affairs Department has been successfully tamping it down, but this summer it really gained traction, and we needed to mount an aggressive effort to derail its momentum.” MAR turned to the REALTOR® Party for help launching a media campaign and grassroots advocacy response that helped to convince key decision makers that voluntary programs with enhanced incentives was a preferable approach to improving residential energy efficiency.
A $25,000 Issues Mobilization Grant from the National Association of REALTORS® was matched by MAR’s own Private Property Protection Fund. “The application process was easy,” says MAR General Counsel and Director of Government Affairs Michael McDonagh, who has tapped in to REALTOR® Party funding for other Government Affairs projects in the past, but never one as urgent as taking the energy audit language out of the energy bill. “It wasn’t overly burdensome, which was key, since a lot of us were out of the office, in the trenches up on Beacon Hill,” he recalls. “The staff at NAR was great, and expedited the process so that we got the funds right when we had to go in to overdrive.”
With online, radio and newspaper ads, MAR’s campaign applied pressure to the various districts represented by the three state senators and three representatives on the conference committee considering the final energy bill. “We worked with our local associations to mobilize constituents of those districts to reach out directly to their legislators, and the response was powerful,” says McDonagh. “It was the advocacy of our locals that made the difference. We heard from a number of legislators that the message was heard loud and clear, and in the end, we won the day.”
That message focused on the value of working with the state’4 major electric and gas utilities to find ways to encourage all homeowners to complete voluntary energy audits, and to improve the existing incentives for energy efficiency upgrades. MAR has already been partnering with Mass Save®, a statewide program financed largely by a modest surcharge on utility bills that offers substantial giveaways, rebates, discounts and loan programs for upgrades from light bulbs to HVAC equipment. “By engaging our 24,000 members to enlighten their clients about the benefits of having an energy audit, and all the savings available through Mass Save®, the utilities can reach a significant number of homeowners and energy consumers,” notes Authier. “For our members, it provides a great opportunity to touch base with past clients, and to add value to their service to new buyers too.”
“At the end of the day, REALTORS® care about the environment, and want homeowners to invest in their properties,” concludes Blatz. “By working closely with the utility companies and programs like Mass Save®, MAR is helping to advance both these causes.”
To learn more about how Massachusetts REALTORS® mobilized to protect their state’s homeowners from mandatory energy audits and scoring, and how they’re working to maintain Massachusetts’ ranking as the most energy efficient state in the U.S., contact MAR’s Michael McDonagh, General Counsel and Director of Government Affairs, at 781-839-5520, or Eric Berman, Director of Communications, at 781-839-5507.