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Crypto and real estate awkwardly mingle in Miami

Agents, financiers, investors converge to figure out the future of real estate financing, dealmaking

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The first ever Crypto Real Estate Summit is not totally accessible.  

It’s actually, literally, a bit difficult to access. There are traffic cones and foreboding construction signs outside the Miami Beach Convention Center and the doors are locked. Once let inside, you must briskly walk to a crevice on the 2nd floor, past cracked, white-painted walls, and stained-ocean blue carpeting.

But it’s also challenging to understand the conference’s mission and forthcoming legacy – the dawn of a new real estate economy or curiosity coinciding with the president of the United States regulating cryptocurrency?

“This is like what the internet was in 1993, 1994,” said Suresh Nichani, managing director of I-Chain Capital, an investor in blockchain projects. “This is a very nascent industry.”

A bit more specifically the conference’s mix of investors, representatives from recently created companies, and real estate agents are divided about how traditional real estate would meld with transacting property sales on a blockchain platform.

Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch and crypto-financed hedge fund Arrington XRP Capital (and investor in Propy, which is organizing the summit), kicked off the conference by declaring (jokingly?), “I always thought real estate people are lazy. Like, why are [they] getting 6%?”

That’s a reference to agent’s total commission per sale. Robert Wennett, a prolific Miami real estate developer then added (definitely not jokingly), “The idea of the whole commission structure is archaic. Real estate is controlled by a lot of older families who are not so technologically driven.”

Agents pointed out they have heard doomsaying before. “Microsoft [in the 1990s] said the Internet would take over,” and replace agents, said Randy Char, of Sotheby’s International Real Estate in Las Vegas. “It didn’t happen.”

Arrington and Wennett also examined President Joe Biden’s executive order Wednesday, declaring a “national policy for digital assets.” Biden wants federal agencies to spend 180 days on issues ranging from consumer protection to pushing “U.S. leadership in the global financial system.”

“We do not think the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] has any place in this,” Arrington said to some laughter before adding that the executive order does not say much.

“We were pleasantly surprised there wasn’t any teeth there,” he said, adding that “How government works is that everyone pays off politicians and we see who wins.”

Speakers and attendees later in the day took a wait and see view to Biden’s order.

“It’s a dot dot dot order to me, we’ll see in 180 days,” said Robin Sosnow, a lawyer at Sosnow & Associates who advises blockchain investors.

Louis Ledot, a lawyer at Foley & Larder, said gingerly exploring some regulations are better than none. “The fintech industry has lacked the clarity needed to know how to comply with legal norms,” he said.

Many agents, for now, say they view crypto assets and the block chain platform as something they need to learn more about than the latest purported technological threat to their livelihood.  One agent said that younger people she works with are less confident in traditional financial institutions than the generation before, and that prompted her interest in cryptocurrency.

Many agents privately expressed that they are in favor of any regulatory intervention of an industry that, presently, is parallel and redundant to the legal way of buying and selling property.

For example, a home sale in St. Petersburg, Florida involving an NFT, additionally involved the steps of a traditional real estate transaction, including deed transfer.

The juxtaposition between agents from companies like Keller Williams and eXp, tech entrepreneurs and investors at the conference was sometimes out of central casting.

In one panel, Hrish Lotlikar, CEO of augmented reality app SuperWorld, discussed real estate investment possibilities in the metaverse while wearing a SuperWorld hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and black hi-top sneakers.

Lotlikar was accompanied by Nina Fabbri, director of business partnerships at HomeServices of America, who wore buttoned down business attire. Amid Lotlikar’s pitch for different metaverse platforms, Fabbri slyly mentioned that some in the room “may have heard” of HomeServices’ parent Berkshire Hathaway.

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