How can Blockchain Improve the Real Estate Industry

Jitendra Rathod, newsletter contributing editor, provides insights into how blockchain is transforming the real estate industry and shares some real world use cases. 

When Satoshi Nakamoto created bitcoin using the blockchain technology, little did he (she/it/they) imagine that a Pandora’s box was being opened. From the box came out tens of hundreds of cryptocurrencies (altcoins), dubious forms of fundraising, regulatory issues, heartbreaks and heartache, and a deep sense of mistrust between the crypto community and traditional finance.

But does the mayhem take away from blockchain technology the potential it has to positively and, at times, radically, affect every aspect of human endeavor? No. Even Satoshi couldn’t have imagined the far-reaching consequences of his invention’s underlying technology. In short, blockchain technology is not just about cryptocurrencies; they are just one application of blockchain technology.

Blockchain is more than Bitcoin

It is necessary to separate the technology from its application. Blockchain technology can decentralize systems by removing the need for a “trusted intermediary.” It creates, what is known as, a “trustless” environment which does not entirely dispense away with trust, but distributes trust amongst the participants of the network that are incentivized to authorize transactions. The transactions occur through automated enforcement of predefined rules. The programs that enforce are called “smart contracts.” And all of these transactions that occur within the ecosystem are recorded on the immutable, irreversible ledger, that is the blockchain. 

It is now easy to imagine how blockchain technology can transform every aspect of human endeavor – payments, clearing & settlement, medicine, supply chain monitoring, governance, manufacturing, tax compliance and real estate, among others.

Challenges of the real estate industry

Macroeconomic indicators like interest rates, political stability, inflation, wages as well as factors like immigration, energy and water, and natural disasters and climate change affect the real estate industry in general, at a broader level. However, if we look closely, the industry is plagued by many issues at the grassroots level. These include an overdependence on archaic methods to record land deals, a siloed process of providing ownership details and a burdensome financing and payments system.

A title search is an extremely cumbersome and convoluted process to determine the ownership of a piece of property. It is often done by experts for the buyer. The expert has to go through a ton of documents to determine that the true owner of the property is the seller and there are no pending liens (taxes, mortgages, etc.) on the property. The expert also has to check if there are any co-holders of the property that can stake claim on the property in the future.

There have been innumerable cases where there have been title frauds, claims on the property even after a comprehensive title search has been done and identity thefts. All of these create extremely anxious and troublesome conditions for the stakeholders involved and usually, a long-winded legal battle ensues to resolve the matter. 

The real estate industry has largely been a “pen and paper” industry and has been resistant to technological advancements. But an alarming increase in number of frauds and legal issues concerning establishment of an unambiguous chain of ownership data has put the onus of accepting technological solutions on the custodians and decision-makers of the real estate industry.

Many experts and decision-makers within the real estate industry are now advocating for the use of disruptive technologies, like blockchain, to address the challenges of title search and transactions of property. This includes the prominent voice of Joseph Nahas, Chair of the Counsellors of Real Estate, an advisory organization that monitors real estate.

How can blockchain help real estate?

There are many ways in which blockchain technology can benefit the real estate industry. The most basic way a blockchain-based platform could be utilized is for creating a decentralized listings portal that has near real-time and accurate information. Imbrex is an example of such a decentralized marketplace for property listings. The Imbrex platform is built on the Ethereum blockchain, where buyers, sellers and agents can use the services for free. They also stand to earn rewards for adding data and for helping the evolution of the decentralized marketplace.

Another way blockchain technology can benefit real estate is by creating a decentralized repository of all information related to titles and incumbrances on a piece of property. Every piece of property can be allotted a “digital identity” that can offer information regarding its ownership history, current status (vacant / occupied), financial and legal status, etc. A title search can be easily done by looking at the digital identity of the property, without having to go through the lengthy process to establish ownership and liens on a property. Brickbase is a platform that seeks to create a blockhain-secured title search and escrow service for real estate transactions to occur with higher efficiencies, lowered costs and enhanced data security.

Another digital blockchain-based solution is being developed by the Swedish land authority Lantmateriat, in collaboration with blockchain startup ChromaWay, Swedish telecom giant Telia Company and a few real estate companies. The solution aims to digitize contracts for sale and property mortgages which will be authenticated by the blockchain.

These platform will eliminate human errors that are at the base of many legal issues concerning property, build trust in the market and go a long way in reducing the incidences of illegal deeds, frauds and forgeries.

The requirement for extensive documentation and many intermediaries in the process makes the financing and payments system for real estate transactions painfully slow, taking from 30 to 60 days to complete. This process could be simplified to a great deal by the use of blockchain technology. ShelterZoom, for instance, is developing a platform on the Ethereum blockchain to streamline property transactions.

Parting thoughts

Challenges of adopting a new and nascent technology like blockchain – mass adoption, scalability, interoperability, regulation – to any industry will always remain. However, the potential of the technology to transform the real estate industry cannot be denied. Many companies are experimenting with blockchain-based solutions so that one of the oldest industries takes the bold leap into a decentralized digital world. 

One year of covers – Y4

by Omar Alvarez

Since the past year, you have all highly appreciated the sleek cover designs that accompany our newsletters. Behind these amazing designs and thoughtful messages is our very own Creative Director, Omar Alvarez. Omar completed two fruitful years at Expanse on October 3rd and everyone in the community who has ever come in contact with him will vouch for his enthusiasm and commitment to Expanse’s philosophy. He lives the Expanse dream in everything he does.

We are featuring a throwback of all the 16 covers Omar created during the past year. Give him a shoutout in the Discord chat. We hope he continues to do his magic on all future covers of our newsletters, and we wish him the best for many more successful years at Expanse.  

Behind the Tech, with Luis Arboleda

Hello Folks! This time around we are featuring Luis Arboleda in our Behind the Tech series. Luis, as you all know, is the Director of Sports Marketing at Sports Agents 502, a premier sports management company in Guatemala. And he has recently collaborated with Expanse to form BSports.

Luis has a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from Rafael Landivar University in Guatemala. He later did a few post-graduate and Masters courses in Sports Management and Marketing from University of Barcelona, UPF Barcelona School of Management, University of Pennsylvania and Johan Cruyff Institute.   

Technology came into Luis’ life when he started playing on the Atari with his neighbor. He was utterly fascinated with the fact that he could control movements of things and game characters with a remote controller that he could see on TV. Luis believes that he is still learning something new about technology and how it works even to this day. 

After college, and a couple of marketing stints at companies like Toyota, Italika and Grupo Imagenes Urbanas, Luis started his long-standing association in sports first as an athlete. Soon he was planning, organizing and directing national and international sports events such as ATP Challenger Gatorade Open, ITF World Junior Tournaments, National Tennis Rankings, V Rotary Golf Tournament, FIFA Futsal World Championship 2000, IAAF World Junior Championships 2012, Juventus Camp Guatemala 2014, Juventus Camp Lima 2014 ,Juventus Camp Quetzaltenango 2014, Boca Juniors Camp Guatemala 2014, VI Futsal Women´s World Cup 2015, #SportBizLatam Guatemala 2017 & 2018, Unleash Your Fitness 2018. He also worked as a volunteer in the Barcelona Zurich Marathon 2012 & 2016, Ironman 70.3 Barcelona 2016 , 6ª Neda el Món Prades Siurana / Open water swim.   

Nowadays he works as country representative for Johan Cruyff Institute in Guatemala and El Salvador, and is the co-founder of the Sports Marketing Association of Guatemala. He also works on Sports Economics Research Projects in the Sports Lab at the Pompeu Fabra University.  

Luis believes that sport is fundamental to bring about societal change in the countries in the Latin American region. “I believe that if you work in sports as a country brand strategist, you will be able to change many peoples’ lives. That was my motivation behind Sports Agents 502.” 

Luis has faced countless challenges, being part of a competitive environment such as international sports. However, apart from professional challenges that he faces and addresses on a daily basis. The biggest challenge is to compete with the cultural or traditional mindset in Latin American countries. “All our countries want Olympic medals and hundreds of high performance athletes, but we don’t focus on training high performance managers. We all want heroes and heroines as the next best example for our children, but for that to happen we must first work hard to change the way each of the federations that currently exist are managed.” 

To overcome the issues of lack of professional managers and a professional mindset in sports, Luis is working on educational programs for sports managers. Since 2012, he has been associated with the Johann Cruyff Institute as Country Representative for Guatemala and El Salvador. “We bring more than 52 courses – postgraduate and Masters Programs – to  help current and future sports managers. These programs help them to understand the intricacies of sports management and help them become better managers.” 

Luis’ first experience with Expanse was in a talk about how to, and why, apply blockchain technology in Guatemala? “The magic happens when you hear this kind of talks and a lot of questions and ideas come to your mind and then you have this kind of ‘Aha! Moments’ when you realize that the things you hear can be mixed with the with the things you do and see the grand vision laid out before you!” His subsequent discussions with Omar led to the idea that is BSports. His dream is to work hard to build the BSports Smart City. 

EXPEX Update

In our last update on EXPEX, we shared a screen sample of the User Interface. The development has proceeded at a swift pace since the past two months and we are happy to announce that it is complete. We have released EXPEX to beta testers and are in the process of doing internal QA on it right now. Bugs and tasks are updated on teamwork. Asim and his team have finished drafting the Terms of Service document and are currently working to update the Privacy Policy document.

Work on the Admin Portal is in progress and we are figuring out if any changes are required on the EXPEX website for release.

We are on course to release EXPEX to public on 1st November, 2019. It is quite possible that by the time you are reading this, EXPEX has already been released. We request you to check it out and share your valuable feedback that will help us make EXPEX even better. 

Expanse Helping in South America

This week I (Omar) had the opportunity to travel to a re-located area of the armed conflict in Guatemala, my job was to be a translator for the US doctors who provide services in the community.

From the city, it was a 10-hour bus trip followed by crossing the lake to stay at the shore of Lake Izabal then be ready for a week of challenges.

Currently this region in the country is in a State of Siege which means that there are no guarantees for those who visit, there can be no groups of more than 5 people and there is a danger of being captured without excuse by the police.

Despite this, I decided to serve my community with the support of Expanse, approximately 550 people were served in 5 different villages.

Every day for five days we travel to remote communities and give medical assistance. Children and women are mainly cared for; husbands are working all day.

The team consisted of five translators, five doctors, an emergency doctor, and a pharmacy with medicines for preventive care. Dr. Alan Barber, the forerunner of this organization, took charge of visits to homes of people who could not come to us due to the state of their health.

We went through five different communities, sometimes by water, sometimes by pickup and sometimes by walking great distances. In numbers:

  • We were a team of 12 people, each donating their time, doctors who came from the United States, local interpreters (Kekchi – Spanish, Spanish – English) and others helping.
  • All travel and transportation expenses are paid by True North Missions.
  • I traveled 680 km by bus and walked a total of 44 km in a week. 
  • We attended to approximately 500 children and adults in 5 days, from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.
  • The clinic and pharmacy were set up at the community school.
  • The main problems were skin (mange and fungus), dehydration, dental problems and parasites.
  • There are no dental or extremely serious services, so these patients are referred to the health center. They usually do not go.
  • Each person was given a dewormer, toothbrush and vitamins for 30 days to the children; besides the treatment of the problem they had.
  • This mission is carried out two or three times a year in the most remote communities. All others have access to the health center.

It was an amazing trip, healing the soul of a lot of people but mostly mine. Thanks Expanse for your support. 

Omar Alvarez
Creative Director

Expex Update

The EXPEX development team, led by Asim Ashfaq, has achieved a lot for the EXPEX project. The team has been heavily immersed in the process and is now moving deeper into development.

They already finished the Creation of the EXPEX Smart Contract which will be holding ERC-20 Token pairs, order book and allow for trade and all The UI updates on Luna Wallet as well as adding EXPEX exchange UI within Luna Wallet. 

Currently the team is working on making the EXPEX UI dynamic by adding some additional tweaks on the front end side of the code and setting up things for interaction with contract (Also considering setting up a local db for Luna wallet to store orders and transaction data). 

In the next few days they will be deploying the WEXP and EXPEX smart contract on expanse network for QA within this week.  Also in the following weeks the milestone is to achieve Phase 1 development features which include basic pair listing, order listings and trade.

A message from our founder

As you are all aware, we have been going through some changes as a team lately. One of the changes we have decided on was going to a monthly newsletter rather than a bi-weekly one. This allows us to focus more on development and less on scrambling to cram news in for the newsletter. This will lead to higher productivity as well as better newsletters overtime.

This is the first newsletter of the new series so I hope you guys enjoy. Aside from the newsletter changes we have also been restructuring our team internally. This has led to the implementation of new communication policies that will help us meet deadlines and communicate more openly. As you guys know we reduced the size of our team to cut cost but to take up part of the slack we invited some old time community members to join the conversation.

We are doing this with hopes to inspire more creativity and innovation from our team, and so far it appears to be working! We have some fresh ideas in the works that I’m sure y’all will really love. We look forward to this new direction that we are going in and can’t wait to share our progress as we grow together. 

But you have to remember, we can’t do it alone, and we need your help to grow. Stay vigilant, stay inspired, keep building the world you want to live in.

Christopher Franko

How is the Blockchain being used beyond Finance and Industry?

Jitendra Rathod, newsletter contributing editor, provides insights into how blockchain is being used for social good and making the world a better place. 

You’re going to start seeing open-source, self-executing contracts gradually improve over time. What the Internet did to publishing, blockchain will do to about 160 different industries. It’s crazy. 

-Patrick M. Byrne

Ever wondered why transacting with peers in other countries is a tiresome process of running to and from the bank with heap loads of paperwork? The culprit you are looking for is centralization, the bane of progress in the 21st century. Centralization causes business processes and organizational development to move at a sluggish pace because it has to go through tedious amounts of monitoring and censoring of information. 

However, modern society is ever-changing and to keep pace business models are remodeled and new opportunities emerge within the digital reality. Breakthroughs are created each day and transport us nearer to a brand new era driven by a digital economy. The new-age solution to unnecessary delay and censorship of information is the blockchain, one among the foremost necessary breakthroughs over the past decade.

Invented by an ambiguous person/group of people in 2008 going by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto as a public ledger for the famous cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, the blockchain revolutionized the way we deal with information today. In the process, it has also transformed several industries by bringing in a wave of transparency and efficiency, thereby delineating the possibility of an accountable world that was fast slipping into the abyss of fraud, corruption and all kinds of malice. 

Blockchain is a transparent, open system for communication between two parties which also provides security as the distribution of blocks and chaining of data, thereby making it less vulnerable to hacking. Having numerous applications everywhere, it has altered the course of humanity for good bringing about socially relevant changes that target outdated systems to transform the lives of people today. Let us look at some of the use cases where blockchain has proved itself to be the new-age messiah.

1. The UNICEF Projects for Tech Smart Healthcare

The organization whose sole focus is child protection and improvement in the standard of living for children has been the quickest to welcome this fairly new technology. It has invested in six different organizations which primarily deal with the fair application of the technology to make medical facilities affordable and feasible.

StaTwig, an Indian organization, which is one of the startups that UNICEF has invested in, helps reduce and eliminate shortcomings in the supply chain for vaccines and food. Their efforts will help save more people at a time because of the transparency it will bring to the supply systems. The other 5 projects that UNICEF has invested in are Onesmart, W3 Engineers, Atix Labs, Utopixar, and Prescrypto.

2. The Brooklyn Microgrid: Saving the ‘Energy’ of the Environment

A small, industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn, Gowanus, is using blockchain to safeguard the environment and the neighborhood itself. 60 odd participants have installed solar panels to save and trade energy amongst themselves and the blockchain acts as a robust ledger and helps maintain a microgrid which is free from any interference.

3. An Agriculture Cooperative for ‘Natural’ Farm Produce

Featured in Forbes, the Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative serves as a prime example to make the lives of those who produce our food worth the effort. The GRFC has a mission – to soothe your body by providing it with natural farm yield. Be it dairy or poultry, it is their mission to raise the standards of the industry to an extent where competition doesn’t result in substandard food, poultry or dairy. On the contrary, they ensure that the produce maintains its optimum natural state. They also ensure that the farmer gets a fair price in exchange for the product and hence the circle completes.

4. Safeguarding Gender Equality

The 21st century has seen mass support for the rights of all humans with disregard to the gender role they assume. However, to this day, the gender roles which aren’t considered normal are subject to constant abuse, assault, and harassment. At Callisto, an American tech firm, people believe that debunking the evils that plague the minds of orthodox populations would help in achieving a wholesome community and would facilitate the growth of sentiments and the sense of respect towards everyone and everything. Callisto launched a blockchain-based reporting platform for universities, Callisto Campus, which would be time-stamped, detailed and transparent to help the people who are currently experiencing any such abuse to alert the concerned legal authorities.

5. Protecting Our Borders, the Blockchain Way

The blockchain has numerous applications virtually everywhere. One of them is, preserving our ancestral heritage, with the capabilities of the technology. Using this to its best capacity is Factom, the organization that received funding from the United States Department of Homeland Security to work towards applying blockchain to border patrol cameras. The organization is also active in collecting and archiving accurate historical data by encoding them into a blockchain which makes the storage of historical artifacts an easy job.

Parting Words

The use cases are proof enough of the potency of this burgeoning technology, and even though governments worldwide are finding it hard to accept it, examples like these speak volumes in favor of the tech. From combating harassment and facilitating sustainable development to guarding our borders from foreign attacks, is there any other technology powerful enough to do that than blockchain- the modern solution of modern problems? 

The blockchain-based initiatives taken are commendable in setting an example for the rest of the world and delineating a very simple fact- the power of the technology, whether evil or noble, depends on the hands that wield it.

Out-of-the-Box Blockchain Use Cases

Jitendra Rathod, newsletter contributing editor, provides insights into how blockchain technology is changing the world. 

The nineteenth-century saw the discovery of electricity and soon enough it was put to use in practically all fields of life: from light bulbs to electrocution. Who would have guessed the upcoming events a century ago? 

The decade before us saw the growth of blockchain: another technology carrying the potential to change the world. And as it is with all the great inventions, blockchain offers qualities that can be put to use in several ways.

We have so far witnessed blockchain supporting the future form of finance: cryptocurrencies, which is very impressive. However, there is always room for more: here are 10 unusual blockchain use cases which would prove the worth of our beloved technology ten times over. 

1. The Infallible Watchman

There was a time when people used to hide their gold coins for fear they would be stolen: very long ago. Today, the threat is not the loss of treasures, rather, something more dreadful: identity theft. 

 Identity theft can be defined as the ‘deliberate use of someone else’s identity, usually as a method to gain a financial advantage or obtain credit and other benefits in the other person’s name, and perhaps to the other person’s disadvantage or loss’. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2014, around 17.6 million identities were stolen in America: these are not the statistics which could be overlooked. 

 Coming to blockchain, we know that it is a decentralized technology and it is next to impossible to hack into it. Due to this property, blockchain can secure digital IDs and also eliminate the nuisance of multiple passwords and bulky paperwork. Thus, it plays the role of an infallible watchman, protecting all of one’s private data.

Watch for Expanse’s own answer to identity management on the blockchain in the form of our Universal Know Your Customer ULYC) application currently in development.

 2. Revolutionizing the Gaming Industry

Apart from casinos, which have already stepped into creating digital wallets and even currencies for their customers, blockchain can be used generally in the gaming industry. 

 Many games have emerged which have been created by using the blockchain technology to produce digital and analog gaming experiences. A few examples of such gaming include BitPainting, CryptoKitties, and Chimaera. 

 3. Tool for Humanitarian Efforts

Yes, blockchain can be used for humanitarian purposes as well. One of the best examples of this use case is the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Building Blocks. The project was established in the year 2016; its major aim being using decentralized digital ledger technology for making cash transfers.

By January 2018, the program assisted more than 100,000 Syrians who had taken refuge in Pakistan and Jordan. It further aims at providing assistance to all the 500,000 WFP-supported refugees living in Jordan. 

 4. Solar Power Pool

In a recent use case, Siemens has partnered with a startup by the name of LO3 Energy using an application called Brooklyn Microgrid. The collaboration’s service is aimed at enabling the citizens of Brooklyn who own solar panels to transfer energy to others who need it. The entire transaction completely lies in the hands of consumers and the people who own the solar panels. 

 5. Selling and Buying Cannabis

Cannabis is an intoxicant. However, its health benefits have been known to people for years. For this very reason, cannabis trade is gaining acceleration in many parts of the world. 

There are two main benefits that blockchain could bring to the cannabis trade: transparency and anonymity. In the United States, cannabis trade recorded $9 billion in sales in the year 2017 with an estimated growth of $21 billion by 2021. These are ridiculously huge amounts and a cashless solution like blockchain can provide security to the business owners. Transactions can be tracked with greater ease and more transparency and accountability: something which traditional banking does not offer. 

6. Healthcare

Blockchain has a promising use case to offer the healthcare sector as well. There are several examples to prove this right, the first being that of Gem, a startup working with the Centre for Disease Control to store the data of a disease outbreak on the blockchain which could lead to effective measures for relief and response. 

 More examples include MedRec and SimplyVital Health. The first is a project taken up by MIT which deals with blockchain electronic medical records. The second keeps an eye on the progress of a patient after he/she is discharged and also provides decentralized health records of patients.

 7. Elections

Elections in nations face many problems in the present times. The biggest of these problems is that of voter frauds and dead voting. Also, it is necessary for a voter to be present physically during voting. This could lead to a decrease in the overall voter turnout because in many cases the voters might not be able to make an appearance physically. 

 Online voting has been avoided until now owing to security reasons. Blockchain, with security next to impossible to break, provides just the right way. Since hacking it is not possible, the votes can be registered on the blockchain. Moreover, it would also eliminate the problem of voter fraud by providing transparent records of the voters, which again could not be tampered with. 

Expanse’s VoteLock is an example of assisting the democratic ideology. 

 8. Deeds and Title Records

Title records are mostly maintained as paperwork. There are two problems this creates: first of all, having such massive records on paper is quite cumbersome. Secondly, the records thus maintained are vulnerable to fraudulent activities and can be tampered with. 

 The blockchain technology, decentralized, transparent and 100% secure could provide a valuable aid to the process of notarization. 

 Ubiquity is an enterprise which aids title companies, notaries and resellers.

 9. Music

With the help of blockchain, music artists can remove middlemen and can directly sell their music to their fans. Both Bitcoin and Ethereum support micropayments which can lay the base for a novel artist and fan relationship. 

 Several platforms are already working to reap the benefits of blockchain technology in the world of music. Examples include the Ethereum-based platform Choon and UJO. 

 10. Marriage

The last use case mentioned here is the most surprising and the most interesting of all. 

To combat the social bias for same-sex marriages, Swedish company Björn Borg has created Marriage Unblocked, a platform where couples can propose and marry on the blockchain irrespective of their sexual orientation. The records are anonymous and if one wants, one can obtain a certificate for the marriage too! The first traditional marriage recorded on the blockchain took place in Orlando, Florida Sunday, August 5, 2014 during a Bitcoin conference at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. 

 Parting Thoughts

This list is non-exhaustive. However, the few use cases which have been mentioned here all point out to the potential of changing the world for the better, a feature the blockchain technology carries in itself.