When Steven Asher Cohen is showing homes to buyers from the city, he always makes sure to point out the utility and mechanical systems. Cohen, an associate broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nutshell Realty in High Falls, New York, operates in the more rural Hudson Valley, and he says past apartment dwellers never really had to think about those systems in the past.
“They never really were aware of utilities and all that stuff because it just magically happens in their apartments,” Cohen says.
Cohen takes care to show where the well water comes into the basement; the boiler, furnace, or other heat source; the water heater; and the fuel source, which in his region is frequently heating oil or propane. Buyers unfamiliar with those on-site fuel sources are likely to have a few questions. Here are five topics Cohen typically covers when selling or buying a home.
1. The differences between heating oil, propane, or all-electric
You can tell pretty quickly when you’re looking at a home heated by oil, Cohen says. “There’s some houses where you walk in and you just get a whiff of oil smell,” he says. The oil tank will frequently be in the basement, on the side of the house, or, in the worst case scenario, creating a possible environmental hazard buried underground.
But an oil tank doesn’t automatically rule out a home. Cohen often recommends the option of converting to propane. “What I say to people is, with a propane tank, that can easily be buried,” he says. “It can be away from the house wherever you want it, or you can hide it behind a shed, because the distance is not an issue like it is with the oil. And I like that it’s cleaner burning.”
All-electric homes, on the other hand, might rely on expensive electric resistance heating or heat pumps, which may struggle to provide warm heat during cold outdoor temperatures. For both electric and heating oil homes, Cohen can show buyers example of his own home, where he converted from electric heat to a propane boiler.
“So I show them a picture of my setup, how it’s a very simple setup that’s hanging on the wall,” Cohen says. “You don’t have this big unit sitting in the middle of your basement. And I’ve turned a lot of people on to propane.”
2. The efficiency of the heating equipment
Energy efficiency is a topic that very much resonates with today’s buyer, so Cohen frequently discusses the efficiency of various home-heating options. “I tell them my boiler is 97 percent efficient,” he says. “I go, ‘Compare that to an oil furnace that may be, like, 80 percent efficient.’”
3. Preparing for potential outages
Power outages occur fairly frequently in Cohen’s market, and the longest outages can be extremely disruptive. After Hurricane Irene, Cohen says, he was out of power for seven days, using water from the stream to flush his toilet. So for buyers concerned about power outages in their home, Cohen tells them about propane standby generators. Buyers may not know that standby generators are available or that they can use on-site propane to keep a home running during a power outage.
Cohen recently installed one in his own house, so it’s easy to describe how they work. “It’s been delightful,” he says. “Especially working from home. The power went out for two days not long ago and having the generator was awesome.”
4. Cooking and upgraded amenities
Propane fuels a variety of lifestyle amenities such as fireplaces, pool heating, and outdoor fire pits, but cooking remains a major reason customers desire gas in their homes, Cohen says. “I’d say 90 percent of buyers prefer gas cooking over electric,” he says. But if buyers are thinking of ruling out a house with an electric stove, Cohen tells them not to worry — it’s one of the easiest fixes.
“You go buy a gas stove and call a local propane company,” he says. “You don’t need a big tank if it’s just for that. They’ll run the line and you have gas cooking.”
5. Preemptive and future upgrades
Send us your comments and questions
Real estate pros, tell us your experience with or questions about propane homes. Email us at [email protected]
Every project and market is unique, but for real estate agents, it helps to be knowledgeable about opportunities to upgrade mechanical systems and other amenities. When selling a home, Cohen will sometimes recommend that his clients preemptively remove old heating oil systems. He recalls one recent home he came across that was beautiful and completely remodeled — with the exception of an old oil furnace that the house flippers left in. For a project like that, upgrading to a clean and efficient propane furnace will likely pay for itself in a higher sale price. “It’s going to be one less thing for a buyer to have to deal with,” he says.
And when working with potential buyers, making recommendations on how a buyer can upgrade a home in the future with a standby generator, gas stove, or radiant heating from a propane boiler can help you sell homes faster and demonstrate your expertise. That’s a great way to make your client experience stand apart from other brokers and earn plenty of repeat and referral business.
Demonstrate your expertise for your clients by sharing our guide for homeowners, Building or Remodeling Your Propane Dream Home.