A boring and slow-to-adopt-technology industry? Real Estate
And, what’s one of the main problem affecting this industry? Titling! According to World Bank, 70% of the world’s population lacks access to land titling. Now, when there is a problem, there’s someone trying to solve it, and currently, the most obvious answer seems Blockchain.
Briefly, blockchain is a public ledger in which transactions made in bitcoins (or using other alternatives cryptocurrencies) are recorded chronologically and publicly. Without going into too much technical detail, it seems like a good match with our initial problem.
We can see 3 blockchain applications in the real estate domain:
a) Public registry (electronic property recording): blockchain ledgers where properties and all the relative transactions are recorded
b) Private platform (properties are tokenized and then tokens are traded publicly): international projects trying to profit from investors must invest in real estate properties
c) Specific development project ICO (building projects are funded through cryptocurrencies). This trend is well on the go in Russia with large building projects funded through crypto currencies
The first European public project
To date, Sweden has one of the most advanced electronic land registries: despite that (or, maybe, just because of that), they have decided to push further. They have launched a serious project to test the feasibility of moving their registry into a blockchain. The reasons? According Kairos Future (one of the project advisors):
- Blockchain can regulate and control the workflow and digital signage of transactions
- The blockchain verifies the correctness of the document and the rules and order of authorization with technology for storing digital fingerprints
- The fingerprints are unique for every document, register and process step, hence become a form of verification similar to a human fingerprint
- Digital contracts also reduce the risk of registering incorrect information and the inability to get title deeds, which is the confirmation from the Land registry of ownership of the land
Least but not last, blockchain implementation is expected to reduce costs by over 100 million euros per year.
More about the project
So far, the project has gone through 2 phases:
1) Project definition and introduction
2) Build and test a supporting technology in reference to current laws and security issues
Process main findings are (taken from the official report):
- All involved actors will have a digital file representing the agreement of ownership, mortgage deeds, etc. Those files will be mostly stored in the cloud, locally or somewhere else
- The authenticity of the process will be secured with a blockchain, and all registries will source information from it
- Swedish law will determine which documents will go private or be made public
- The only way to steal a property is to enter a new real estate transaction with fake identification. But this is not a great problem since ID process identification can be easily improved
- The design process involves: Lantmäteriet, real estate agents, buyers, sellers, and banks. Other parties (like notaries, for example) can be included at a later stage
Next project phases will include:
a) Definition of the blockchain governance and ownership
b) Adding more partners (both local and international)
c) Technology and process integration: this technology must be extensively integrated with today’s processes and registries.
d) Tech environment: definition of exact servers, storage and nodes requirements to test the whole infrastructure
If you want to learn more about the project, you can visit the website chromaway.com and read further information about the consortium engaged in the project. It’s also possible to download libraries to develop applications based on their technology.
Why does a Blockchain based registry matter?
As far as we know, there are only a few institutions testing a blockchain registry: Sweden and a Chicago area project. To date, there are also some private projects trying to offer solutions to bring registries to the blockchain. But, how would those blockchain registries impact real estate business?
There are some benefits we have already outlined above, including:
- Registry maintenance cost savings
- Trust between sellers and buyers
However, there are more! To date, blockchain based platforms need to first “tokenize” the property and then trade tokens within it. Why? The main reason is that countries’ laws still don’t rule blockchain property rights (and cryptocurrencies), so you first need to go to a notary, sell the property to the platform and then trade corresponding tokens with alternative cryptocurrencies. This process is somewhat expensive and cumbersome. Having property registries entirely on the blockchain would avoid the notary and would make the “tokenization” automatic. There will still be further issues that current laws can’t solve (like how to manage partial properties).
Also, a solid blockchain registry would require the industry to think differently. Many local players rule the real estate industry and to bring them to an online platform to deal with some electronic coins might be hard (trust). An institutional effort would speed up the process; the advantages are quite immediate:
a) Open local markets to foreign investors
b) Bring crowd investments to further invest into real estate projects
Some countries (like China) are very active on real estate investments in the USA, for example. Those opportunities, at the moment, are only granted to medium/large investors: think what would happen if small/micro investors could invest their savings on specific properties (for a % of the ownership).
However, are we ready [DW1] for all this? It’s hard to say, honestly, but some elements seem promising. For example:
- Big players like SAP and IBM are investing hard in the technology
- Big consulting companies (EY, Accenture, McKinsey and the likes) are working on the technology already with some past and/or current employees launching blockchain real estate startups,
- ICOs are booming (maybe too much?) and several are already scheduled in the coming months
- Some countries (like Russia) are very active in the technology and pushing on the adoption of cryptocurrencies (sometimes to avoid currencies limitations)
Is that enough to justify the huge money flowing into this area? Opinions are not unique but only time will say (and according to experts, we will soon see if blockchain is becoming a mainstream technology or just another bubble).
Stay tuned to learn more about blockchain, cryptocurrencies and the real estate world!