The bitcoin virtual currency, is increasingly used in real estate sales in the United States (Photo Karen BLEIER. AFP)
The embrace of bitcoin, the virtual currency whose price has soared in recent months, has reached the real estate market of the United States, especially in Florida, by allowing foreign investors to dodge exchange controls in their countries and economic sanctions.
By the end of 2017, the bitcoin was used to pay approximately 75 properties on american soil –especially in the south of Florida and California– according to the real estate company Redfin.
“Bitcoin accepted”: this accuracy multiplies in the description of the announcements of sale of housing in Miami and its surroundings. A vendor has been even more far not accepting this crypto-currency to its proposed apartment at $ 500,000.
This despite the extreme volatility of this crypto-currency. She started the year 2017 around $ 1,000 and nearly $ 20,000 at the end of the year, after an outbreak erratic as the holidays approach. It was Friday around $ 15,000.
Its use in real estate transactions is in its infancy and the actors in the sector are sceptical because of its high instability.
“I would be amazed if, in a year, we find that there are hundreds of real estate transactions in bitcoin,” said Jay Parker, the boss for the Florida real estate broker Douglas Elliman.
These transactions, however, may be a sideshow for aliens unable to invest in the United States in the classic manner, noted Charles Evans, an economist specialized in the bitcoin to the university of Barry in Florida.
The evolution of the real estate sector “seems to be driven by international investors who bypass the controls and banking to be ineffective at home and by amateurs of virtual currencies in the United States,” he explained to AFP.
Thus, when governments limit the amount of transfers, “the bitcoin allows people to bypass these restrictions.”
Foreigners, even before the explosive growth of bitcoin, weighed already heavy in the real estate market of south Florida.
Nearly half of these buyers are from Latin America. Over the past five years, they came in the first place, from Venezuela to Brazil and Argentina, according to the national Association of real estate assets.
– Money laundering ? –
The virtual currency, offer another advantage to some foreigners: thwart the economic sanctions imposed by Washington.
Mr. Evans cited the example of Venezuela, which is subject to a strict exchange control and has suffered an inflation of 2.616% in 2017. Almost all of the members of the government chaviste president Nicolas Maduro is also the subject of u.s. sanctions.
In addition, he pointed out, “the bitcoin is of great interest to the Iranians who are doubly affected by restrictions in Iran and international sanctions”.
Money laundering as a springboard to the real estate market of Florida is an open secret, but the arrival of the bitcoin should not eradicate this reprehensible practice. Quite to the contrary.
“It is terrible to launder money on a large scale, since all transactions in bitcoin are recorded in the public register of transactions Blockchain”, noted Mr. Evans.
This registry “leaves a lot of fingerprints so if you use it for improper reasons, State and the federal government should have all the tools to pick you up,” said Jose Felix Diaz, who serves in the House of representatives of Florida, in a recent interview with Politico.
It is at the origin of a law adopted last year that added the crypto-currency to the laws of Florida against money laundering.
Same sound of bell on the side of Mr. Parker, because, even with a payment in bitcoin, “the owners of the buildings can still be traced”.
It was anticipated that the mode of transactions paid in virtual currencies will be as volatile as the price of the same currencies.
“It is a subterfuge advertising. There is not a lot of risk. The only risk is if the currency collapses before you have had time to liquidate it”,-he stressed. “I think that the people who use bitcoin to try to sell their property do so with the idea that (the press) will write to them and offer them a better exposure”.