Updated: Jun 25, 2021
This article was originally published in Blockchain Industry Review - a Crypto Curry Club Magazine published monthly and available in soft copy and the printed version.
Written by Guest Contributor, Shahad Choudhury
Founder of digital property portal, OpenBrix
What is OpenBrix?
One in five people in the UK rent privately from a private landlord. For this, they pay often high sums every month and live more or less at the landlord’s mercy. Tenants can be evicted at any time, such as if the landlord wants to sell or increase the rent. This, for no gains in credit score or much-needed proof of ability to pay.
Currently, if you‘re renting and paying your rent on time every month, you don‘t get any credit for doing so. It doesn't help your credit score and doesn't help to prove your spending capacity which is taken into account for getting a mortgage.
For tenants, this is money going out every month but without the proof of affordability that a mortgage brings: no rental statements are issued at the end of the tenancy or any proofs of payments made. OpenBrix also has specialists to help tenants get set up with utilities, council tax, and all practicalities.
Every time a tenant moves, all paperwork, checks, and searches have to be done again, at great cost to the tenant and at great time outlay to the agent.
Openbrix brings proof to tenants of their payments made and can start to generate an immutable record of their rental payments which can be beneficial for their credit scores.
The traditional property lettings business is very cumbersome administratively. The industry is high in physical paperwork, which can be prone to everything from errors to illegibility to papers getting lost, to not accurately - in all cases- being able to correctly identify ID. Plus, on a practical side, paper is heavy, not great for the environment, and drinks can get spilled, amongst other things! A large – and unnecessary percentage- of a letting agent‘s time is spent doing admin, filing paperwork, and checking details, which could easily be spared through technology and secure digital identity stores of ID and documents. Tenants and agents tend to liaise by email and phone calls, documents are held in emails and system drives (which isn’t always 100% secure) and signatures don’t generally tend to have to be wet signatures anymore. This allows for the potential for great time savings.
OpenBrix is already shaking up the rentals market. OpenBrix is the only decentralised property portal in the world that connects all key players in the property letting and sales market on a single public community blockchain platform.
The OpenBrix platform gives control to agents as compared to traditional centralised portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla, which have control over estates agents. Anyone can see some more of the issues agents currently face at sites such as https://www.saynotorightmove.co.uk/
Benefits to tenants are clear. Tenants get:
A bespoke marketplace tailored to them
A rental ledger for rent payments showing a permanent proof of and record of payments paid for rent
Credit reporting for rent payment
ID verifications and document storage
Why Blockchain? Could You Have Done What You Needed Without Blockchain?
We absolutely could have done this without blockchain, and in fact, most of our offers exist on a multitude of centralised systems.
So why blockchain?
A centralised structure has always allowed one group to exercise control over the rest of the network.
Whenever a disruptor to the property market arrives, they always have arrived in the centralised form. However, In the end, they simply replace themselves with the current centralised entity, and become the new central controller of the network.
20 years ago, the group that were the “central point” between property owners and customers were estate agents. Today that central point is the property portals.
As recently as 2015, another centralised entity, On The Market, has tried to disrupt the property market, but customers have now realised that simply swapping one centralised system for another isn’t the way forward. The way forward is decentralisation. The way forward is blockchain technology. Decentralisation is the only way to truly ensure that no one group can exercise control over the network, its data, its policies, or its financial resources.
For that reason, a Decentralised Autonomous Organisation is required. OpenBrix will be that DAO.
How Did You Go About Getting Started And Set Up with Blockchain?
We gained initial seed investment for OpenBrix from Adam Pigott, our CEO, and have had the help of some big names in Blockchain, from Adi-Ben Ari in Applied Blockchain to Sadek Ferdous, the former blockchain fellow of founder ShahadChoudhury in the cabinet office. We have built a great technical team to get started.
Why Are Lettings Agents Turning to OpenBrix? What Does This Change For Them and How Do They Benefit?
Our unique property ID (OPRID) is the most accurate on the market, giving agents and consumers up-to-date information on the property status throughout the lettings process.
We provide an intuitive, low-cost property portal that enables agents to market their client’s properties directly to end consumers.
This is similar to Rightmove in many ways, but the differences are:
OpenBrix allows for pre-qualification of potential tenants based on qualification through services such as right-to-rent.
We can integrate with their chosen reference process
We help agents manage consumer correspondence such as rental payments and maintenance tickets online. This means:
Agents can set up and manage all instructions on a bespoke MLS (Multi Listing Service)- Network(s) by brand, location, or as a whole, or all three. Networks are only visible to those added.
Opportunity to access a wider range of property via MLS and the ability to partner with other agents/branches through the MLS.
Tenant rental records, Property information page, maintenance records, and the MLS Networks can all be “White Labelled” if this is of interest.
What Other Blockchain Platforms Are Out There For Real Estate / Rentals?
None that we know of! But it’s impossible to know as there are just so many different blockchain-based property portals out there as well as so many various different blockchain-based start-ups and schemes at various stages.
What I am sure of is that we are the only blockchain based portal that provides users with decentralised wallets for their rental record, document storage, and crypto transfers on Google and Android.
Will OpenBrix Users be Able to Pay Rent in Crypto?
Our Wallet has built-in functionality to allow people to transfer crypto to each other. It’s not active but can be activated anytime. In time people will be able to pay in crypto.
At the moment we haven’t chosen to use any cryptocurrency. However when CBDCs (central bank-issued digital currencies) are introduced, if every tenant and agent gets or has a blockchain wallet created upon signing in, we would be able to facilitate CBDC transactions across the platform. Right now, we are focusing on the CBDC issued by the state bank from Lithuania. But in time we hope to be able to accept the future Bank of England’s CBDC.
We haven’t yet made a decision on accepting stablecoins or Facebook’s prospective Diem cryptocurrency. For now, we prefer to use existing legal tender.
We have a big development move ahead of us. From introducing a global Multi Listing Systems which allow estate agents across the world to work together and collaborate, to working with agents and create financial service products for tenants and agents. The next project is working to enable accepting CBDCs.
We had planned a big education drive. The biggest obstacle for us had been to try and move the property sector to a more digital environment, convincing agents to send documents to tenants via an app and convincing tenants to sign up to a tenant app. However, with Covid accelerating digital transformation, this has proved to be much easier for us. Tenancies are becoming more digital, so agents are more accepting of this transformation, and as such Tenants are also more accepting of this growing digitisation. The efficiency and digitisation will have massive cost savings for agents, which can be passed on to tenants also.
For property lettings, I think property lettings sites have stagnated by simply acting as a billboard, and that tenants are becoming more discerning and more demanding. So the tenant ledger. Pre referencing and similar functionalities will become more normal.
Telephone: 0203 740 4721