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Green Building News

Leased Solar Panels May Complicate Home Sales

Solar leasing is going gangbusters, but when it comes time to sell the house, leased rooftop panels may be a problem

Leased solar panels are an area of strong growth for the residential photovoltaic industry, but the agreements that bind homeowners to solar installers can get in the way when a home sale is pending.
Image Credit: SolarCity

Leased photovoltaic (PV) systems that come with long-term contracts are proving to be a problem for some homeowners when they try to sell their homes, in some cases killing deals when potential buyers get cold feet, a report in the Los Angeles Times says.

Although the article didn’t quantify the problem, it suggested the number of problem real estate transactions is growing as the number of leased PV installations increases.

Lynn Farris, a real estate agent in Vacaville, California, a city of 94,000 between Sacramento and San Francisco, said that disputes over leased panels are “becoming an increasing problem” and predicted it would get worse.

The article cites the example of homeowners Nora and Andrew Barber who were having trouble selling their house near Fresno, California, because potential buyers didn’t like the terms of the existing PV lease, or because of credit qualifications they’d have to meet to take over the lease. In the end, the Barbers paid $22,000 to get out of the lease so they could sell the house.

“It was a nightmare,” Nora Barber told The Times. “We were in a panic.”

Leasing companies say the problem is minor

Clean Power Finance, the company from whom the Barbers were leasing the panels, didn’t comment directly on their predicament but did say there were only “very few instances” of potential buyers balking at a sale because of leased PV systems.

A company executive told the newspaper that in 95 percent of sales, the buyers take over the lease agreement, or the sellers prepays the agreement or purchases the panels.

SolarCity, the largest PV leasing company in the country — a company doing business in 16 states — says that it has a 12-person team in place to facilitate the transfer of PV leases and has so far arranged nearly 3,000 transactions.

But the problem has been reported elsewhere, including this 2014 report from Bloomberg that was picked up by PV Magazine.

Owning a PV system can add value

While leased PV systems can be a problem for homeowners trying to sell, purchased systems add value, a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found.

Researchers studying sales records for 22,000 homes concluded buyers were willing to pay an average of $4 per watt, or $15,000, for an average-sized PV system of 3.6 kilowatts.

It didn’t seem to make much difference whether the PV panels were on a new house or added to an older house.

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