Richard Waind, Group Managing Director, Betterhomes, said that purchasing the property directly with crypto is still in its early infancy. “While a couple of developers have recently announced they will accept crypto for payments, volatility in crypto markets, as seen so dramatically in recent weeks, makes such deals challenging in reality.”
In practice, he added, crypto property purchases are usually cash purchases; the cryptocurrency is converted into cash at a crypto exchange house before the transfer. He also noted that if crypto markets go up between agreeing to an offer and transferring the property, the buyer is likely to break the contract, and if crypto prices plummet, the seller will be massively out of pocket.
Any developer or brokerage accepting crypto payments will also have to satisfy the recently introduced regulations on Anti Money Laundering.
The Central Bank of UAE has issued new guidance on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) for licensed financial institutions (LFI) providing services to the real estate sector and dealers of precious metals and stones (DPMS).
Property developers or sellers don't accept digital currencies directly but will receive payments in UAE dirhams or US dollars. However, they have partnered with trusted and leading licensed digital currencies brokers in different parts of the world, where Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies are exchanged and converted to the value of the property in UAE dirhams and then transferred to the developer.
One of the leading developers in Dubai directs its crypto clients to deal with Switzerland-based digital currency broker, Bitcoin Suisse, for buying real estate using Bitcoin and Ethereum currencies.
However, the developer makes it very clear that it will only receive payment in normal currency and will not be involved in the relationship between the client and Bitcoin Suisse.
Paula Wehbeh Gambrell, Executive Director - Strategy, Ellington Properties said, “Although there are several ways, we follow the process whereby the client approaches a licenced financial provider who will receive the crypto payment from the customer with instructions to transfer it to the project escrow account. Few developers also have crypto accounts into which customers can directly pay as cryptocurrency.”
Khurram Shroff, Chairman of the IBC Group said the way this was achieved recently in Miami, where a developer worked with a tokenization company, can be considered a template. "Basically, a property title is tokenized, and security tokens are created. The tokens are then exchanged for Bitcoin, Ethereum, or any other cryptocurrency. Of course, there needs to be proper KYC and AMI for the buyer regarding proof of funds. The buyer then takes the cryptocurrency to a licensed exchange and converts it to UAE Dirhams, US Dollars, or whatever fiat currency they want to pay the developer in.”
Ashraf Sayed, Partner and Head of Real Estate at HADEF & PARTNER, said using cryptocurrency to acquire higher-value assets, such as real estate, has recently started to trend again.
“Bitcoin touched an all-time high of close to $65,000, and many other altcoins similarly hit all-time highs,” he said. “Such increases in value resulted in some investors considering various options to exit (in part or full) and convert into assets, such as real estate.”
He noted: “It is estimated that approximately only just over a hundred million people globally invested in cryptocurrency in early 2021, and therefore this is still only a niche market, and we are still in the early days.”
Sayed explained very few laws and regulations for cryptocurrency are in place. There are also concerns of security and market manipulation, which have resulted in huge volatility in the value of cryptocurrency. “We do not see property purchase through cryptocurrency as a game-changer at this stage. However, it shows the potential of cryptocurrency,” he added.
NEED FOR REGULATION
Sayed said there is a need for strict laws and regulations, ideally at a global level, that could help reduce the volatility and increase the general acceptance of cryptocurrency for purposes other than investor speculation.
Sayed cautions anyone seeking to acquire property through crypto to thoroughly research the crypto and property market, deal with only reputable parties, and be aware of the significant risks involved. “Until relevant laws and regulations are issued, I would err on the side of caution and not undertake such property for the crypto transaction.”
“Also, there’s no clarity yet on whether regulatory frameworks, like the use of escrow accounts for real-estate transactions, are being considered. In this context, investors may miss out on one of the main benefits of crypto-transactions: the elimination of intermediaries,” he explained.
(Writing by Hina Navin. Editing by Seban Scaria)
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© ZAWYA 2021