In 2012, Dani Mouawad purchased a 1.55-acre piece of property in Chapel Hill, NC, then spent 10 months constructing a “sustainable, natural, health-promoting” house.

The building was made out of straw, clay, plaster, and lime, with a living roof made from topsoil displaced by the building’s foundation. Construction on the first of the property’s two buildings cost Mouawad, a pediatrician, “three times the cost of conventional materials,” he says, but what he spent in construction costs has more than paid off.

“The energy efficiency went up by a factor of three,” he says.

Last month, Mouawad put the three bedroom, one and a half-bath house on the market with Hodge & Kittrell Sotheby’s International Realty. His brokers faced a quandary that’s being confronted by sellers of homes that are, in whatever way, constructed in an effort to mitigate, or eliminate, environmental impact: It’s hard to put a price on green living.

“Here in North Carolina, there are certain developments that are easy to price because you have next-door neighbors you can compare them to,” says one of Mouawad’s brokers, Aileen Stapleton.

“But with a property like this, you have to use unconventional methods.” After factoring in the cost of the land, construction costs, and comparative availability in the area (it’s a few minutes from UNC Chapel Hill), along with the property’s low operating and maintenance costs, they settled on $1.3 million.

“Even if the upfront sales price seems to be a little higher,” says the property’s other broker Giselle Feiger, “the running costs and maintenance are much lower than a regular home.”

Ahead of the Curve
Calculations along these lines are happening across the country, albeit with varying results. In Garrison, NY, a $3.5 million house designed by Toshiko Mori has geothermal heating and cooling systems and a living roof.  The three bedroom, three and a half bath home has views of the Hudson River through its floor to ceiling glass windows, and spans about 3,400 square feet.

When it was built in 2007, its owner was “pretty ahead of the curve,” says Compass broker Amy Scher. The person who commissioned it was “very conscientious about her environmental impact,” and as a result spared no expense on using the most efficient building materials and design possible.

The flip side to that, however, is that prospective buyers aren’t necessarily willing to pay a similar premium.

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