Is real estate’s Bitcoin buzz just getting started?

Sizing up the industry’s complicated relationship with virtual money as more Bitcoin property deals close

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Dec.December 03, 2019 01:45 PM

The real estate industry — much like the rest of the world — is still trying to figure out exactly how its connection to cryptocurrency should work.

Since virtual money first broke through a decade ago, with the launch of Bitcoin, buyers and sellers of property are increasingly using crypto as a form of payment. And the range of digital coins has exploded in recent years, with about 3,000 different types being traded as of October, some specific to real estate.

It’s a roller coaster ride for big-time crypto owners, to say the least. The entire cryptocurrency market was worth an estimated $222 billion as of mid-November, down dramatically from its market cap of about $830 billion at the beginning of last year.

The digital currency units are decentralized and encrypted — and bypass standard financial institutions — which has been a big part of their draw, despite that drop.

Some of the biggest crypto advocates in the real estate business are developer Ben Shaoul, who recently closed a Bitcoin retail condo sale, and former Purplebricks CEO Eric Eckardt, who is trying to use crypto to grow a cloud-based brokerage.

But concerns about the unpredictable digital currency market abound, from Bitcoin’s volatile value to multiple cases of fraud involving property trades. In turn, a handful of sellers in big cities like New York and Miami have had to walk back commitments to accept decentralized coins.

And despite the seemingly endless hype, the use of crypto is still far from standard practice in U.S. real estate deals, since all parties need to be on board with it (including lenders and lawyers), and many still want to avoid the hassle.

Here’s a closer look at some of the numbers behind the chaotic crypto scene and its ties to real estate.

265

146 West 57th Street

The number of North American listings, as of mid-November, on bitcoin-realestate.com — a site that launched in 2013 to service buyers and sellers interested in trading properties in crypto. Listings included about 37 acres of undeveloped land in Canada seeking $32.9 million and a condo at 146 West 57th Street in Manhattan asking $19.5 million.

$7,142.73

The value of one Bitcoin as of Nov. 25. Put another way, $1 was equal to 0.00014 Bitcoin. The cryptocurrency reached a peak of about $20,000 a coin in late 2017 and remains volatile, as evidenced by Bitcoin’s frequent rises and falls in October. It hit a monthly low of $7,307.39 on Oct. 23 before rising about 40 percent in just one day to more than $10,300, according to Forbes.

455

7350 Southwest 47th Court

The number of Bitcoin that investor Michael Komaransky sold his Miami mansion for in February 2018. It took him about six months to find a crypto buyer for the home at 7350 Southwest 47th Court, which he sold for the equivalent of about $6 million — the most expensive Bitcoin-to-Bitcoin real estate sale at the time.

2008

The year Bitcoin was invented by a still unknown person (or group of people) under the name Satoshi Nakamoto. The currency’s source code was released as open-source software the next year. There were about 27 million Bitcoin users in the U.S. as of 2019, according to the crypto exchange Coinbase.

$7M+

Eric Eckardt

The amount former Purplebricks CEO Eckardt wants to raise using a security token offering (STO) to help grow his cloud-based brokerage Dwellowner. The offering would give investors crypto representing their investment stakes, and Eckardt said in a video posted on the company’s site in September that one unnamed investor has already pledged to chip in $3 million.

10,000

The approximate number of people the IRS sent out letters to in late July warning that they might not be complying with tax rules for virtual currencies. Determining the proper regulations for paying taxes on crypto can be one of the bigger complications, and several investors got hit with much higher tax bills than they expected following Bitcoin’s big year in 2017.

$15.3M

Ben Shaoul

The amount of money in Bitcoin that Magnum Real Estate’s Shaoul traded an Upper East Side retail condo at 389 East 89th Street for this fall. He sold the 11,400-square-foot property to a Taiwanese firm called Affluent Silver International LLC, and the parties used Bitpay and Starr to close the deal.

$4.26B

The amount obtained via cryptocurrency thefts and scams during the first half of 2019, according to a report from CipherTrace. The biggest offenders were people on the “inside,” the report said, while one alleged Ponzi scheme potentially defrauded millions of users out of $2.9 billion in assets.


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