If you're one of the lucky few planning to buy a home next year and trying to live environmentally friendly, now you can find a house through a "green" real estate agent.

Not to be confused with one who's just earned his or her license, a so-called eco-broker is a real estate pro who has passed a certification course on energy efficiency, indoor air quality and "green" mortgages, among other topics.

"It's a growing area of study for Realtors," says Brad Sandler, an agent in Denver. "In the past, you counted on your real estate agent to know about home values, not energy values. But now the energy footprint of the house is critical to its value."

So when you find that dream home, your eco-broker can act as a kind of energy consultant to give you ideas on environmentally positive improvements. He or she can also lead you to green homes for sale and help make your current home more marketable with energy-saving recommendations.

"If my clients are looking at a house that has the standard two-inch insulation inside the walls, I tell them how much they can save on their utility bills if they were to increase it and add a programmable thermostat," says Sandler.

The boost in value from making energy-related improvements can be significant. "Take two identical homes on a street, and one has made some energy-efficient changes and the other hasn't," says Tom Severino, a Realtor and environmental engineer in West Chester, Pa. "The home with the improvements might have a monthly utility bill $50 less than its neighbor and be worth an additional 5% to 10% on the market."

Finding a certified Realtor can be tricky, as many are located in the West.

And not all green Realtors are the same. "The way the market is now, lots of people go through the certification who are just looking for an edge over the Realtor across the street," says Sandler. "They're not committed to the principals. They're just looking for more buyers."

If working with an environmentally conscious real estate pro interests you,

EcoBroker.com

has a listing of certified Realtors, but it also pays to do a little investigating.

"Not all of them walk the walk," says Severino, who as a teenager in the 1970s participated in a project that measured pollution on the Hudson River and today has plans to open a series of conference centers where green businesses could offer their wares and services. "The real estate crisis we're dealing with has been a blow, but in a way it's an opportunity. It's also a way to think differently about how we as Realtors deal with clients and it's also a chance for potential homeowners to revisit what they're looking for in a house."