Austin home sellers now have one more chore, along with touching up the paint and sprucing up the yard, before putting their house or the market.

A new city ordinance requires sellers of homes older than 10 years to get an energy audit and disclose the results to prospective buyers.  Some people fear the new rule will hurt sales in slower market.

City leaders who approved the audits last year said it was one more way to reduce Austin’s energy consumption and make Austin greener, although sellers are not required to make any improvements as a result of the audit. The idea is to encourage sellers or buyers to make their houses more energy-efficient.

But with the requirement taking effect in a slower housing market, some real estate agents say it could delay or torpedo sales and will add costs for sellers.

“There’s never a good time to add fees to a transaction,” said City Council Member Mike Martinez,” but I think this requirement is a good thing. It allows the consumer to fully understand the purchase they’re about to make. If you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an investment, you would want to know how efficient that investment is going to be for you.”

As for sellers who may be concerned that the ordinance could hurt their negotiating power, Martinez said: “It’s no different than a home inspection. The consumer needs to know what they’re buying.”

The audits are expected to cost $200 to $300 for a typical home of 1,800 square feet, or less. Austin Energy anticipates that 3,000 to 4,000 homes a year will be audited under the ordinance.

Jay Gohil, chairman of the Austin Board of Realtors, said the ordinance “is reasonably acceptable for buyers as well as sellers.”

The board was represented on the task force that created the ordinance, along with contractors, city officials and others, and fought successfully against any provision that would require sellers to make energy upgrades.

“With the cost of electricity rising, it’s an important part of knowing if you can afford a home. Buyers are looking for houses with lower utility costs,” Gohil said.

The ordinance was part of Mayor Will Wynn’s initiative to reduce energy use in Austin and the need for new power plants, thus shrinking the city’s carbon footprint.

After months of work by the task force, the City Council unanimously passed the ordinance in November, setting June 1 as the effective date. The ordinance also has provisions for multifamily properties and commercia buildings.

A City Council resolution accompanying the ordinance includes a goal of having percent of homes sold be tween June 2009 and June 2010 receive upgrades and more homes in later years.

The reports must be done by auditors who are certified by the Building Performance Institute, a national educational organization for home performance contractors. Austin Energy lists 45 approved inspectors on its web site.

The audits will cover issues such as how much insulation the house has and the condition of the heating and cooling equipment and include recommendations for improvements.

Sellers must provide a copy of the report to buyers. The auditors are required to provide a copy of their report to Austin Energy within 30 days.

The ordinance says violations are a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Ed Clark, a spokesman for Austin Energy, said that of average, a home that is 25 to 30 years old and has never had energy improvements wastes 30 to 50 percent of the energy it uses.

Austin Energy offers rebates or zero percent loans for energy upgrades. In the past five years, 23,800 residential customers have made improvements that collectively reduced their energy use by 38 million kilowatt-hours and saved a total of $3 million on their energy bills, according to the utility.

Energy audit highlights
Who needs one: Sellers of homes 10 or more years old in Austin that get their electricity from Austin Energy.
Who can skip it: Owners who have made certain improvements under Austin Energy programs in the previous 10 years. The ordinance does not apply to condominiums or mobile homes.
Who does the audits:
City-approved firms that are certified by a national organization.
Costs: Estimated at $200 to $300 for a typical home of 1,800 square feet or less. Austin Energy recommends getting at least three bids.
More information: www.austinenergy.com