Best Real Estate Idea (If It Works): Popularise

by Shilpi Paul

Popularise’s test site at 1351 H Street NE

Last week, UrbanTurf reported on Popularise, a new website which hopes to use the wisdom of the masses to collect ideas for new real estate developments.

Here is how the site works: real estate developers post developable buildings/plots, then people log in to contribute ideas and vote on what they’d like to see in the space. Right now, the founders are testing the concept with a building they recently purchased at 1351 H Street NE. The website has already generated some unusual (for DC) ideas for the building, like a craft doughnut shop and a pisco bar. One of the goals of the site, co-founder Ben Miller tells UrbanTurf, is to counteract “cookie-cutter” development.

“So much of real estate is owned by huge companies that make terrible mistakes,” Miller told UrbanTurf. “Developers in their 50s and 60s might say ‘people don’t know what they want,’ but so far, people are submitting some cool ideas.”

The founders are growing the site slowly and conscientiously; it’s still invitation-only and all users must use their full names. In January, a few new DC properties will be entered into its database for people to vote on. Eventually, the plan is to figure out a way for residents who live nearby to buy into the business and thus have a vested interest in its success.

Miller doesn’t see Popularise users steering the development ship completely. “I think of it as a representative democracy, not a direct democracy,” he said, noting that he imagines developers will process the ideas, but not always build whatever gets the most votes. With the H Street property, Miller and his partners may combine a few of the more popular ideas, perhaps using the space as a pizza kitchen at night and a bagel shop in the morning. To him, the important thing is that the community is activated and that new ideas come to the District.

“There is a sense that DC is missing some stuff,” said Miller. “It’s ridiculous that we don’t have a good bakery in our town. Once young people realize that they can be invested in building their city, I think we could get thousands of people excited.”

The success of Popularise could be limited by a couple of factors. First, developers and investors will only be swayed by a statistically significant number of sincere users, so the website needs to grow its community without opening up to internet trolls and jokesters. Next, the idea needs to be scalable. Right now, Miller and his co-founders have their hands in every part of the process and can use their judgement when deciding which developers and users to invite onto the site, maintaining a certain vibe. As Popularise grows, that will be impossible.

That said, if it can get beyond these and a few other obstacles, Popularise could revolutionize the way the development process works.

See other articles related to: popularise, best of 2011

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/best_real_estate_idea_if_it_works_popularise/4793

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