The Future of Blockchain Technology and Real Estate in DC : An Overview with Leslie Gahagan

Leslie Gahagan of Colliers International, a leading global real estate company, has begun paving the way for the adoption of blockchain technology within the commercial real estate community.  Leslie first discovered blockchain technology after reading a Harvard Business Review Article discussing its use case for securing one’s identity, specifically in the migrant crisis. From there, and as additional use cases came to print, the technology became an all-consuming interest.

So, what is blockchain technology?

Leslie explains that blockchain technology is a decentralized, web-based network that digitally records transactions on a public ledger. Instead of information resting on a central server or within a legacy institution prone to hacking or corruption, this ledger spans across a global network making the ledger immutable, secure, and unrestrained by intermediaries or third-party providers.

An integral feature of this emerging technology is the advent of digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ether. Across the globe, any person with access to WiFi can convert currency to Bitcoin and be open to transact within the global marketplace without exchange fees, delays or red tape. This access to global banking and exchanges provides unprecedented opportunities for financial inclusion. Digital currencies are still volatile; however, this is not the first time societies have evolved in what they deem as legal tender, and, as the technology moves from its nascent stages to mainstream adoption, price stabilization will follow.

Similar to the introduction of the internet, the full potential of blockchain remains unknown, but the incentive to drive innovation increases daily. Countries like Dubai, Japan, Russia, The Republic of Georgia, Estonia, and the United States are taking aggressive measures toward education for adoption with the goal of moving their societies to a digital, paperless existence. While this technology may seem unapproachable, its principal focus is on restoring trust, transparency, and convenience to our daily lives. Leading technologists and experts project blockchain will have a pervasive impact, influencing every industry and individual.

What is Colliers contributing to the conversation?

Real estate, either residential or commercial, is traditionally averse to technological change and information transparency – siloed data provides key competitive advantage. Therefore, it is imperative for its professionals to take responsibility by disrupting themselves before this emerging technology forces disruption with no regard.

Leslie currently works to build a dialogue among colleagues to anticipate how the adoption of blockchain technology will affect daily commercial real estate operations, transactions, and client service. Through her official role at the International Blockchain Real Estate Association (IBREA), Leslie has cultivated relationships with knowledge leaders that have presented to the Colliers International DC region and fellow industry professionals. Leslie aims to spark an interest in blockchain technology among colleagues; and to ensure their familiarity with terms like Hashing, Mining, Smart Contracts, Hardware Wallet, Bitcoin, and Ethereum. From these introductory blockchain overviews and internal education efforts, use case ideas have evolved, and collaboration with blockchain developers has begun.

At a regional level, Colliers provides an avenue for Leslie to leverage her involvement with CREW DC (Commercial Real Estate Women, DC Chapter) to expand the conversation to the broader commercial real estate community. Earlier this month, Leslie led a CREW DC Education Committee event sponsored by Colliers and the Law Offices of Cozen O’Connor.  Ragnar Lifthrasir, the founder of IBREA and Velox.Re, was the guest speaker and covered the basics of blockchain technology, distributed file storage, and its application to the commercial real estate sector.  For many of the nearly 50 attendees, it was their first opportunity to hear of blockchain and how to begin their adaption to it. This era of technological innovation is an exciting time for Commercial Real Estate. The impacts of technological advancements, such as blockchain technology, reverberate throughout the industry and accelerate the sophistication of the Commercial Real Estate business.

What does this mean for the District of Columbia?

First, the District should take notes from its partner city – Dubai. Dubai leaders have taken an aggressive approach to moving away from a centralized, paper-intensive mode of operating to the blockchain – as well as other emerging technologies. Within the Smart Dubai plan, their shift to a digital existence resolves many of the complications cities face on a global scale. In respect to the recent WDCEP Inclusive Smart City Summit and the conversation surrounding data transparency and integrity, Leslie envisions applying Dubai’s partnership with blockchain startup Loyyal here in the District. In an effort to improve tourism engagement with local establishments, Dubai utilized blockchain technology to build an interoperable rewards system to drive tourist spending. Change the players within the rewards system to citizens and the local businesses to private companies and municipal government, and we may have a stronger, inclusive conversation on open data policies. Furthermore, this model could ensure that the collected information would improve daily life within the District while also providing economic rewards for all.

Additionally, the District is fortunate to be the home of many leading think tanks and organizations looking at emerging technologies like blockchain and shaping how to onboard the public. The Chamber of Digital Commerce is driving the conversation between public, private, and technology leaders to develop standards and best practices. CoinCenter is a pioneering think tank focused on educating congressional leaders and financial regulators on the intricacies and legality of digital currencies. The New America Foundation co-released findings from the SHIFT Commission Report on the Future of Work, Workers, and Technology. The Shift Commission is an excellent resource for understanding how some of these digital currencies and rewards built around data engagement can provide alternative sources of income – especially for those automated out of the workforce. As we are seeing in countries like the Republic of Georgia, Sweden, and even Cook County, IL, local municipalities are working to move land titles to the blockchain. The District would benefit in following this lead as it was recently in the news for losing track of its district owned property.

Leslie predicts the ‘tokenization’ of commercial property where it becomes a liquid asset, which would reduce friction during the transaction process. She also sees a future where property owners will begin accepting payment of rent in a cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin. As a personal goal, Leslie strives to bring together a DC property owner, tenant, and broker to execute a lease in Bitcoin currency. Further down the road, as smart buildings come on line, the decentralization of building systems data will need to rest on a decentralized ledger to prevent hacking by nefarious agents.

“We have a long way to go, but a global market is calling for this innovation. Our digital existence demands it, and applications that can improve and secure our daily lives are coming at lightning speed. My goal is to share this new frontier and hopefully demystify the technology (without weakening its magnitude) to anyone listening or reading,” says Leslie.

Do you want to learn more about Blockchain and the future of a digitally connected society? Leslie recommends the following:

  • Start with the Satoshi Nakamoto White Paper – this is the foundational piece for a technical understanding of Blockchain and Bitcoin.
  • Visit the Digital Chamber of Commerce or CoinCenter.
    You can also attend a local Blockchain/Bitcoin/Ethereum Meet-up. If you are in Real Estate, either residential or commercial, be sure to check out the International Blockchain Real Estate Association.
  • For a Reading List, visit Coindesk.com or Futurism.com. Pick up a copy of Digital Gold by Nathaniel Poper or The Mystery of Capital by Peruvian Economist Hernando De Soto. For a philosophical approach to understand where we are headed as a species, try Sapiens; a book on both former-President Obama’s and Bill Gate’s reading list.