Soon you could own shares of this Brooklyn apartment building with tokens costing just a few dollars

Key Points
  • A Brooklyn building may be the first foray into a new investment model that could allow people to invest in a piece of real estate with just a few dollars and the click of a few buttons.
  • Next month, accredited investors can own fractional shares of the five-unit building, represented by tokens purchased through a website built on the ethereum blockchain.
  • Those investors would reap a proportionate amount of rental income. If the building grows in value, so would those shares. 
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A five-unit apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, may represent the first foray into a new investment model that uses the technology underpinning cryptocurrency and allows investors to buy and sell their shares in a single property at the click of a button.

The model relies on blockchain technology, which underlies cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum. The project sets out to show how buying and selling an asset on the blockchain can help distribute wealth and improve transaction speed and data transparency.

Beginning next month, accredited investors will be able to buy shares of the three-story Brooklyn building in the form of tokens that are bought and sold using a website built on the ethereum blockchain.

Investors would reap a proportionate amount of rental income from their shares and be able to buy and sell the shares with other investors. If the building increases in value, so would those shares, said Brooklyn-based blockchain developer ConsenSys, which built the technology to "tokenize" the property. The project is called Pangea.

Each token represents one share and can cost as little as a few dollars, though the exact price has yet to be determined. An accredited investor has to meet certain income and net worth standards, however, such as having $1 million in net worth or an annual salary of $250,000 for two years.

The project is a chance for people to acquire slivers of real estate rather than having to buy a property outright or invest in a pool of properties such as a real estate investment trust, said Pangea co-founder Mohammad Shaikh.

"By purchasing these tokens, investors no longer have to tie up large sums of money in single properties, nor are they restricted to REITs with little transparency, or funds with high fees," he said.

The Brooklyn apartment building will be the first known property to offer fractional ownership through digital tokens, though several start-ups are working on the cause, Shaikh said. The model is likened to a single-property REIT.

Cayuga Capital Management, a Brooklyn real estate developer, owns the building, located in the Bushwick neighborhood.

Pangea co-founders Corbin Page (left) and Mohammad Shaikh
Source: Pangea

ConsenSys' Pangea struck a deal with Cayuga through a partnership with commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield, which is identifying other properties for Pangea to tokenize.

"Pangea can unlock an immense amount of investment capital if everyone had access to the real estate markets," said Cushman & Wakefield Director Jason Greenstone.

Through that partnership, Pangea is in the process of tokenizing $100 million worth of real estate in the U.S., as well as similar amounts in Dubai and Germany, Shaikh said. That includes retail, office and residential properties. 

When the Bushwick building is listed on Pangea, accredited investors will be able to log on to the website and buy and sell shares of the property using ethereum.

Each transaction is recorded on the blockchain, a tamper-proof digital record maintained by a network of computers. Because Pangea users would be buying and selling shares with each other, transaction fees and middlemen are eliminated, Shaikh said.

"Pangea is disrupting a famously illiquid market by giving investors the freedom to trade with other users instantly," Shaikh said. "Investors can sell a piece quickly rather than having to deal with intermediaries such as title insurance, brokers, lawyers and realtors."

Each property on the blockchain would also come with a "universally shared data set," including background information such as past sales, repairs and amenities.

"It creates a common view of an individual property and eliminates the information asymmetries that have persisted in the real estate industry for years," said Pangea co-founder Corbin Page.

Pangea aims to open its platform to the general public toward the end of 2018, Shaikh said. "We want to make sure we prove the model with a small group of participants."