Lenders who prey on veterans hurt other home buyers as well

Lenders who prey on veterans hurt other home buyers as well

Kenneth R. Harney on Feb 16, 2018

WASHINGTON – Could predatory lending practices affecting veterans also be inflating http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=interest%20rate s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2049258> interest rates paid by thousands of unsuspecting http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=home%20buyers&c 2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousi ng/s-2049258> home buyers using FHA loans?

The answer appears to be yes – and the underlying abuses in home loans to veterans are prompting action by federal authorities and legislation on Capitol Hill.

Here’s what’s happening- According to officials, some lenders active in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) home-mortgage program have been inducing borrowers to refinance their loans frequently in order to generate fat fees for the lenders themselves, rather than benefiting veterans with lower costs or better loan terms.

The lenders use baiting tactics reminiscent of the housing-boom era – “teaser rates,” promises of zero payments for one or two months, refunds of escrows, switches from long-term fixed rates to short-term floating rates, and a grab-bag of bogus claims about saving money. In fact, many veterans have ended up paying more for their loans after the predatory refinancings, and some have found themselves left with little or no equity in their homes. Officials estimate that anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 veterans have been affected by these marketing tactics during recent years.

All this may sound horrible, but it gets worse- Abuses in the VA mortgage-lending arena have spilled over onto borrowers in the much larger Federal Housing Administration (FHA) market, which primarily serves first-time home purchasers and others who lack significant cash for a down payment.

The linkage is via a little-publicized but exceptionally important agency, the Government National Mortgage Association or Ginnie Mae. Ginnie connects individual http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=home%20buyers&c 2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousi ng/s-2049258> home buyersand refinancers using federal mortgage programs with deep-pocket investors around the world – giant pension funds and banks, among others. Ginnie pools VA, FHA and U.S. Department of http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=agriculture&c2= Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing /s-2049258> Agriculture rural housing loans into mortgage bonds, and provides a federal guarantee of timely payments to investors.

The inevitable result of the VA lenders’ predatory activities is an unusually high number of refinancings within the pools, which disrupts the expected long-term payment flows to investors. That, in turn, prompts investors to lower what they’ll pay for the bonds, and has the side effect of raising lenders’ interest-rate quotes to VA, FHA and rural home buyers and refinancers.

Michael Fratantoni, chief economist for http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20mortgage& c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshous ing/s-2049258> the Mortgage Bankers Association, told me “it absolutely impacts http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=interest%20rate s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2049258> interest rates” adversely when investors cut the prices they’ll pay for Ginnie Mae bonds. It sounds complicated, but the simple fact is this- If pension funds or banks are less enthusiastic about Ginnie’s bonds, individual borrowers sitting across from loan officers or making applications online end up paying higher http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=interest%20rate s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2049258> interest rates on their government-backed loans.

Michael R. Bright, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Ginnie Mae, estimated in an interview last week that the abuses in VA refinancings have caused interest rates on FHA, VA and rural housing recently to be one-quarter of a percent to one-half of a percent higher than they otherwise would have been. What does that mean in dollar terms to applicants? Steve Stamets, senior loan officer for http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20mortgage& c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshous ing/s-2049258> The Mortgage Link Inc. in Rockville, Maryland, told me that on a $300,000 FHA loan, a half a percentage point rate increase could add more than $1,000 a year to a home buyer’s payments.

“It’s heinous,” said Ted Tozer, immediate past president of Ginnie Mae. “People don’t realize this affects all borrowers who are getting a [government-backed] home loan.” Given the fact that FHA alone insured 882,000 new single-family-home purchase loans in fiscal 2017, you can begin to grasp how many borrowers may have been overcharged on their http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=mortgage%20inte rest&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenation shousing/s-2049258> mortgage interest.

What’s being done to end this scandal? Last week, Ginnie Mae announced that it has notified a small group of lenders who allegedly have been abusing veterans on refinancings that they face potential exclusion from Ginnie’s principal bond program if they don’t stop what they’ve been doing. That would effectively cut them off from their main source of institutional funding for loans – a severe penalty. The agency did not identify specific lenders, but Bright told me the first penalties could be imposed as early as next month.

Meanwhile a bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would block lenders from foisting rotten refi deals on VA borrowers. The “Protecting Veterans from Predatory Lending Act,” co-sponsored by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. The legislation would require lenders to produce a “net tangible benefits” analysis – demonstrating real savings to borrowers before initiating a refinancing and guaranteeing decreases in interest rates.

New real-estate survey offers helpful insight for buyers and sellers alike

New real-estate survey offers helpful insight for buyers and sellers alike

Kenneth R. Harney on Feb 2, 2018

WASHINGTON – They are gnawing questions that many http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=homebuyers&c2=A rcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing/ s-2044670> homebuyers inevitably ponder- What are my chances of getting the house I’ve fallen in love with at a price I can afford, which happens to be well below what the seller is asking? What are the odds that pesky contract contingencies, such as mortgage financing or the appraisal, could jeopardize my good deal?

Sellers have different concerns- What are the chances that I could actually get a higher price than what my cautious realty agent has persuaded me to offer? Might I have to throw in costly incentives to attract a buyer or – horrors – slash my price?

A new survey of 4,283 members of the National Association of Realtors offers some valuable insights, no matter what side of the deal you’re on.

Take pricing. Except in a handful of superheated markets where few houses are available for sale, the odds are strong that you as a buyer will be able to get the house you want for less than the list price. Just 34 percent of agents in http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20survey&c2 =Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousin g/s-2044670> the survey reported sales above or at the original asking price. So you’re probably more likely to write a successful below-list contract than you assume.

What about sales incentives – the sort of financial goodies that sellers throw into the pot to sweeten the deal? Are they commonplace? You might think so, but statistically they are not. Barely 20 percent of sellers offered any sweeteners whatsoever, according to http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20survey&c2 =Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousin g/s-2044670> the survey. Typically they involved the seller paying for some of the buyer’s closing costs or fronting the premiums for home warranty http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=insurance&c2=Ar camax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing/s -2044670> insurance coverage. Another concession- Sellers agreed to set aside money to remodel http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20kitchen&c 2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousi ng/s-2044670> the kitchen or a http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=bathroom&c2=Arc amax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing/s- 2044670> bathroom to the buyer’s specifications. But overall, 80 percent of sellers opt to avoid concessions. If there needs to be a cost adjustment, presumably they prefer simply to subtract it from the price they’re asking.

Sales contract contingencies are another key factor in your transaction. But here’s a surprise- Though they are boiler-plate standard in many local realty contracts, large numbers of final contracts end up with none. No language requiring the buyer to obtain a mortgage commitment within a specified time, no requirement regarding appraisal, not a word about an inspection.

Twenty-one percent of contracts covered in http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20survey&c2 =Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousin g/s-2044670> the survey were contingency-free. That’s an eye-opener because contingency clauses can be crucially important for buyers and sellers. Say you sign a contract on a home that looks great but has defects you missed – the roof is 10 years beyond its economic life, the plumbing is a disaster waiting to happen. Without an inspection clause, you may have no escape hatch out of the deal and no way to argue for a lower price.

Why do buyers agree to contracts like this? The survey provides no details, but there are several possibilities- Multiple bids on the house can push buyers to offer “clean” contracts; all-cash or distress sales may require the buyer to take the house “as is”; and some sellers may simply voluntarily waive certain contingencies.

But most buyers and sellers are smart- 75 percent of all final contracts include at least one contingency clause; 55 percent require a home inspection (still surprisingly low); and 43 percent have mortgage contingencies.

How about your prospects of going to settlement on time – or worse yet, having your sale blow up before or at closing? A few years ago, delays and cancellations were shockingly common, but in the latest survey things look much better. Seventy-one percent of sales settled on schedule in December, while 25 percent encountered delays but eventually went to closing.

What caused the delays? Buyers’ inability to obtain http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20mortgage& c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshous ing/s-2044670> the mortgage they wanted topped the list, accounting for 31 percent of all delays. Examples might include glitches that turn up in the buyers’ credit files or the discovery of previously undetected liens or judgments that must be resolved before the lender could commit to http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20mortgage& c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshous ing/s-2044670> the mortgage. Appraisal issues triggered 16 percent of all delays, home inspection disputes another 12 percent.

But here’s a really encouraging statistic- Total blowups are way down from where they were a couple of years back. During early 2015, between 9 and 10 percent of all real estate contracts were canceled before final settlement. Today that’s down to just 4 percent.

In the often contentious and complicated world of real estate, that passes for great news. Buyers and sellers are working out their problems … rather than walking away.

‘Rapid rescoring’ can provide quick credit fix

‘Rapid rescoring’ can provide quick credit fix

Kenneth R. Harney on Jan 26, 2018

WASHINGTON – Many http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=mortgage%20appl icants&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenati onshousing/s-2042147> mortgage applicants have never heard of “rapid rescoring” or CreditXpert score simulations – in part because some lenders choose not to educate them.

That’s unfortunate, because anyone who’s looking for the most favorable http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=interest%20rate s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2042147> interest rates and terms in 2018′s rising interest rate environment ought to know at least the basics about them – especially if their current score puts them near a break point between getting a better deal or qualifying for a loan altogether.

Here’s a quick primer. Say you spot one or more errors in your http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=credit%20report s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2042147> credit reports – maybe an account you’ve paid off in full but is still being reported as open and delinquent or a collection-account issue you’ve settled with a creditor but is still reported as ongoing. Both are potentially significant negatives for your credit score but if you have documentation, you can show they’re out of date.

What to do? You could begin the standard process of getting them corrected by asking the creditors involved to request the national http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=credit%20bureau s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2042147> credit bureaus to amend your files. But here’s the problem- You’re under contract to buy a house and you need the errors corrected immediately – or you risk not qualifying for the mortgage or interest rate you need.

Fixing the errors directly with the http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=credit%20bureau s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2042147> credit bureaus could take weeks. Enter rapid rescoring – a process that frequently can get the erroneous information corrected in as little as two to three days. It works like this- You provide the documentation about the accounts to your loan officer, then request a rapid rescore using the loan officer’s mortgage credit-report vendor. The vendor’s staff will then verify your documentation with the creditor(s) involved and provide the corrected information directly to the http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=credit%20bureau s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2042147> credit bureaus.

The updates should show up quickly on your credit files, allowing the vendor to supply a new and more accurate http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=credit%20report &c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshou sing/s-2042147> credit report to your lender along with a new – and typically higher – credit score.

Paul Wohkittel of CIS Inc., a national credit-reporting company, says that although the improvements in scores vary with the severity of the erroneous credit-file information being corrected, he’s “seen scores that go up by 50 to 60 points,” saving applicants thousands of dollars in higher http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=mortgage%20paym ents&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenation shousing/s-2042147> mortgage payments over time.

Terry Clemans, executive director of the National Consumer Reporting Association, a credit-industry trade group based in Roselle, Illinois, calls rapid rescoring “a great tool anytime consumers find something in error but need to expedite the [correction] process.”

But rapid rescoring is not for everyone who seeks a quick score boost. For example, if the negative information depressing your score is accurate, it won’t help. Then there’s the expense. Rescoring can cost $30 or more per updated account per http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=credit%20bureau &c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshou sing/s-2042147> credit bureau. So if you’ve got multiple accounts to correct in all three major national bureaus, the total cost can be significant. Plus, there’s another wrinkle- You as a consumer are not permitted to pay directly for rescoring. Your lender is required to foot the bill, though that might find its way into your total loan fees at settlement.

The expense of rapid rescoring is why some lenders are reluctant to raise the subject with certain applicants. Paul Skeens, president of Colonial Mortgage Group in Waldorf, Maryland, told me that “a lot of people who have problems on their http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=credit%20report s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2042147> credit reports simply don’t have a lot of money to spare.” But for those who can afford it, “it really does work.” One applicant who had a good income but a 680 FICO credit score – too low for the best available mortgage rate – zoomed to a much better 740 after a rapid rescoring, recalled Skeens in an interview last week.

Here’s another valuable mortgage credit tool you should know about. If your score isn’t quite what you need but the information in your files is accurate, your lender should be able to obtain a “what if” simulation through its credit vendor. Using a proprietary model marketed by Baltimore-based CreditXpert Inc., the simulation can estimate the credit score changes available to you by taking certain actions. For instance, the simulation might reveal that by paying down a specific credit card balance or by lowering your currently maxed-out “utilization ratio” on another account, you could improve your score by enough points to get you approved for a better deal.

Bottom line- Be aware of these options. When you apply for a mortgage, you’re not necessarily locked into your score. You just might be able to do better.

Don’t worry- HELOCs will survive despite new tax law

Don’t worry- HELOCs will survive despite new tax law

Kenneth R. Harney on Jan 19, 2018

WASHINGTON – It’s a big and confusing question for many homeowners in the wake of the December tax law changes- Are new interest-deductible home equity credit lines (HELOCs) and second mortgages now totally out of reach going forward?

The new law eliminated a long-standing section of the tax code that allowed homeowners to borrow against their equity and use the proceeds for whatever purposes they chose, while deducting interest payments on their federal taxes. That provision of the new tax law took effect Jan. 1, so it’s logical to assume that popular tax-deductible HELOCs no longer will be available.

They’re dead. Right? Not quite! To borrow a phrase from Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride,” the traditional uses of HELOCs may be “mostly dead” – but not all dead.

A close reading of the final language rushed through Congress last month reveals that interest-deductible HELOCs and second mortgages should still be available to homeowners provided they qualify on two criteria- they use the proceeds of the loan to make “substantial improvements” to their home, and the combined total of their first mortgage balance and their HELOC or second mortgage does not exceed the new $750,000 limit on mortgage amounts qualified for interest deductions. (The previous ceiling was $1.1 million for the first mortgage and home-equity debt combined.)

“The key here is (how) you use the proceeds” of the HELOC or second mortgage, Ernst & Young tax partner Greg Rosica told me in an interview. You can’t buy a car anymore. You can’t spend the money on http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=student%20loans &c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshou sing/s-2038773> student loans, business investments, http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=vacations&c2=Ar camax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing/s -2038773> vacations or most of the things you used to be able to do. Now, to take deductions on the interest you pay, you’ve got to limit expenditures to capital improvements on your house, or – less likely – buying or building your principal residence.

The reason, said Rosica, a widely recognized expert on real estate tax law, is that although Section 11043 of the new tax law eliminated home-equity debt interest deductions, it left virtually untouched interest deductions for primary home mortgage debt (“acquisition indebtedness”) that is used to buy, improve or construct a http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=new%20home&c2=A rcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing/ s-2038773> new home. As long as you follow the rules on what constitutes a capital improvement – spelled out in IRS Publication 530 – and do not exceed the $750,000 total debt limit, “it is deductible,” said Rosica.

Banks and other http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=lenders&c2=Arca max&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing/s-2 038773> lenders active in HELOCs and second-mortgage arenas agree with this interpretation and plan to continue offering home-equity products. Bob Davis, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, told me “HELOCs will still be in the mix,” despite widespread concerns that they might disappear after the elimination of http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=the%20home&c2=A rcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing/ s-2038773> the home-equity section of the tax code.

Michael Kinane, head of TD Bank’s extensive second-lien product offerings, said in a statement for this column that HELOCs and home-equity loans remain available and popular, whether interest is tax-deductible or not, and can be “the best, lowest cost option for homeowners.” In mid-January, TD’s rates for owners with solid equity and http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=good%20credit&c 2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousi ng/s-2038773> good credit on a $100,000 HELOC were 3.99 percent APR, about half a percentage point below the prime bank rate.

A survey of HELOCs and second-lien http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=lenders&c2=Arca max&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationshousing/s-2 038773> lenders active on the LendingTree.com loan-shopping network conducted for this column found a “consensus” that not only will lenders continue to offer such financing, “but more lenders will offer them as home prices [and] values rise,” according to spokesperson Megan Grueling.

Lenders generally won’t advise you on interest deductibility, urging instead that you consult your tax adviser. Also, the final word on interest deductibility will need to come from the IRS. But the attorneys, CPAs and legislative tax experts consulted for this column were unanimous in their belief that the IRS will agree with their interpretation of the law changes.

Bottom line- Despite rampant rumors to the contrary, home-equity-based lending won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Borrowers who want to deduct interest will need to restrict their expenditures to qualified home improvements. Others who simply want to tap into their equity they’ve built up at attractive http://www.closettrail.com/rd/r.php?sid=11478&pub=300908&c1=interest%20rate s&c2=Arcamax&c3=https://www.arcamax.com/homeandleisure/consumer/thenationsho using/s-2038773> interest rates and use the money for whatever they choose will be able to obtain HELOCs or second mortgages, just as they did in the past.

And for those owners who now plan to opt for the standard deductions of $12,000 or $24,000, there’ll be no issue at all. Since they will no longer be itemizing, no big deal. They won’t be thinking about interest deductions anyway.

Ken Harney – Home buyers must beware of ‘greenwashing’

WASHINGTON — The practice is called “greenwashing” and home shoppers need to be on guard: It means a house is being marketed as environmentally friendly and energy-saving when it doesn’t really deserve that description.

Greenwashing is a growing issue in real estate as multiple studies demonstrate that consumers are attracted to — and will often pay premiums for — homes that are highly efficient in saving on utilities bills.

Just about everybody likes the concept of green, and builders and real estate agents increasingly use the term as a sales come-on. But experts say too often what’s marketed as green isn’t what it purports to be when you take a close look.

Sandra Adomatis, an appraiser in Punta Gorda, Florida, who is nationally known for her expertise in valuing green properties, says “look in the MLS (multiple listing service) and you’ll see lots of homes listed as having green features” but it may mean as little as “somebody put in some LED light bulbs or a couple of Energy Star appliances in the kitchen.”

In an interview, Adomatis described one listing she saw recently on a home built in 1959. It indicated that the house had a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of zero — as good as you can get. (The HERS index measures a home’s energy efficiency and requires testing of the home’s performance by a certified HERS rater. The lower the score, the better.)

Adomatis knew it was unlikely that an older home would come anywhere close to such an impressive rating, so she asked the listing agent why she was marketing the house with a zero HERS score. Her response: “I don’t know what HERS is or how they score, so I just put in zero.” Wow.

Allison A. Bailes III, founder and president of Energy Vanguard LLC, a home energy rating and consulting company based in Decatur, Georgia, says “absolutely, [greenwashing] happens all the time. A lot of [builders] are doing things that are just standard,” but they’re marketing them as green. He says he saw one company aggressively advertising its allegedly green homes, but most of the details didn’t amount to much. It was hype: Insulation R-values that met, but did not exceed, minimum local building code requirements; code-minimum HVAC systems; “digital thermostats,” which are commonplace; Energy Star appliances; and a long list of other unremarkable features. As to Energy Star appliances, Bailes noted in a blog, “if you’ve done any shopping lately, you may have noticed that it’s hard to find one that’s NOT Energy Star certified.”

Kari Klaus, CEO and founder of Viva Green Homes in Arlington, Virginia, a national listing portal exclusively for “eco-friendly” homes, says “greenwashing is a growing problem — clearly there’s a desire to jump on the train and use buzzwords” like “green,” “sustainable” and “high efficiency,” too often with little to back up the claims. Her website (www.vivagreenhomes.com) carries free listings for certified (HERS, LEED, Energy Star, Built Green, Net Zero and others) as well as non-certified homes that have some green features such as solar panels, geothermal, energy-efficient windows and doors, water conservation devices, etc.

When non-certified homes are listed on the site, the seller or agent must check off boxes indicating what green features the property offers. The site then produces a “Green Score” ranging from one to five stars to give potential purchasers a rough idea of how green the house really is.

The site also allows visitors to shop for specific features or high ratings area by area.

So how can buyers and shoppers recognize a bona fide green house? Adomatis says you need to look for six essential elements: