Real estate experts say the "green building" trend that started when energy prices skyrocketed in recent years has not abated during the ongoing economic downturn.  While homeowners and developers continue their quest for energy efficiency and cost savings from homes, a new breed of real estate agents is finding a niche in the market. These specially certified professionals assist clients in their pursuit of greener homes.

Consumers want homes equipped with energy efficiencies

"Materials you have seen in homes use a lot of plastic.  This here is 100 percent recycled concrete and glass bottles," Michael Kiefer tells a prospective home buyer. Kiefer is a real estate agent.  He explains some of the "green" features in a condominium.

Kiefer explains that all of the appliances in the kitchen are Energy Star rated, stating that they meet efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.  That translates into lower utility bills as well as helping to preserve the environment.

Kiefer is one of a new breed of real estate agents certified as specialists in eco-friendly homes. He works in the Washington, D.C. area.

"Many of the consumers that come to me want to know more about energy efficiency, healthy building design, what to look for in a home," he explains. 

Real estate professionals - certified EcoBroker

Kiefer earned his ecological real estate broker certification from EcoBroker International, which has trained more than 5,000 real estate professionals in the U.S. and abroad.

The 1.2 million member National Association of Realtors, or NAR, launched its own Green Designee program last November.  NAR spokesman Andy Norton says the responses to the program have been overwhelming. "All across the country, almost every time the courses being offered have been full," Norton said. "And by the end of this year, the National Association is predicting that close to 4,000 realtors will have gone through the course, which is way ahead of the expectation."

While housing prices have fallen sharply in the current economic recession, experts note that environmentally friendly homes often cost more than traditional dwellings.

But many prospective home buyers like Kim Corbett-Knight are not deterred by the added expense.  "I would definitely much rather put more money out there first to make sure that we secure our environment and energy efficiency.  So yes, absolutely, I will be willing to pay a little bit more," she said. 

Certified green real estate professionals also can help homeowners tackle eco-conscious renovations.

Seth Garland bought his 100-year-old Washington, D.C. home in 2007 through realtor Michael Kiefer.  He replaced the appliances, windows, toilets and insulation, among other things, with energy efficient or eco-friendly materials.  Garland says Kiefer's knowledge was a big help and that he sees a remarkable difference in his utility bills.

"Just in comparison to people with similar size houses in the neighborhood, we are paying really about I think one-third during the wintertime, the worst month.  We heard people spent $500 a month to heat their houses; we were paying about $150," Garland said.

Garland says that the cost to renovate his home easily will be recovered in the long run.   

Real estate experts say the recession has made people eager to curb energy costs and that properties with high efficiency and sustainability features have more consumer appeal.  Meanwhile, demand for green certified real estate professionals is expeced to grow.