Anyone who’s gone through the process of renting, buying, or selling a home knows how much of a hassle–and potential security risk–it is. You end up disclosing loads of information about yourself, most of it seen by several people you just met, and still the transaction can take a long time. And after all that, you have a home, which is great! But all the data you collected about yourself usually goes into paper folders and needs to be painstakingly updated the next time you sell or buy again.
Enter StreetWire, a new, New York City-based property tech startup that uses blockchain technology–the same type of system of virtual ledgers spread across multiple people’s computers that underpins Bitcoin and Ethereum and many other cryptocurrencies–in an effort to make real estate transactions faster and more secure.
StreetWire wants to build an online database of verified property data that is automatically updated instantly, whenever a new transaction closes, and does not disappear into some paper folder somewhere. This would make tracking the history of a property, its previous buyers and sale prices (chain of title), much easier than current systems, according to StreetWire founder and CEO Oliver Tickner.
The premise is fairly simple: property owners and renters, brokerages, brokers, agents, and others who participate in StreetWire will be asked to feed property data to StreetWire’s blockchain (it’s based on an Ethereum model known as ERC-20). Any person or entity who enters a specific piece of data, say an address, is forever designated the “owner” of it on StreetWire’s platform.
Then, every time that data is used in a transaction, the owner would receive a payment in StreetWire Tokens (SWT), the company’s virtual tender. Meanwhile, in order to query StreetWire’s property database, you’ll need to spend tokens. Aside from exchanging data for tokens, you’ll also be able to acquire them in other ways–though Tickner declined to specify how, promising more details later.
That said, StreetWire will begin allowing people to acquire SWT in an initial coin offering (ICO, a big buzzword in the cryptocurrency space these days), on February 12, 2018, according to a counter on its website.
On StreetWire’s platform, transactions such as buying or renting a home are executed using what’s called “a smart contract.” A smart contact protects private information by making both sides of a party agree to certain number of rules before a transaction begins. The two sides agree and then a computer — not a person — digs into StreetWire’s data and sees a property’s listing price, or if a potential buyer meets the criteria to buy it.
For example, say a rental property requires a buyer to make more than $100,000 a year in income; a smart contract will automatically find the right candidates among StreetWire’s users, but without revealing any more information about them—it won’t be able to tell their exact salary, for example, nor the company the person works for, unless that information is shared voluntarily in the smart contract.
Tickner told Inman he believes that his company is an opportunity for those in the real estate industry to embrace new technology as it is taking off, rather than waiting until it’s already gone mainstream or is old news.
Most importantly, Tickner said he wanted to stress to real estate professionals that StreetWire “can provide the data for what you do what you do faster, more efficiently, and with better privacy protection.”
StreetWire’s team includes Chief Strategist Steven Nerayoff, who led the ICO for Ethereum, a blockchain app platform that’s soared in popularity this year. Noted advisors include Jeff Pulver, a voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) innovator and Bill Stanford, the former CEO of PropertyShark.
The startup shows lots of promise, but blockchain tech in general still has some hurdles to overcome, including a lack of general public understanding or trust in it, and recent scandals including startups charged with fraud and user errors and hacks costing millions.
If you’re interested, you can sign up for updates on StreetWire’s website.