An energy bill under consideration by the Massachusetts legislature includes a controversial requirement for sellers to provide a standard energy audit of every house offered for sale, as part of the required seller's disclosures. The idea is drawing support from some consumer and energy-efficiency advocates, but real estate brokers are opposed. Here's a report from the MetroWest Daily News (see: "Housing advocates push Mass. home energy audit measure," by Michael P. Norton/State House News Service).

"This provision provides consumers with important information, particularly for lower income buyers and sellers who often live in the least energy efficient homes with the highest utility costs. Working families need to know about the many rebates and credits available for insulation and heating systems to improve their homes and lower their utility costs. Buyers need to avoid being duped into buying a 'money pit,' " said a statement from organizations the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, Alternatives for Communities & Environment, and the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. (Below, Mass Save officials describe what's involved in one of their energy audits for homeowners.)

But "the Massachusetts Association of Realtors opposes the Senate measure, which they describe as 'mandatory energy labeling,' and says home inspectors are already required by state regulations to provide consumers with information about home energy audits at the time of a home inspection, which usually occurs once a home is under contract," reported the Daily News.

From the report: "Only 35 percent of those who have audits act on them, according to Environmental League of Massachusetts President George Bachrach, who believes energy efficiency efforts will pick up if audits are required at the 'meaningful transactional point.'"

Remodeler Paul Eldrenkamp, who has long experience with deep energy retrofit work and who helped to author former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's "Getting to Zero" report aiming to set the state on a path to net-zero-energy housing, expressed reservations about the audit idea in an email to JLC. Said Eldrenkamp: "I can understand why real estate agents are against this bill. They don’t get paid until the very end of a very complicated process that’s like a game of chutes and ladders, often with a lot more chutes than ladders. I can understand why they'd perceive a mandatory energy audit as yet another chute."

"A lot of energy audits aren’t all that useful," Eldrenkamp continued, "and probably wouldn’t have a big impact on whether a buyer would go through with a sale or not. I’m thinking of the clipboard audits, not audits that include diagnostic testing. I could imagine that the main effect of mandatory audits would be to decrease the current 35% post-audit follow-through rate that George Bachrach cites."

"I just don’t see mandatory clipboard audits having an impact on aggregate residential energy usage that’s commensurate with the time and effort and cost," Eldrenkamp concluded. "Something that would be much easier and cheaper and much more effective, I think, is full disclosure of utility bills. That would get a prospective buyer’s attention. They’d have a chance to see the wide range of operating costs as they looked at different houses, and take that into account when they decided which house to make an offer on."