Apartments: Yes, We Take Bitcoin
A few apartment owners and managers are attempting to cash in on the bitcoin craze, accepting the wildly volatile crypto-currency as rent payment and property transactions.
Many in the industry, admittedly, are as bewildered about the currency as they are about its screaming valuations that have exceeded $17,000. Through November, bitcoin has appreciated by nearly 1,000 percent year to date.
What is Bitcoin
Bitcoin is a digital monetary unit that is coupled to a globally decentralized payment system. Transfers are processed directly between users over the Internet without the need for a central processing unit. A Bitcoin transfer is handled in transactions that work similarly to a bank transfer, just without a bank.
The payer only needs to know the Bitcoin address (comparable to a bank account number) of the recipient in order to transfer a given amount. All of these transactions are recorded in a blockchain, which is a kind of public register.
Additionally, bitcoins can be exchanged for currencies such as the U.S. dollar through online Bitcoin exchanges and payment processing systems, writes Retail Dive. Bitcoins are fully open sourced and decentralized, with regulation coming from heavily peer-reviewed cryptographic algorithms and are generated through a mining process, where powerful super computers solve complex equations to unlock Bitcoins from the predetermined finite supply. The market value of Bitcoin is based on supply and demand.
Ah. Supply and demand. Wildly fluctuating in value daily through its high-speed trading channels. Recall the 17th-century Dutch tulip bulb craze and the 1999 dot-com crash, or god forbid, Beanie Babies. Bitcoin lately has been both loudly dismissed and jubilantly exalted by financial professionals of all stripes. Some suggest its bubble will burst “tomorrow” and others predict its value to reach $40,000 by the end of 2018.
During an industry event in December, senior executives from Top 50 apartment firms say that their companies have not yet explored the use of bitcoin because it hasn’t been in demand from their residents. In terms of large-scale applications, one said that institutional investors would avoid financial transactions using something as volatile as a cryptocurrency.
City Stables in Baltimore began accepting rental payments in bitcoin in mid-2017. In a redeveloped walk-up in Baltimore, a one-bedroom apartment was renting 2.5 bitcoin to cover one full year’s rent upfront as a payment option, instead of the $1,050 per month listing price. Ben Schwartz of VacancyFillers.com, a local apartment placement company, began marketing the apartment on East 22nd Street in mid-November. The listing features the Bitcoin logo.
“The owner (Nathan Gertner) wanted to do this,” Schwartz says. “He’s a 20-something owner who is techy and into bitcoin. When you do the math, if you bought bitcoin a while back when its value was much less than today, you’d get a really good deal on your rent. I’ve checked listings in my market everyday on a lot of sites like Craigslist and Zillow and I’ve not seen any other apartment listed that accepts bitcoin.”
Gertner, who studied for his MS Degree in Real Estate Finance at NYU, manages a portfolio of properties in the Northeast. He says he is attracted to the “cheap, fast” process of accepting cryptocurrency compared to dealing with bank transfers, ACH payments or other traditional methods.
“Cryptocurrencies minimize the hassle and time I, as a landlord go thru receiving and sending money versus traditional methods,” Gertner says. “Accepting the full payment upfront helps our residents using Bitcoin balance their portfolio and convert their Cryptocurrency to a year’s worth of rent.”
VisionApartments, a Swiss-based global rental management company that offers furnished apartments for short-stay travelers, has had 15 guests pay rent with bitcoin over the past month, primarily in Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands, but none in the United States so far.
“It’s an exciting technology, we wanted to be an ‘early-mover’ on this,” Bastiaan Don, Vision’s Group Head of Communications, Development & IT, says. “At this point, it’s not really why we are accepting it, but why not. We began taking it at the start of the year, but most of those who have did so in the past few weeks during this craze.”
Guests using it are credited with the bitcoin value at that moment.
“They lock in and get that rate for 5 minutes; that is quite fair, no one has complained,” Don says.
Vision has more than 1,000 apartments in Europe and also lists availability in Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Jersey City, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Northern California and New York.
Stayawhile is a membership-based, short-term (30-day minimum) rental firm with furnished apartments in major U.S. urban markets and Europe listed at $2,300 to $6,000 per month. Along with credit cards, it touts bitcoin as a payment method option atop its homepage in October. Through the first two months, no one had used cryptocurrency for payment, its COO Janine Yorio said Nov. 28.
CRE Transaction Uses
Because the bitcoin concept potentially can save time and cost by removing the transactional “middle-man,” there is an attraction among dealmakers. Developers in Dubai, Turkey, Britain and San Diego have reportedly priced apartments in bitcoin.
Sequoian Investments is accepting bitcoin as a monthly payment and Globe Street reported Nov. 29 that Sequoian “recently brought to market for sale a residential development site at 1942 Boundary Street.; the owners will be accepting digital cryptocurrency as payment from prospective buyers in the form of either Bitcoin or Ethereum.”
CNN Tech reported in September that bitcoin users would have early access to purchasing 150 apartments in a new Dubai development. At that time, bitcoin was valued at just less than $4,600, and Aston Plaza and Residences offered studios for 30 bitcoin (approximately $138,000) and one-bedroom apartments for 50 bitcoin ($242,000).
In September, cryptocurrency was offered as a roundtable discussion at the “Planning for What’s Next?”-themed MFE Conference. The gathering attracted about 15 attendees who were more curious than conversant about the topic.
Says one apartment industry technology veteran, “When you have a digital, international currency that 99 percent of the world doesn’t understand, the level of transparency and fluidity makes sense (and is really essential to create trust in money that sort of doesn’t exist). The fact that Mr. Jones in Unit 3201 at Rolling Meadows Apartments still owes his $1,410 by the 3rd of the month may not be worth the catastrophic database change [for property management software engineers].”
To use bitcoin, one must hold an account with Coinbase, the largest U.S. exchange for this global currency. Coinbase added 100,000 accounts over a three-day period in late November, bringing its total to 13.1 million. By comparison, brokerage firm Charles Schwab has 10.6 million active accounts, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports, adding that approximately 60 percent of all bitcoin trading is now conducted via the Japanese yen and only 20 percent based on the dollar.
Ryan Byrd, Chief Information Officer and Vice President of Engineering at Entrata, says, “Blockchain promises to securely and verifiably streamline transactions between people and, in the case of the Internet of Things, between devices (or between people and devices.).
“I believe (like Harvard Professor Marco Iansiti) that significant transformation of business by blockchain technology is many years out, because the technology underpinning blockchain is foundational, not purely disruptive, and so it will take time for that technology to take hold because the very foundations must change. Entrata continues to explore and adopt technologies like blockchain as they provide value.”