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How to Translate Confusing Green Home Industry Terms

by Kathy and Michael Rain - The Rain Team

By Tim Bakke

Construction materials and techniques that take the environment into account are becoming more and more common, and for a good reason. Implementing green practices reduces waste, conserves natural resources, improves air and water quality, and protects biodiversity. Green-building concepts extend beyond the walls of a building and include site planning, community, and land use as well.

Of course, the environment is important, but you’ll find many consumers aren’t sold on the global impact of an Energy Star water heater, let alone advanced eco-friendly building materials and systems. In real estate, the agents who are best able to sell a green building for top dollar are the ones who frame the innovative features as long-term “money savers.” You’ve got to be able to effectively communicate the value of eco-friendly homes, even if you aren’t in an eco-conscious market or up-to-speed on the latest green building jargon yourself.

Here are some of the most common confusing terms and acronyms that are thrown around in the eco-friendly home market. Some of the phrases are simple and straightforward, while others require a bit of explanation. Use the slimmed-down definitions in your marketing channels. The better your audience understands what to look for in an eco-friendly building, the more likely they will be to spend their dollars on  sustainable home features.

ACC (aerated autoclaved concrete) is compressed and cured by the steam pressure inside an autoclave kiln, which produces a material that is lighter than conventional concrete and has good insulation properties.
How to market it: “This home was built with a new, lighter type of concrete that costs less to heat and cool.”

Blower door tests measure the air tightness of a building and determine the home’s air infiltration rate. How it works: A certified auditor mounts a powerful fan onto an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher outside air pressure then sneaks back into the house through all of the unsealed cracks and openings. It’s important that auditors use a calibrated door for this process. The calibrated blower door’s data allows the auditor to quantify the effectiveness of any air-sealing job by the amount of air leakage. That leakage is measured by the amount of air it takes (in cubic feet per minute) to change the air pressure in the house by 50 Pascals, or cfm50. A good rule of thumb is that your house should have a cfm50 equal to or less than its square footage.
How to market it: “In a recent test, this 2,000-square-foot home was certified to have 1,800 cfm50 air leakage, which means it leaks less air than the average home, which will likely mean lower heating and cooling costs.”

The building envelope is the separation between the interior and exterior environment of a building, consisting of the roof, doors, windows, foundation, and walls. Think of it as a building package because it contains more than just the roof.
How to market it: “You’ll often hear experts talking about the tightness of a building’s envelope. Really they’re just talking about energy leakage here, so the tighter the envelope is, the less homeowners will spend on heating and cooling.” 

EPS (extruded polystyrene) is produced from a solid bead of polystyrene. There’s a small amount of gas in every individual bead, so it’s denser, more rigid, and more durable than expanded polystyrene, or Styrofoam. The gas expands when exposed to steam, forming the closed cells of EPS. These beads expand to over 40 percent of their original size and can be fabricated to form customized shapes, including rigid insulating boards used in home construction.
How to market it: “This home uses EPS insulation, which provides a higher insulating value per inch than Styrofoam.”

GHP (geothermal heat pumps) use the natural flow of the earth’s energy to provide cooling and heating for a home. Fluid circulates through underground piping in a closed loop to control a building’s temperature. In the summer, the colder ground temperature provides indoor cooling. In winter, the warmer below-ground temperature heats the home.
How to market it: “This home actually pumps temperatures stored underground up to heat and cool the living space, reducing the amount of fossil fuel needed and lowering utility costs.”

Gray water systems reuse water from laundry, bathing, dishwashing, and the like for non-potable activities like irrigation, toilets, and exterior washing. A simple plumbing system separates this reusable material from “black” toilet water.
How to market it: “This home uses an incredible recycling system to conserve water that results in significant utility cost savings.”

ICF (insulating concrete forms) are plastic foam pieces that hold concrete in place during curing. They remain in place afterward to serve as thermal insulation for concrete walls, floors, and roofs. The foam sections are lightweight and result in reinforced, durable, energy-efficient construction.
How to market it: “This home’s poured-concrete walls are insulated with foam forms, making them even stronger and more energy-efficient than similar concrete-block homes.”

Low-flow water fixtures use an aerator to reduce the flow of water while maintaining water pressure. Faucets and toilets are typically the most popular low-flow fixtures in a green building.
How to market it: “This house has low-flow faucets, shower heads, and toilets, which means your family will use fewer natural resources—and you’ll save money on your utility bills—without noticing a difference in water pressure.”

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Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on PEXELS


by Kathy and Michael Rain - The Rain Team
When it comes to buying a house, most people know what they prefer: a bungalow or a condo, a hot neighborhood or a sleepy street.

Mortgages, too, come in many styles — and recognizing which type you should choose is just slightly more involved than, say, knowing that you prefer hardwood floors over wall-to-wall carpeting.

First things first: To pick the best loan for your situation, you need to know what your situation is, exactly. Will you be staying in this home for years? Decades? Are you feeling financially comfortable? Are you anxious about changing loan rates? Consider these questions and your answers before you start talking to lenders. (And before you choose a lender, read this.)

Next: You’ll want to have an understanding of the different loans that are out there. There are lots of options, and it can get a little complicated — but you got this. Here we go.

Mortgages Are Fixed-Rate or Adjustable, and One Type Is Better for You

Let’s start with the most common type of mortgage, that workhorse of home loans — the fixed-rate mortgage.

A fixed-rate mortgage:

  • Let’s you lock in an interest rate for 15 or 30 years. (You can get 20-year loans, too.) That means your monthly payment will stay the same over the life of the loan. (That said, your property taxes and insurance premiums will likely change over time.)

    It’s ideal when: You want long-term stability and plan to stay put.

Here’s what else you need to know about fixed-rate mortgages:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage offers a lower monthly payment for the loan amount (for this reason, it’s more popular than the other option, the 15-year).
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgage typically offers a lower interest rate but a higher monthly payment because you’re paying off the loan amount faster.
Now let’s get into adjustable-rate, the other type of mortgage you’ll be looking at.

An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).

  • Offers a lower interest rate than a fixed-rate mortgage for an initial period of time — say, five or seven years — but the rate can fluctuate after the introductory period is over, depending on changes in interest rate conditions. And that can make it difficult to budget.
  • Has caps that protect how high the rate can go.

    It’s ideal when: You plan to live in a home for a short time or you expect your income to go up to offset potentially higher future rates.

Here’s what else you need to know about adjustable-rate mortgages:

  • Different lenders may offer the same initial interest rate but different rate caps. It’s important to compare rate caps when shopping around for an ARM.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgages have a reputation for being complicated. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advises, make sure to read the fine print.

A general rule of thumb: When comparing adjustable-rate loans, ask the prospective lender to calculate the highest payment you may ever have to make. You don’t want any surprises.

Conventional Loan or Government Loan? Your Life Answers the Question

Which fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage you qualify for introduces a whole host of other categories, and they fall under two umbrellas: conventional loans and government loans.

Conventional loans:

Who qualifies? Typically, you need at least a credit score of 620 or above and a 5% down payment to qualify for a conventional loan.

  • Offer some of the most competitive interest rates, which means you’ll likely pay less in interest over the period of the loan.
  • Typically you can get one more quickly than a government loan because there’s less paperwork.
Here’s what else you need to know about conventional loans:
  • If you put less than 20% down for a conventional loan, you’ll be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), an extra monthly fee designed to mitigate the risk to the lender that a borrower could default on a loan. (PMI ranges from about 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan.) The upshot: The lender has to cancel PMI when you reach 22% equity in your home, and you can request to have it canceled once you hit 20% equity.
  • Most conventional loans also have a maximum 43% debt to income ratio, which compares how much money you owe (on student loans, credit cards, car loans, and other debts) to your income — expressed as a percentage.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac set limits on how much money you can borrow for a conventional loan. A home loan that conforms to these limits is called a conforming loan:

  • In most cities, the maximum amount for a conforming loan is $453,100.
  • In high-cost areas, such as New York City and San Francisco, the limit is $679,650.
  • Limits are revisited annually and are subject to change based on each area’s average home price.

A home loan that exceeds these limits is called a jumbo loan:

  • Jumbo loans typically require a higher down payment (up to 30% for some lenders) and a credit score of at least 720. Some borrowers can qualify while putting down 20%, but their credit score has to be higher.)
  • They also tend to have stricter debt-to-income requirements, generally allowing for a maximum DTI ratio of 38%.

There are practical considerations to take into account before getting a jumbo loan too, mainly: Are you comfortable carrying that much debt? The answer depends on your current financial situation and long-term financial goals.

Government loans:

Who qualifies? That depends on which government loan you’re looking at.

  • Include loans secured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development.
  • Are meant to stimulate the housing market and enable folks who may be unable to qualify for conventional loans to still become homeowners.
If you’ve had trouble qualifying for a mortgage because of income limitations or credit:

FHA loans are used by a broad swath of people, including those with lower credit scores and income.

  • You can get an FHA loan with a downpayment of 3.5% if you have a minimum credit score of 580. You can still qualify with a credit score below 580 — even with no credit score — but the down payments and other requirements will be much higher.
  • FHA loans conform to loan limits set by county; these limits typically range from $294,515 to $679,650 in high-cost areas. You can view the FHA mortgage caps for your county at
  • If you get an FHA loan, you must pay an upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP) and an annual premium of 0.85%. Currently, the MIP is 1.75% of the loan amount — so, $1,750 for a $100,000 loan. This premium can be paid upfront at the mortgage closing, or it can be rolled into the monthly mortgage payment.
Also, a heads-up — the date an FHA loan was issued affects the MIP.


  • If you received an FHA loan on or before June 3, 2013: You’re eligible for canceling MIP after five years, but you must have 22% equity in your home and have made all payments on time.
  • If you received an FHA loan after June 3, 2013: To stop paying MIP, you’d have to refinance into a conventional loan and have a current loan-to-value of at least 80%.
If you’re in the military, a veteran, or a veteran’s spouse:


  • VA loans offer active or retired military (or a veteran’s surviving spouse) a mortgage with a 0% down payment.
  • VA loans also can have more lenient credit requirements — typically around a minimum 620 credit score — and lower DTI requirements.
  • The VA only allows lenders to charge 1% maximum to cover the costs of originating and underwriting the loan, so you save money at closing. There is, however, an additional upfront, one-time funding fee of 2.15%.
VA loans also don’t charge borrowers mortgage insurance — potentially helping you save a significant chunk of cash on your monthly payment.

Given the benefits, a VA loan is often the best mortgage option for people who qualify.

If your income is limited and you live in a small or rural town: USDA loans are mortgages for limited-income home buyers in towns with populations of 10,000 or less, or that are “rural in character,” meaning that some areas that now have bigger populations are grandfathered in. You can see whether your town is eligible on the USDA’s website.

  • USDA loans typically have lower interest rates than non-USDA loans.
  • Down payments can be as low as 0%.
  • USDA mortgages also have more lenient credit score requirements than conventional loans.
  • Income limits to qualify depend on location and household size.
  • USDA loans charge an upfront mortgage insurance fee of 1% of the loan amount and annual mortgage insurance premium of 0.35%.
  • And USDA loan borrowers must buy a “modest home” — a property with a market value deemed reasonable for the area, though the USDA does not set specific price limitations.

Only a select number of lenders offer USDA loans.

If your job is to help people:

Niche programs, like the Neighbor Next Door from HUD, allows teachers, law enforcement officers, first responders, and government workers — as much as 50% — on eligible homes in revitalization districts.

Note: Downpayment assistance programs offer qualified buyers such things as grants and interest-free loans. Start with your state’s housing finance agency to find options.

Now You Know the Basics. It’s Time to Call for Backup

Speaking of your lender: Ultimately, you’ll be working with your loan officer or broker to narrow down these choices, and to find a loan that works for you and your finances. (Just another reason why it’s important to choose a lender you’re comfortable with.)

Your real estate agent should be able to offer some insight, too. And because they don’t earn a paycheck from your loan selection, their advice about mortgages should be impartial.

You know your stuff. And you know whom to ask for help. Who’s overwhelmed? Not you.


Who's Buying Homes?

by Kathy and Michael Rain - The Rain Team

Infographic courtesy of California Association of Realtors.

Market Snapshot: San Mateo County Real Estate Report

by Kathy and Michael Rain - The Rain Team

Here is an updated Market Report summarizing recent real estate activity along the coastside. Please keep in mind that the values represented are based on current, detailed information from the Regional Multiple Listing Service. If you need clarification on any of the figures or if you wish to take additional steps toward property ownership, please let us know. We are happy to help you. See the full report.

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Contact Information

Photo of The Rain Team Real Estate
The Rain Team
CA# 01169588 | CA# 01125976 | CA# 01908304
248 Main Street, Suite 200
Half Moon Bay CA 94019
Michael: 650-888-6361
Kathy: 650-888-6903
Fax: 866-396-0207

Kathy and Michael Rain of Coldwell Banker provides real estate services in the San Mateo County, California area including the surrounding communities: El Granda, Half Moon Bay, Montara, Moss Beach, Pacifica and San Mateo. Search for homes in San Mateo County. We list and sell residential real estate, investment properties, vacant land, lots for sale in the San Mateo County, California area.

Licensed in the State of California

Kathy Rain - CA BRE# 01169588 | Michael Rain - CA BRE# 01125976 | Coldwell Banker - CA BRE# 01908304  

Cell Phone: (650) 888-6903 * Direct Phone: (650) 712-0411
San Mateo County Real Estate and Homes for Sale

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