A few months ago, a Coral Gables homeowner made national headlines when he put his $6.4 million mansion on the market and said he'd accept payment in Bitcoin. So when a seller approached luxury real-estate agent Eric Fernandez with a similar proposition, he was ready for the challenge.
Earlier this month, Fernandez listed the condo, a $3.5 million penthouse at the Blue Diamond in Miami Beach, with a note saying the owners would accept payment in Bitcoin or Ethereum, another digital currency.
"It's only a matter of time to where it's going to pick up in Florida," says Fernandez, the owner of Sol/Mar Real Estate. "When they came at me with this, I thought, This is pretty big if a buyer is willing to pay."
No longer just a gimmick, Bitcoin is a currency that real-estate agents are bullish on. They say they expect more homes will be bought and sold with cryptocurrency over the next decade. With its inventory of high-end properties and cult status among international buyers, Miami will lead the way, some observers predict.
"Obviously, Miami is an ideal market for Bitcoin, giving buyers and investors from South America, Canada, Russia, Asia, and the Middle East the opportunity to make their purchases quickly and smoothly," Realtor Stephan Burke, the listing agent for the Coral Gables mansion, wrote in an October op-ed for the Miami Herald. "Our city has a tremendous opportunity to be a trendsetter in this regard."
Although it's possible someone will scoop up the Miami Beach penthouse with good old-fashioned cash, all bets are off if a buyer steps forward with cryptocurrency. Because so few homes have been purchased with Bitcoin, there's no playbook for how those real-estate transactions should work.
"It is a little bit of a challenge," Fernandez says. "In traditional real estate, the money is in escrow. It's not like you can go to Wells Fargo or Bank of America and go, 'Can we deposit Bitcoin?'"
There's also the issue of the ever-changing value of cryptocurrency. Just this past weekend, the value of Bitcoin dropped 15 percent to $5,507 before shooting back up to $7,400 this morning. Its extreme volatility is such that one man accidentally made more than $1.3 million using Bitcoin on a real-estate transaction in Texas because of rapid changes in value.
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Despite the risks, Fernandez says his sellers are confident proponents of cryptocurrency who see a potential real-estate transaction as an opportunity to bet on the future value of both Bitcoin and Ethereum.
"They're investors who see emerging markets," Fernandez says. "They really believe that it's going to grow, kill it, and that they'll make their money back by next year."
As for the logistics, Fernandez says he's not worried about being able to work something out among the buyer, the sellers, and the bank.
"At the end of the day, it can be done," he says assuredly. "It's the United States."