In 2017, Sheryl Lowe of Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty in Austin helped four different buyers purchase homes using bitcoin, a digital currency that exists separate of any government or central bank.
Lowe didn’t know she would be handling her first bitcoin transaction until she asked the buyer about whether he intended to pay cash or get a loan.
3 things to remember about virtual currency
The value fluctuates. The value of one bitcoin can change on a day-to-day basis. For example, one bitcoin was worth $6,611.79 on July 2; $6,216.29 on July 13; $8,436.12 on July 24; and $7,574.53 on August 2.
It’s taxable. The U.S. government treats bitcoin and other virtual currency as property, which includes paying capital gains tax on property transactions. Find more information on the IRS website.
It may take a little more work. Not all participants in a transaction will be comfortable working with virtual currency. Buyers or sellers who aren’t familiar with it may need more information; your client may need to shop around for the right title company; and buyers who need additional financing may have a hard time finding a traditional loan.
“He said, ‘Well, it really is cash,’” Lowe says. When she said he’d need to verify the funds were available, he went to his briefcase and took out about four pages of codes written on paper. “I’ll be paying with bitcoin,” the buyer told Lowe. Since then, Lowe’s first transaction has been featured in national news media and she’s helped more buyers branch into real estate with their digital fortunes.
Although she’d already heard about bitcoin before that first transaction, she watched webinars and read books to better understand the currency and what would be involved for her buyer.
Having an open-minded listing agent and seller was vital to a successful transaction, Lowe says. Her first buyer even met with the seller to further explain the process and put all parties at ease.
It also helped having a title company that accommodated the process and extra legwork involved with converting bitcoin to cash for the seller. There are fees associated with that conversion, Lowe says, but in her experience, the buyer typically covers those fees.
Lowe says the rest of a bitcoin transaction works in much the same way as a typical cash purchase and that parties must still follow the law.
While the most activity involving bitcoin came when it reached a price of nearly $18,000 per bitcoin at the end of 2017, Lowe says she anticipates more diversification into real estate from bitcoin owners.