Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Can 'green' twist sell more homes?

The developer of a Topsham adult community is giving away hybrid
cars to attract purchasers in a distressed market.

By TUX TURKEL, Staff Writer
January 15, 2008

TOPSHAM — In full view of traffic on Route 196, a new Toyota
Prius is parked on a steep bank at the entrance to the Highland
Green adult community. A sign in front of the popular hybrid car
reads: "Buy a 'green' house, get a 'green' car."

The owner of Highland Green is using this promotion to
generate interest during a distressed housing market. He hopes
to sell six home sites, which average $25,000 each, by Feb. 1
and give each of the buyers a $20,000 vehicle.

As of last week, two buyers were negotiating purchase
agreements. None had yet signed a contract, but the highly
visible Prius is attracting plenty of attention and laying the
groundwork for future sales.

"It is distinguishing us in the marketplace," said John Wasileski,
who developed Highland Green, the neighboring Highlands of
Topsham and Ocean View at Falmouth.

Green marketing in its many forms is a common business tool
these days. But Wasileski is taking it to a new level, at least in
Maine's real estate world. His company has made a broad
commitment to sustainable practices in its three communities
and is using that platform to help attract residents.

Underlying this strategy are the changing desires of retirees.
Beyond golf courses and tennis courts, experts say, active adults
want to live in responsible communities that are working to
lessen their impacts on the environment.

Wasileski, who makes most of his profit from construction of the
houses and fees, estimates that more than 30 of the 140 or so
homeowners at Highland Green drive hybrids. So when potential
buyers who share these values visit and see gasoline-saving cars
in the driveways, they can picture themselves living at Highland
Green, Wasileski said.

This view has led Wasileski and his company, Sea Coast
Management Co., to carry out and consider several other

-- The developer is offering solar hot water systems to existing
homeowners, installed at cost. At least 16 residents are
interested so far.

-- Each community has recycling programs, energy-efficient
lighting, natural gas heat and biodiesel-fueled equipment.

-- The communities participate in the Governor's Carbon
Challenge, a program to track and cut emissions associated with
global climate change.

-- Common buildings have large-scale solar hot water systems
to supply apartments and food service. More systems are being

-- The company is working with buyers who want solar electric
systems on new homes and is planning to upgrade efficiency
standards for all new construction. That's where the "green"
home promotion comes in.

-- The company also is considering a wind turbine at Highland


These energy initiatives are a logical evolution for Wasileski.

His 650-acre Highland Green community and golf course
includes a 230-acre nature preserve along the Cathance River.
He helped fund a new ecology center on the property, powered
by solar electric panels and heated with wood pellets, that
provides a teaching base for the Cathance River Education

More recently, Wasileski's conservation interests have expanded
to energy matters. His awareness and changing views mirror
those of many buyers.

Take solar panels, for example.

Homes here can cost more than $500,000, and they're subject
to strict architectural guidelines. Roof-mounted solar panels had
been considered visually offensive to some owners and were not
allowed in any locations.

"Even two years ago," Wasileski said, "I'd estimate that 80
percent of residents would say they don't want to look at solar
panels. Now it's maybe 15 percent."


The systems being offered at all three communities come from
Energyworks, a renewable energy contractor based in Portland
and Liberty. They will supply an average home with more than
70 percent of its hot water needs, on an annual basis. The
system costs $7,840 installed, but federal and state tax credits
cut the cost to $4,613.

This equation looks good to Walter and Ruth Ann Specht, who
are among the 16 owners considering solar hot water. They
figure the system will pay for itself in less than seven years. They
were waiting last week for Energyworks to evaluate their home's
southern exposure and roof line.

Highland Green's overall sustainablity campaign is a positive
development for residents, Walter Specht said.

"I like it," he said. "It makes it cheaper to live here, and it ups my
resale value."

That premise is being tested by Nancy Brown, who had a solar
hot water system installed on her home when it was built in

Brown also doubled the amount of insulation in the roof,
upgraded the windows and oriented them to take advantage of
the southern exposure. Her heating bill is $100 a month less
than her neighbor's, she estimates.

Brown recently moved to a nearby town and is selling the three-
bedroom 2,000-square-foot house. Listed for $559,000, it has
been on the market since July.

"The folks I hope will buy this house will be interested in a home
that's on its way to being a green home," she said.

Energy concerns are becoming more common among buyers in
retirement communities, according to the AARP. In a recent
article, the interest group that represents Americans over 50
years old said baby boomers, especially, see their home as their
legacy. The article quoted Peter Pollak, developer of the Ford
Plantation near Savannah, Ga., and the Greenbrier Sporting Club
in West Virginia.

"We are seeing a generational purchase of a family heirloom," he
said. "Our members are people who have a strong family
connection and a committed sense of stewardship of the land."


At Highland Green, those values and the encouragement of
green building practices were important to Jack and Barb

The couple recently bought a home site and are designing a
3,000-square-foot house that will include both solar electric
and hot water systems. The Newsoms now live in Florida but had
heated with wood at a previous home in New Hampshire. They
compost vegetable waste and enjoy hiking and say an energy-
efficient home is just a logical decision for them.

"We believe all the stuff Al Gore and others are talking about,"
Jack Newsom said.

Wasileski's green marketing effort has been tempered by the
housing market; many potential buyers need to sell homes out
of state before they can move to Highland Green.

That said, Wasileski hopes to sell 20 homes this year and figures
the Prius promotion could put six under contract. The promotion
would then cost $120,000, equal to taking $20,000 off the
asking price of a home site -- but with a more powerful
marketing impact.

"To some extent," he said, "we're just piggybacking on what our
residents are telling us."

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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