SUNday Podcast – Ep.4 – What is Pearl Certification?

Feb 8, 2021Consulting, Real Estate, Renewables, Solar, SUNday Podcast

 

Kate Garrens:

Hello, everyone. I’m Kate Garrens with EnergyONE Renewables, and this is the SUNday Podcast, where we talk about all things renewable energy. Today, I have a special guest who is John Blattner with Pearl Certification. If you guys listened to our other podcast about Pearl Certification where we had Barry Long, a realtor with us. We talked a lot about this, and we’ve had a lot of feedback, a lot of really good feedback, so I wanted to do a podcast with somebody there at Pearl to give everybody a little bit more information. So thanks for being here, John.

Kate Garrens:

I’d like to share with our listeners a little bit about you and your journey with Pearl and how you ended up where you’re at.

John Blattner:

Yeah. And thank you so much for having me, it’s really a pleasure to be here and being able to talk to you and your listeners about some of the great work we’re doing, and appreciate the great work you’re doing in your area. So my background is kind of a long and storied career in sales, starting with selling my sister’s Girl Scout cookies because she was scared to knock on doors, and it progressed from there. And somehow along the way, I ended up in a finance director position for a solar company doing development in commercial and ag projects, utility-scale.

John Blattner:

But the entire time, the phone across from me was ringing and we were turning down residential customers, and we’re a Midwest-based company, and I really caught the bug to start up residential solar in our area. And much like yourselves, saw the value in the SunPower proposition for our customers as a market differentiator and hit the road and built out a team over a few years, and was delivering solar to homeowners.

John Blattner:

And one of the big problems that I heard was … or objections I should say, was, “What if we move?” And it was really looking at this 25 year investment and it was the first time they made that purchase. And I realized that they just had what they’ve learned on the internet or the person sitting in front of them talking about a $30,000 purchase.

John Blattner:

And I really got fascinated with the idea of solar as an equity-building asset, not just a deemed savings on an energy bill. And as I was thinking about this, and all of us in the solar industry can agree that solar is the most valuable home improvement you can make, right?

Kate Garrens:

Oh yeah. I would agree.

John Blattner:

But for a homeowner to understand that, I was looking for a way to express that properly without using the typical percentages that float around that are not germane to their areas of assets. And that’s when I came across Pearl Certification through a client, started talking about it, and before I prepared to take it to the owners of my company so we could start certifying work, I decided I needed to start taking it out into the world.

John Blattner:

And so, almost two years ago I joined Pearl Certification and have been traveling the country personally, and now digitally, taking the good word and training sales organizations and solar companies across the country as to how to deliver a fuller message of value to their homeowners.

Kate Garrens:

That’s so great. I love that. We did a previous podcast with a realtor and a previous customer, and they just all had such great things to say about Pearl. And so I think that’s really what kind of sparked this podcast because we wanted to find out more from Pearl and you and share kind of all of the nitty-gritty details, all the fun stuff and exciting things that Pearl has to offer. So I’d like to just jump right into it if that’s okay with you.

John Blattner:

Absolutely.

Kate Garrens:

Okay, cool. First off, maybe just start by telling us what Pearl Certification is and why it’s so great for solar owners, whether you’re getting ready to start solar, or you already have it.

John Blattner:

Why it’s so great, and there are so many different reasons that I could go into it, but really where it matters is the homeowner, and what the goal is is to change folks’ mindset about buying and selling homes. On the previous podcast, I listened to it probably twice because I really appreciated the messaging, talking through the homeowners selling their home process, and it was really an interesting journey because it’s so different from what we hear from other folks.

John Blattner:

He found an appraiser that understood the market, understood the value of solar. He found a realtor that was able to market it properly and attract that buyer, and then get the loan and reward that initial investment. And you’ll have to tell me if he got solar on his next home, but I’m assuming that was a yes?

Kate Garrens:

I think he’s actually in the process of getting solar, yes.

John Blattner:

Okay. Well, we’ll call him after this and nag him a little bit because-

Kate Garrens:

We will.

John Blattner:

And so that’s what Pearl really set out to do was help folks understand that high-performing homes, solar in particular, do add value to the home. And not just in the sense of, we talk about percentages from the Midwest to the West Coast to the East Coast. That’s not really going to pan out. But what will work is a defined process that holds folks accountable, gives them instruction, and walks them through the entire transaction for real estate. And that’s what Pearl’s created.

John Blattner:

So we worked with the Department of Energy and Energy Star to build out a certification system rooted in sound building science, and then we worked in partnership with the Appraisal Institute and National Association of REALTORS to ensure that our process was accepted by the real estate industry. And knowing that they have a hard job and sometimes not all the data’s there, sometimes not all the training’s there, they’re hustling to get listings and flip homes and this and that.

John Blattner:

We wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to manage those transactions and reward that homeowner and further encourage them to make that next investment. So we call it the virtuous cycle, where you invest in solar, you’re rewarded on your energy bill and ecological impacts. The life-changing event happens, you need to sell or refinance the home. You’re able to recognize the full value of the solar in that transaction as an equity-building asset. The realtor sells for more, the lender loans for more, the buyer gets the home they’re looking for with energy efficiency and solar, and you walk out of there with more money than you thought you would to go do it again at the next house. And that’s how we want to drive rapid adoption.

Kate Garrens:

Yes.

John Blattner:

And it’s really through channel partners, residential solar installers, that we not only want to build a process, but we want to build a brand of quality. So we work with a select few installers in each market to make sure that Pearl is not just a certification to help drive monetary transactions, but also an identifier of quality and a differentiator, and we have qualification settings for each one of them. And what we found was that homeowners really liked to hear that they’re actually improving the value of their home. It’s a comfortable buying space for them.

Kate Garrens:

Oh, sure.

John Blattner:

Right?

Kate Garrens:

Yeah.

John Blattner:

How we frame every investment. And I’ve been at the kitchen table where one spouse is all about the solar and the other one is burning lasers in the side of their head because they’re going to spend $30,000 on solar panels instead of finishing the basement or bathroom.

Kate Garrens:

Right. Well, and I think that is a huge selling point too, because I know from my personal experience in the solar industry that we have had customers right and left who are ready to go, but then maybe, oh, the wife is thinking, “Oh, in a few years we might want to move and get some land.” Or, “Our kids are getting older, we may be moving to a smaller home,” kind of downsizing sort of a thing. And they’re concerned about investing $20, $30, $40,000 into their home and not getting the return on investment. They’re concerned with basically having to pay off that solar loan or not getting what they put into it.

Kate Garrens:

And so for me, when I learned about Pearl Certification, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is so great for these types of people because it sort of,” … I don’t know, I don’t want to say guarantees, but I guess in a sense it sort of gives them that peace of mind that they’re getting their solar appraised, if you will, at a better price. It’s like somebody is taking that into consideration, right?

John Blattner:

Yeah, absolutely. And really, you know what? Thinking of it from a homeowner’s perspective and really for us to drive adoption in those, I don’t look back at my solar sales career as all the deals that I lost to a different company over a couple of bucks, or a panel offering or whatever. That’s great, more solar, better for all of us.

Kate Garrens:

Right.

John Blattner:

I look back on my sales career as the folks that didn’t adopt solar because they felt chained to that investment the next 25 years.

Kate Garrens:

Yes.

John Blattner:

And 25-year commitment, outside of my marriage, I don’t have any of those.

Kate Garrens:

Yeah.

John Blattner:

That’s a tough one for people to get their heads around, so when we-

Kate Garrens:

Yes. Yeah.

John Blattner:

… walk into that and say, “Hey, look. Come what may, we have bankable verification that your investment is valuable, and we’re going to guide everybody in the real estate transaction through it and coach them through it to make sure that you’re compensated fairly at fair market value for the investment you’ve made here today.” Now all of a sudden, that 25-year investment is sure, 24, five, three-and-a-half. In your previous guest’s experience, it was a year and a half.

Kate Garrens:

Yeah.

John Blattner:

And full recoup of the cost of the system, got to keep the tax credit and a year of free energy.

Kate Garrens:

Oh yeah.

John Blattner:

So the safest place for your money, in my mind.

Kate Garrens:

Exactly. So tell me a little bit about the process. Say I already have solar, but I’m just now finding out about this Pearl Certification, or I’m interested in getting solar and maybe right now I’m kind of getting bids on the job. What is the process for, say, somebody who already has it, but is interested in getting the Pearl Certification? Maybe they’re kind of thinking about selling their home, but that might be something on the list that they’re going, “Ah, maybe we should just stay here because of the solar.” What is the process? Is it a long-drawn-out process? Is it difficult? Is it easy? Tell me all the little parts to it.

John Blattner:

Yeah. So I’ll try to do this in short form. Our goal was to make this easy and accessible, right? So we have to install partners from HVAC to home performance to solar, and they actually have kind of a competitive advantage if you will be talking about solar or home performance, HVAC, as an investment in the home and saying, “Hey, we’re Pearl Certified where others aren’t.” And that’s where our mark of quality and review of a contractor comes in.

John Blattner:

If you’re a homeowner and you have a solar installation on your home and we can verify all the components, either through our contractor partner in your area, we can train up a rater to come out there and do an asset review of the home and the solar. We can issue that post-installation for folks that are looking to sell. We’re happy to train the real estate agents, steer folks in the right direction for appraisers, et cetera, and just kind of foster that process from all areas. So we’ll work directly with consumers. The majority of our relationships come through our installing partners.

Kate Garrens:

Wow.

John Blattner:

Yeah.

Kate Garrens:

So you guys work with the realtor too? Because I’ve talked to a few realtors kind of in the area, just friends and things like that, and some of them are not very on the up and up, I guess you could say, with solar. They’re not really sure of the added value. So you guys work with the realtors too?

John Blattner:

Yeah. Yep.

Kate Garrens:

Wow.

John Blattner:

So we have an entire real estate arm of the company that is set to educate and support realtors and train them up to become potentially Pearl Certified realtors so they can market and sell high-performing homes in their regions should they want to. So we’ll work with everybody, and that’s not an uncommon thing. I want to take a step back and say to all the real estate agents out there, hats off to you, it’s a tough job.

Kate Garrens:

Sure. Oh yeah.

John Blattner:

Becoming an expert on solar may not seem like the greatest investment in your time, and we can give you enough information to actually commit a transaction with solar hang tags, walkthroughs, MLS input, as far as your previous guest Chris, “Hey, we did this on our own. We put the solar out front and center.”

Kate Garrens:

Yeah.

John Blattner:

And probably had a lot of the value propositions cost offset per annum. The company that installs a lot of the things that we capture in our appraisal have [inaudible 00:12:54]. That helps drive that process and really is the easy button for the real estate transaction. So we’ll support everybody along the way, the entire value chain.

Kate Garrens:

I love that. That’s so neat. If somebody wanted to do it, does somebody have to come out to their house? And if so, then do they also kind of evaluate if, say somebody has LED lights in their home, or maybe it’s not just the solar, is it a different package or does the Pearl Certification sort of include everything that’s energy saving in the home? How does that work?

John Blattner:

Yeah. So that’s a really good question, and I’m going to go back to my point about accessibility. So we want to get the ball rolling with the customer, but we will do a full audit of the home if desired. So if it’s just to certify the solar, great. We want to make sure that asset’s recognized in the real estate transaction. If it is a whole home performance and they want to get into our grading and scoring scale to get their home to platinum, we can do that as well.

Kate Garrens:

Oh, neat. So you could do either or, or both. You could do all of it or just the solar or any of it.

John Blattner:

Exactly.

Kate Garrens:

I love that.

John Blattner:

And for the folks that we’re taking one measure into account or two measures into account, we actually have a customer-facing app called the Green Door that folks can download, store documents, look for other Pearl Certified contractors in their area, but also find some DIY tips to kind of build their home performance because our goal is more rapid adoption and helping folks really look in between the walls if you will, and at their roof and figuring out how to make a high-performing home out of the existing housing stock.

John Blattner:

So we’ll start small and grow with you, or we can do the whole thing at once and have one of our partners give you a list of, we call it a home investment plan, of things that you can do either gradually or all at once to reach different asset levels or score levels, I should say.

Kate Garrens:

I like that.

John Blattner:

Our goal is to be accessible to everyone and really start the conversation and keep it simple all the way through.

Kate Garrens:

Right. That’s awesome. I love that. And so, how long does the process take from start to finish? I assume, as you said, somebody has to come out, is it just sort of a one-time visit and then you get this Pearl Certification in a number of days after, or?

John Blattner:

Yes, that’s a great question. So if it’s through an installing partner, you had solar installed by a Pearl Certified contractor and they would upload the final system information into our system, that would just trigger the creation of certification once it goes through our QA process, and that’s delivered to the homeowner with instructions for the transaction via email, PDF format, and then they’re invited to join the Green Door app where all that documentation would live.

John Blattner:

If you’re going to go from a customer to Pearl, like I’m a homeowner and I call Pearl and I have an audit done, it’s going to be whatever measures I choose to take after that audit or if I sit Pat. So a Pearl Certified auditor would come out, check the home, give me a score, issue the certification. I would pay that auditor for their time. If I decided to take those next steps up the ladder, we could retest the home, or if we’re documenting equipment, et cetera. So really, it could take as much as a day and a half, and that’s all lead time waiting for it to come back to you. Or it could be as simple as transacting with a Pearl Certified contractor in your region and getting the ball rolling that way.

Kate Garrens:

Getting it right upfront. Yeah.

John Blattner:

That’s right.

Kate Garrens:

That’s cool. And so it’s been a while since we’ve gone through the whole appraisal process, but how long is that good for, the Pearl Certification? Do you recommend somebody do it every so many year, or if somebody gets it right when they install their solar, is it … I don’t know, how does that work?

John Blattner:

Yeah. So it’s a snapshot in time of the house. We’re not going to capture everything in real-time. Now, we do have the Green Door that allows folks to update their assets as they move through the journey and whether they’re installing with more contractors or making upgrades, so it’s always eligible for an upgrade.

Kate Garrens:

Okay.

John Blattner:

Let’s say I got a solar array, my scoring was all done, and I decided, much to my wife’s happiness, that I’m not going to spend any more money on between the walls of home improvements.

Kate Garrens:

Okay.

John Blattner:

A year later, we look at that Pearl Certification and it’s still valid with all of the measures that are in place. Now, the climate zone scoring and things of that may change, but what we’ve done is documented the high-performing assets of the home, but that in front of an appraiser, realtor, and lender, and they’re able to value them based on the market conditions of today.

Kate Garrens:

Gotcha. So you would just kind of hang onto that, put it in a safe place, or log in and get that when the time comes that you’re ready to maybe sell your home? And then-

John Blattner:

Yeah.

Kate Garrens:

Yeah. Okay. So it doesn’t have to be redone every year, or?

John Blattner:

No, it’s not ongoing maintenance. It’s completely up to you. So it’s a choose your own adventure, how far do you want to take it?

Kate Garrens:

Cool.

John Blattner:

And how often do you want to update it? But again, a snapshot in time of the date of certification. Customers are free to improve or let it sit pat.

Kate Garrens:

Thank you so much, John, for being here. I really appreciate it. You’ve given us so much insight. It was great talking with you.

John Blattner:

Yeah. And Kate, thank you so much for having me and giving me the opportunity to share the work we’re doing. And thank you for taking the extra time to put together educational podcasts and all the great work you’re doing in your region, and I look forward to keeping up with your success. Thanks.

Kate Garrens:

Us too. Us too. Thank you.

John Blattner:

All the best.

Kate Garrens:

Well, thank you everyone for tuning in to our SUNday Podcast, where we talk about all things renewable energy.