Greening your Mayor (for fun and profit)

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What is the one thing all elected officials absolutely want regardless of their political views? Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, etc all want the same thing.  Cash? Fame? Help their Community?  Maybe, but the overriding thing that elected officials want is to get re-elected.  Politicians at almost every level strive for re-election.  That’s why we have term maximums in our society and not term minimums.

So, why should you care?

Well, as a real estate investor you’ve got the power to directly impact the political shelf-life of your local politicians.  Politicians are always looking for ways to improve their brand, their image and their approval ratings.  Real estate investors who are developing green projects can be the conduits to those increased approval ratings.  Right now, green is hot.  Politicians know this and that’s why you see so many of them jumping on the green bandwagon.  This is largely due to what I call, “The All American Kissing Babies and Petting Puppies” phenomenon.

When you see a baby or puppy on the street/in the park the natural inclination for most people is to stop, smile and say something nice.  You usually leave the encounter happier than you were before.  Babies and puppies are almost always a ‘feel good’ story*  and politicians love feel good stories.  That’s why when you see them on TV, they’re usually at a state fair pie judging contest and not a crime scene.  So they will typically be more receptive to working with green real estate investors because they understand that those investors can be huge assets to them.
[*Quick aside: I met my wife, Kelly by walking my puppy down the street. I don’t kid myself that it was my sparkling personality that got Kelly’s attention. I’m pretty sure it was my dog, Kona.]

Here’s a three examples of how this can help you as a green investor:

1. Quicker plan checks and zoning approval time-lines
When you’re developing a green project (whether it’s a remodel or  50 unit apartment building) your plan check time should be decreased dramatically. Almost every city in the US has a protocol in place that allows green projects to jump to the head of the line in the city planning department.

2. More favorable zoning/density requirements

Green projects usually get increased allowances for density and zoning that can directly result in increased profits for you.  For example, I worked on a 9 unit condo project last year in Carlsbad, California.  San Diego county is arguably one of the most difficult places for zoning regs. and getting even minor variations to plans approved.  During our meeting with the City of Calrsbad we explained that this 9 unit project was going to be green and asked them what the chances would be if we wanted to take it to 10 units as the current zoning would only allow for 9 units. After some discussion they told us that they’d actually allow us to go to 11 units because they really wanted to see a green project in this area.  I was blown away because this meant an additional $250k profit to my investor.

3. Greater publicity for your project
Since city officials are involved there are opportunities to get your project to be flagship example (for the city) that gets press and media attention.  This increases the perceived value and thus the real sales price of your project.

If you are considering doing a green RE project here are four ways to maximize the opportunities with your city:

  1. Start at the top– Call the Mayor’s office and schedule a meeting with him/her to discuss your project.  Make sure you tell them that yours is a green project and why you believe he/she should meet with you.  ALWAYS start at the top because a- they have the power to make staff move below them and b-when the Mayor is behind your project you’ll be operating under more favorable rules and time-lines.
  2. Sell value, not methods– No matter who you’re speaking with talk incessantly about the value to the City you’re providing.  Don’t talk about materials or methods as most city employees may not care or understand.  Keep hammering home the value concept no matter what department you’re dealing with.
  3. Make ‘If/Then’ offers– This changes the relationship between you and the City from adversarial to partnership.  Some examples, “IF I can save 20 million gallons of water on this project; THEN can you reduce the density requirements so I can get 1 more unit on the property?” or “IF we commit to Energy Star building certification; THEN will you commit to waiving all of our building application/review fees?”
  4. Tell all– Once you’ve got the Mayor’s blessing tell everyone in every department you interact with that your deal has the Mayors eyes on it.  If the #1 goal of elected officials is to get re-elected, the #1 goal of City employees is to keep their jobs.  The safest/easiest way to do that is by being in the Mayors good graces.

In a perfect world everyone would build green or rehab green and my thoughts above wouldn’t matter.  However, in our current economic environment that’s just not the case.  There is a tremendous opportunity for you to utilize your city officials to get your green projects approved faster and easier thus leading to greater profits.  I’ve worked with many city officials and I can tell you firsthand that this can be a tremendous avenue for you to pursue.  Good luck!

About Author

I help real estate investors increase profits and property values through a variety of green strategies. I help clients find hidden rebates, tax incentives and credits to maximize returns on any property.

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