UPDATED: March 10th, 2:15 p.m. Christina Mathieson is known on Long Island as “the solar lady.”
An agent with Keller Williams Realty of Greater Nassau, she is a LEED Green Associate and leads trainings with other agents looking to broaden their knowledge of energy-efficient homes.
That work helped her get promoted to CEO at Keller Williams Realty of Greater Nassau’s Garden City office, a position she only took on last fall. But in February, she returned to her role as a full-time agent and instructor.
“As team leader, I helped real estate agents here grow their businesses, and it’s been wonderful,” Mathieson said. “But I decided that I had to go back to my environmental real estate roots. Homeowners that have gone solar and discovered challenges in the process of selling their homes need my help.”
She admits it was an “odd decision.” But she felt a social responsibility to continue her mission of educating others about energy efficiency. Mathieson created a curriculum called Green EDU for the real estate school Leap EDU, which is based on Long Island, N.Y. In addition, Mathieson and Leap EDU partnered with Hofstra University, Long Island’s largest private university, to create a series of courses for its real estate curriculum. Mathieson is also working with agents to create a protocol for transactions involving solar systems.
In recognition of her efforts, the National Association of Realtors honored Mathieson with its EverGreen Award in October 2019, calling her “a great advocate and asset for the green building industry.”
Although the federal government is phasing out tax credit for solar investments in the next few years, state credits and other incentives are making solar more viable for homeowners. New York State has pledged that by 2030, it will derive 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. According to a 2019 study by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 49,875 projects on the island, including commercial and residential properties, have solar paneling.
“We have communities that are embracing clean energy and electric vehicles,” Mathieson explained. “But social adoption takes a minute. And if there’s nobody talking about it, then it doesn’t get picked up.”
The Real Deal spoke with Mathieson about her efforts to bring awareness of green technology to Long Island.
Why should homeowners consider going solar? When you own your solar, it’s similar to the American dream of owning a home. When you’ve paid the home off, you still get to live there. And that could be considered income, right? It’s money that you’re not spending. The same holds true for solar. Let’s say you took a 10-year loan on a solar system with zero money down. The same dollar that you used to pay your electric bill, you’re spending to pay off your solar system and it’s making all this energy. When you’ve paid that loan off, you’ll have free energy for the life of the system, which can be about 25 years.
What’s the installation process like? For starters, it’s very important that people know the difference between owning solar panels and leasing them. When you lease your solar panels, they are not considered additional value on the property. They can actually be an impediment to sale because the solar panels are attached to the property, and there is a UCC filing on the property for lots of leases and for even some solar loans. Either way, you need to work with someone who is educated in how to sell that property.
What are the biggest issues for homeowners with solar panels? I think the challenge that we see with solar-powered homes is that we don’t know how to value them. The homeowner that went solar knows the benefit of it. However, they’re not trained professionals. It’s the job as the agent or the representative of the seller, or even the buyer, to know how this impacts the financial future. The second-generation solar homeowner who buys a home that’s already got solar on it, which is something we’re going to see a lot of in the next couple of years, doesn’t know anything about this. They need to be educated about it, too.
You’ve been teaching agents about these issues. What are some of the biggest points you make about solar energy? The challenge with solar is that every property is different. The norm when designing a solar system is to do so based on the energy lifestyle of the current occupant — the square footage of the home is not necessarily tied to the size of the solar system or its production. This valuation is done on a case-by-case basis. In order to create a solar price value adjustment on the appraisal side, Certified Green Appraisers can utilize the GRM (or Gross Rent Multiplier) as solar energy-generating systems produce energy and its value is quantifiable. One example for a system on a $335,000 home adds $11,500 of value.
New York State has made a pledge to get 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. How much do you think residential real estate will impact that number, as opposed to commercial? We’re a very progressive state when it comes to that. New York is already one of the top 10 states for renewable energy. We have wind farms that will be installed off the coast of Montauk that are going to enable a generation of electricity where our utility can retire. And the state is encouraging New Yorkers to be more energy efficient with tax credits and free energy audits that help homeowners waste less. The state is trying to get the information out to the public that these things are happening and homeowners can be part of the solution.
Do you think your classes help convince people that going solar makes sense? People do go solar after they take the class. Or they ask how they get an energy audit. When they understand it and they realize it’s simple — you don’t have to climb on the roof — people do implement these measures, and that makes me very happy. But what makes me happiest are the early adopters. They were the ones that did this, not just for the green of the dollar, but the green of the earth. They felt that it was their social responsibility.
—This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.