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A Social Network for Buildings... Honestly?

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A brand new beta website called Honest Buildings launched last week. Described by its founder as a cross between Yelp and LinkedIn for buildings, the site allows users to find and compare information, ratings and reviews for every commercial or residential building in the U.S.

If you're socially overextended online, you may wonder why you ought to give a hoot... even before you consider the bland, brick and mortar subject matter. What's the point if it doesn't include puppies, snark or Farmville?

Its success depends on user adoption, but Honest Buildings could significantly change the real estate industry and how individuals relate to the spaces they use, occupy or own. Remember having to rely on restaurant recommendations of trusted friends and a handful of professional reviewers in the pre-Yelp and Chowhound world? That's where the building industry is today.

I lead sustainability initiatives for a company that sells retail real estate across the U.S. For years, my green building peers and I have bemoaned the lack of accessible data about energy efficiency and green building ratings. It has historically been cumbersome to track down a building's LEED rating or EnergyStar score because the information was previously stored in the virtual equivalent of your grandmother's dusty attic.

Not only was the data hard to find, you couldn't necessarily trust it. For example, a building could be designed for LEED, but not yet certified. Inadvertently, or through sheer ignorance, the building might be sold as a LEED certified project.

Because Honest Buildings gets their data directly from the USGBC and EnergyStar (and a myriad of other data integrations, with more on the way) it's reliable. Plus, anyone can augment or dispute incorrect information.

So why should you care how energy efficient a building is, or whether it's earned its LEED stripes, and plaque?

It matters because it allows tenants and investors to easily compare the efficiency (thus operating costs) of investments, using standard benchmarking methods. The availability of data creates transparency that should ultimately drive competition in the market, rewarding buildings that are more efficient or designed to a higher standard. This competition ought to drive demand for retrofits, save energy, create savings... and yep, it's also good for the environment.

But Honest Buildings isn't just about "outing" inefficient buildings. It's also a marketplace where owners can shop for qualified building service providers, from HVAC to solar. Vendors post project portfolios on the site, linking them to buildings. This creates a "health record" for individual buildings, and it also allows owners to review the track record and capabilities of vendors. An RFP component will eventually be available, giving owners an easy way to collect bids from service providers.

So what if (like me) your real estate holdings are pitifully small? The most important thing you need to know about Honest Buildings is that it's a user-friendly, egalitarian website. We spend 90 percent of our time inside buildings, and this site lets everyone talk about them, a-la-Yelp.

If you're trying to sell your home, you could upload photos and advertise amenities that would be attractive to buyers. If you're scoping out a new office space, you could review feedback on parking or shower facilities from current tenants. An integration with 311 in New York City lets people to review complaints and compare buildings on safety issues.

Although initial feedback from Honest Buildings indicates that people are posting positive information, you could conceivably report broken fixtures or leaking pipes.

Is Honest Buildings the next Pinterest? Hey, I'm a self-professed green building dork, and have obviously pounded a huge glass of Kool-Aid. Whether the site succeeds depends on adoption and quality contributions from users. But unlike previous real estate sites, Honest Buildings finally makes buildings meaningful to all parties who interact with them throughout their lifespan, not just during a transaction.

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