Green improvements that cut utility costs are what buyers want

Going green is not just a fad or trend these days – it is an absolute necessity! In real estate, going green is good for the environment, but can be better a homeowner's wallet. It is what is most appealing to home buyers these days. More than 80 percent of buyers said they would pay more for home features that saved energy and trimmed utility bills, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders.

That piece of information can be valuable to home sellers looking to get the best price for their homes this summer. Home improvements that also reduce utility bills - such as skylights and energy-efficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems - may be the investments that ensure a seller's home will get top dollar and multiple offers.

If you're interested in making energy-efficient, cost-cutting improvements a selling point for your home, you can achieve the benefit with basic, moderate or impressive improvements. What you choose to do will depend on your budget, time-frame and perceived benefit in terms of a speedy sale. Here are a handful of improvements, from basic to beautiful:

Seal and insulate - Ideally, you've kept up on your home's insulation and sealing all the time you've lived in Los Angeles. If not, potential buyers may be attracted by recent refurbishments to the caulking and sealing around windows, entry doors, garage doors and ductwork. In most instances, homeowners can easily improve sealing and insulation on their own, without hiring a professional. While the improvement may seem minor, its impact can be significant; EnergyStar.gov says sealing and insulating ducts can boost an HVAC's efficiency as much as 20 percent, and sealing air leaks and adding insulation can trim annual energy bills as much as 10 percent.

Replace old incandescent bulbs - When it comes to cost savings, replacing traditional incandescent bulbs with energy-sipping CFLs or LEDs is a cost-effective way to trim electricity bills. Both types of bulbs use at least 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescents, and last 10 to 25 times longer, according to Energy.gov. While these bulbs cost more than regular bulbs, potential home buyers are likely to embrace the cost savings they'll reap over the lengthy life of the bulbs. In terms of energy upgrades, it's a relatively low-cost, high-impact improvement for a seller to make.

Install a wireless, programmable thermostat - Connectivity is all the rage. When it comes to reducing cooling costs by smarter thermostat use, wireless thermostats are the next big thing. Programmable thermostats have been available for years, and help reduce cooling costs by automating settings to use energy wisely. Wireless thermostats enhance that functionality by allowing users to access their home's temperature controls remotely from any Wi-Fi device. So if you're in the office and realize you forgot to program the settings on your thermostat, you can communicate with the thermostat from your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Sellers can realize savings too

Upgrading or installing a skylight - While many energy-efficient home improvements do their jobs behind the scenes, an Energy Star-qualified skylight is front-and-center, saving energy and beautifying a home. A skylight appeals to homebuyers' aesthetic senses and love of savings and they are especially well received in kitchens and baths where they provide not only natural light but fresh air and privacy. A no-leak solar-powered fresh-air skylight can help reduce electricity costs by providing passive ventilation and natural light.

Solar-powered blinds can improve a skylight's energy performance rating by as much as 45 percent while making a strong design statement. Solar-powered skylights and blinds, plus installation costs, might be eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit so check with your tax attorney or accountant.

Real-estate industry watchers predict buyers and sellers will both be active in the upcoming year. Making the cost-saving improvements buyers crave could help sellers move their homes faster and for the best possible price.