Amid ongoing tension between agents and third-party portals over who controls listing data, a New York-based startup is launching what it says is the first blockchain-based multiple-listing service.
Founder Stephen King, a former commercial broker, said his company — imbrex — is a global MLS that is the first to syndicate data via the Ethereum blockchain. The decentralized, open-source system is billed as an alternative to traditional MLS networks and third-party sites like Zillow and Realtor.com, which can charge for membership or advertising.
Using blockchain technology, King said, allows brokers to cut out the intermediaries.
“Instead of giving their information to a centralized portal or MLS, the agent or firm can essentially share information and not have to store it physically where [they] are,” he said. They “can take advantage of the cloud-like environment that exists.”
Blockchain technology allows for peer-to-peer transfers between computer networks, and tracks all transactions through an encrypted electronic ledger. Though it’s been used to facilitate deals with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, real estate is slowing coming around to using it in property transactions.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco-based startup Propy said it completed the first blockchain real estate transaction in Vermont.
Some architecture and engineering firms are using blockchain technology to share computer-generated 3D models.
King said he didn’t set out to create a company, but wanted to fix a problem he had in 2012. That’s when he joined his family real estate firm, King Interests, in Princeton, New Jersey. When he launched a brokerage division with the company, he had little control over his listings. “I realized we were paying $10,000 a year for access to pretty much our own listing data through various MLSes,” King said.
Imbrex users are not charged any syndication or distribution fees, but they do pay an Ethereum transaction fee (which has averaged several pennies per transaction). Imbrex estimated a firm that updates its listings feed hourly will pay roughly $7 per month or $80 per year.
Imbrex is launching with 2,200 listings from Toll Brothers, the publicly traded luxury homebuilder.
“We are excited to be an early adopter and look forward to long-term benefits from such a global, open source system,” Kira Sterling, Toll Brothers’ chief marketing officer, said in a statement.
With imbrex, King said he initially floated the idea as something that could be used by various MLS networks. “There are 800 or so of them. If you’re an agent in one region, you’re not getting listing exposure outside that geographic region,” he said.
But he said he didn’t get positive feedback, which he chalked up to the networks being territorial about their data. It was a few years ago, too, and the blockchain technology was even more esoteric than it is today.
He has since created a front-end application that displays listing information. Imbrex has a back-end feature called the “imbrexer,” which hosts and disseminates listings data onto the blockchain. Using the imbrexer generates a “key” that allows them to populate the blockchain with listings.
To ensure the accuracy of the data, users are incentivized with imbrex tokens — the cryptocurrency of the platform. To date, imbrex has raised $300,000 from a private investor. Over the course of 30 days last summer, it sold 12.25 million imbrex tokens, raising $3.25 million.
“Once this technology becomes ubiquitous, the portals and MLSes will have to go to these people and say, ‘Lease me your key so I can populate the data,’” King said. “Or they’ll have to pay to get that data and come up with new business models to monetize data through the front end.”