How NOT to market a solar home in Arizona

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In 2017, there were a total of 2,597 solar homes sold in the Maricopa County area, including homes with monthly solar leases, homes with prepaid solar systems and homes where the solar system was owned outright. Out of the total solar sales in the Phoenix area, 62% of the homes involved solar leased systems while the remaining 38% were solar owned systems on the homes.

Looking at the data in the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service (MLS), it was interesting to see what information was provided by the listing agent and what language was used to market the solar homes.

Marketing Data

The number one piece of data used in the sale of a solar home throughout the Phoenix area last year was a copy of the solar lease or solar purchase contract. Out of all of the 2597 sales, 29.8% of the homes (or 1 out of 3 sold homes) included a copy of the lease or purchase contract. My first reaction to seeing this information was, “WOW…an agent thinks that the most effective piece of marketing for a solar home is to include a 10+ page of legalese in small print that focuses on what a home owner must pay and they expect a buyer is going to get excited by this type of document?” I will concede that a solar lease is an important piece of information that needs to be shared with a buyer, it is not what I would lead my solar marketing with.

The second choice in marketing in a total of 10.4 percent of the homes was to upload a copy of a current or recent utility bill. That was it…no explanation, no comparison on how much less it is, no demonstrable benefit other than here is a utility bill…and if you have read a utility bill, they are about as exciting to read as a solar lease contract.

The third most common choice of marketing material in 6.2 percent of the total solar home sales last year (yes, that is right, in 161 out of the 2,597 sales) was to include some sort of information about the solar system, usually in the form of a preprinted, general brochure from the solar company. Definitely a step in the right direction since it talked about how someone will benefit from the solar system but sadly not used enough throughout the year by real estate agents.

Following in fourth, real estate agents included a copy of a solar addendum, usually in a solar lease situation, that allowed for the transfer of the solar system from the seller to the buyer. A solar addendum was only used in 2.5% of the solar home sales (and keep in mind that homes with solar leases represented over 60% of the total solar sales last year…what was used to protect the seller in the contract negotiations? I don’t think I want to know…)

The fifth most common item used in the marketing and sale of a solar home was to include a copy of the utility letter grandfathering the solar system to current rates, though this was only used in 0.7% of all of the solar home sales last year.

Sadly, thirty percent of the total sales did not have any type of information provided with the listing…no lease/purchase contract, utility info, production info, panel info, solar addendum, etc. Basically 1 in 3 of these homes focused on stealth marketing of these homes.

Marketing Language

When looking at marketing language, I wanted to see what types of solar related words were used by real estate agent to describe the solar home. For reasons that I do not comprehend, many real estate agents avoided talking about solar in any form or fashion in their listings. As mentioned before, I call this stealth marketing. While stealth marketing sounds like a cool new trend to market a home, most real estate agents try not to mention the solar until after a buyer writes an offer on a home. I’m not sure how that will affect the contract if they are not using a solar addendum and are expecting a buyer to take over a solar lease that has a monthly payment.

When looking at actual marketing terms used, the term “solar” is only used in 2 out of 3 solar home listings in the MLS. Again this points back to the stealth marketing of solar on a home? On homes that had solar owned systems, only 3 out of 5 listings used the term “solar” and we all know that with the right real estate agent, a solar owned system will bring value on an appraisal of the home. My guess is that solar didn’t add any value to those homes, especially when those real estate agents are not even marketing all of the benefits on a home.

Even the terms “owned” or “leased” are only mentioned 16.4% and 18.3% of the time.

Other terms that help a buyer understand the benefits of solar are often excluded from online searches such as “savings” and variants of the word only show up in 14.8% of the solar sales while the mention of a grand-fathered solar system is only marketed in 1.1% of the home sales…and you know as well as I do that being grandfathered in with a lower rate plan and net metering is a key benefit for home buyers, especially when utility rates continue to climb each year.

Bottom line, real estate agents have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of their clients. If they don’t know how to market a solar home, they really have no business in trying to sell one. The National Association of Realtors code of ethics have provisions that state that:

REALTORS® provide to their clients and customers shall conform to the standards of practice and competence which are reasonably expected in the specific real estate disciplines in which they engage;

Are those real estate agents showing competence when they fail to even mention that the solar home has a leased or owned solar pv system on the roof?  While there were 2,597 solar home sales last year with or without a solar marketing plan, make sure you hire a real estate agent that has a strong marketing plan that incorporates your solar as an integral part of that plan (and if you own your solar system and your real estate agent says that it won’t provide any additional value to your home, find someone else that understands how to properly value solar real estate).

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