SafeChain tests blockchain for real estate in an Ohio forfeiture auction

Startup will help Franklin County auditor's office manage the backend of a forfeiture auction

One of the most promising applications for blockchain technology in the real estate industry is to speed up transactions. SafeChain is a startup whose top priority is working with — instead of eliminating — the local government officials who handle the bulk of the behind-the-scenes record-keeping.

Blockchain is the technology behind bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The distributed, secure ledger follows each financial transaction, recording and time-stamping every change. It also takes place without the use of a middleman, like a bank, reducing both time and costs.

On Tuesday, in a partnership with the auditor’s office in Franklin County, Ohio, SafeChain is set to record, via blockchain, the sale of 37 properties being sold through a forfeiture auction. To make a bid, potential buyers will register through the auditor’s system. After the deed is awarded, SafeChain will help transfer the ownership by adding a barcode to the paper record. The buyer can then retrieve the remainder of the relevant documents on blockchain.

The pilot program is a way of testing how implementing these changes will affect local government offices before being tried with traditional transactions.

Tracking these auditor deeds is also the first step before moving on to standard and mineral rights deeds.

SafeChain is based in Columbus, Ohio. In Ohio’s Washington County, they are working on a project to eliminate duplicate entry of records. In Perry County, the startup is helping to develop a digital version of the auditor’s signature. The company has a four-year roadmap to get all Ohio real estate transactions recorded through blockchain. This goal was adopted in part because of the encouragement of the state’s lawmakers who passed legislation explicitly supporting blockchain as a legitimate form of transaction and recordkeeping.

“The role of our office is to oversee the transfer of property between buyers and sellers. We recognize that in the immediate future blockchain will provide a safe and secure way to accomplish this,” Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo said. “It is a giant step forward for the real estate industry, and local government has to be part of that.”

As a result, SafeChain is working with a format — a public permissioned network — that grants special accounts which allow officials to maintain their authority. The auditor and a recorder will each be permitted to make changes that couldn’t be done through a normal blockchain.

SafeChain’s also offers SafeWire, a fraud prevention software for title agents. The company launched in late 2016 and has raised $3 million in seed funding.

Email Emma Hinchliffe