Blockchain real estate tech firm Propy is now recording property sales and recording title and escrow documents on NFTs and well as standard blockchain transactions.
With its recently launched Title & Escrow Service, the firm — which sold the first-ever tokenized property, an apartment in Ukraine (obviously several years ago) — has added the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that are best known for holding Bored Ape avatars, and NBA slam dunk clips, to its toolbox.
The so what is twofold: First of all, the tokenization of real estate deeds and other documents which has been talked about for years as one of the lowest-hanging fruits in blockchain document preservation is finally starting to be used.
But second, NFTs do offer one advantage over simple tokenization of titles and the like. While a transaction in which the documents are uploaded onto a blockchain is just as permanent and viewable, putting them on NFTs — which display various types of media — is a more user-friendly experience.
Take the example of the first known title deed transfer, the sales of a condominium in South Burlington, Vermont, recorded on the Ethereum blockchain more than three-and-a-half years ago, in February 2018 — a year after a law making such documents enforceable.
That was also handled by Propy, whose CEO, Natalia Karayaneva, told TechCrunch earlier this year that it had “all the necessary smart contracts and a compatible legal framework that allows tokenizing any real estate property in the United States.”
As high-tech crypto-powered provenance technology goes, it was a bit of a letdown: It’s just a scan of a paper-based and hand-signed document that has, right at the end, a notice that it has been recorded on a smart contract, followed by a long string of letters and numbers and a QR code that lets anyone look up on that particular block via a public Ethereum blockchain explorer website.
But more than that following that code or alphanumeric code to a public Ethereum blockchain explorer website takes you to a rather technical site that shows a transaction record fairly clearly but requires a bit of know-how to dredge up the actual title transfer document.
While it’s easy to say that doesn’t really matter to a document that mostly going to be of interest to a buyer and seller, lawyers and perhaps a tax collector. And the technology’s real purpose is to see to it that the documents — which still have to be filed on paper as well — are searchable, won’t be lost in a statehouse fire or require an attorney to spend many billable hours searching through the largely paper files that still record land sales throughout the country and world. Beyond that, it is securely and immutably recorded on Ethereum, meaning it’s recorded on all of the more than 2,000 Ethereum nodes spread throughout the world.
Nonetheless, when it comes to the adoption of technology, the reality is APIs and simplicity matter.
That said, there’s a reason that real estate has been a target of blockchain developers interested in bringing the technology into the industry: Not only is the chain of ownership nearly everywhere a mess of paperwork going back decades and even a century or more — there’s a reason bank mortgages require a title search that can cost thousands of dollars — the law is incredibly complex.
In 2013, a mentally ill man walked into the San Diego County Recorder’s Office and, with a properly filled out form, transferred control of the Padres baseball team’s stadium, Petco Park, to himself.
Did he own it? Of course not. But two years later, the team was still in court trying to fix the mess, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Imagine that it was not a half-billion-dollar stadium but a small house belonging to someone without lawyers on staff, and you see why some local and state governments are turning to blockchain-based land and title registries.
“Pain points for buying and selling property include a lack of transparency during and after transactions, copious amounts of paperwork, possible fraud, and errors in public records,” it said. “Blockchain offers a way to reduce the need for paper-based record keeping and speed up transactions — helping stakeholders improve efficiency and reduce transaction costs on all sides of the transaction.”
That’s why it’s been getting a great deal of attention in developing countries with poor land records like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, pushed by organizations like the UN and World Bank.
Another, more recent use of blockchain technology for record-keeping is New York State’s Excelsior Pass, a vaccine passport app built by IBM Blockchain on its Digital Health Pass app that allowed entry to public venues during the COVID lockdowns. The Food and Drug Administration has
Singapore, which has embraced blockchain technology, also created a Digital Health Passport, which “stores issued medical certificates such as of COVID-19 testing and vaccination-status, which are independently verifiable,” PwC wrote in an August article about how governments around the world are experimenting with blockchain records.
Broadly, health care is one of the areas that is getting the most attention from blockchain proponents as its ability to store information immutably but only give selective access to the actual records makes them ideal for information that may be needed very quickly and accurately but also contains highly personal data.
Canada has used blockchains and the digital ledger technology it is built on in a variety of digital ID and record-keeping pilot projects, including its biometrically supported Known Traveler Digital Identity System and a digital credential management system that PwC said issued “floating ‘project’ employees … a digital credential that gives them a permanent, self-owned and secure record of their skills and experiences. The credential is recognized and accepted on the Government’s jobs marketplace.”
There are many other areas in which blockchain is being trialed, from defense contracting to police records to voting records and machines.
“No matter the country, there is a government trialing a blockchain pilot,” PwC wrote. “Decentralized ledger technology is being used in all areas of government, from defense to health.”
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