Buying or selling a home? Blockchain cuts the transaction process and cost of buying a single family home down dramatically. Welcome to the next-generation for real-estate investments.
Real Estate experts Geoffrey Thompson and Sanjay Raghavan from Roofstock share their revolutionary journey with this web3 PropTech leader. We also hear how they benefitted from attending Cypher, Wharton's Blockchain Accelerator program.
*Shortly after we recorded this episode the first NFT home sale was announced!
Hi, I'm Lauren Weymouth, your host of All About Blockchain. Today we're discussing prop tech, or property technology, which is all about the tech tools real estate experts use to optimize the way people buy, sell, research, market and manage a property. Warm welcome to Jeffrey Thompson, Chief Blockchain Officer and Sanjay Raghavan, head of Web3 Initiatives at Roofstock. Jeff is a lawyer by trade, who has been nationally recognized for real estate asset securitization and structured finance deals. And Sanjay is a finance, product and operations leader. Before collating the Web3 Initiative, he served as GM of Roofstock One and also led strategic finance. Jeff and Sanjay recently formed Roofstock's Blockchain Initiative, which was accepted into Wharton's Cypher Accelerator for Blockchain startups. They're leading a team and building a next generation platform for real estate investments. Welcome to All About Blockchain, guys.
Sanjay Raghavan (00:53):
Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Geoff Thompson (00:54):
Thanks, great to be here.
Lauren Weymouth (00:56):
(laughs), awesome, well, let's start with you Geoff. When was Roofstock founded and how long have you been with them?
Geoff Thompson (01:01):
Roofstock was founded in 2015. Um, it is a series E PropTech company at this point, and I have been with the company for three years.
Lauren Weymouth (01:09):
And Sanjay, can you tell us about Rooftop's path to adopting a blockchain initiative.
Sanjay Raghavan (01:14):
Mm-hmm, yeah, absolutely. So when Roofstock first formed in 2015, its primary goal was to radically simplify how single family rental properties are bought and sold. And a large step towards this was making remote real estate purchasing accessible to people across the country, irrespective of where they lived and where they were looking to buy properties at.
And the company was very successful in launching a marketplace that allowed people to do exactly that. The next step in the evolution was to see how can you actually simplify the process of closing a real estate transaction. As you know, in the US, When you purchase a property there's agents involved on the buyer side, seller side, there's title escrow, and there's a complex process for closing the asset, and it could take several weeks, in transaction time, and also cost a lot of money to go through this process. So our next evolution was to see how can we radically simplify that, take something that takes three weeks to accomplish and see if there's a way to bring that down to three minutes. And, uh, with Web3 and blockchain, there was an opportunity to do that. And that's kind of how Geoff and I got involved in this initiative.
Lauren Weymouth (02:16):
Well, you kind of answered my next question, but maybe Geoff can weigh in on what makes real estate a good use case for blockchain?
Geoff Thompson (02:22):
Absolutely. there's more that we can say there for sure. probably the whole podcast and more, but I'll boil it down. as you know, really two things are trying to happen in a traditional transaction. The buyer is trying to make sure that they get the asset that they think they're getting, and the seller wants to make sure that they get paid. That's really it. And all of those other things that the constellation of intermediaries, as Sanjay was talking about, those have all been created in function of serving those two goals. And blockchain has a unique way of rethinking that traditional closing process. Using a smart contract, you can just have a simple, if then, make the decision about whether the contract should execute between that buyer and that seller. Check the buyer's wallet, does the buyer have the funds? Check the seller's wallet, does the seller have the home token? if yes, if yes, then it executes. And you don't need an escort agent that holds money in a third party account while other things are happening in the transaction just to make sure that the buyer's not gonna disappear. And all of the buyer's diligence, we've collapsed to be done online. The buyer doesn't actually have to have things like an inspection contingency, or a financing contingency because all of that has been thought through in advance. So by the time the buyer has made a purchase decision, the transaction can be executed instantaneously. And this, this really wasn't possible without blockchain.
Sanjay Raghavan (03:47):
I wanted to also add that the real estate single family rentals has an asset class is a non correlated asset class. It's $4 trillion in the US, about 20 million properties that are used as single family rental properties. The rental income that these properties generate act somewhat similar to an inflation hedged fixed income product.
And then over the long run, over a period of 10 years or so, any price appreciation in the underlying property that acts like an equity kicker. Traditionally, it's been a great alternative asset class to hold and almost, every financial advisor would ask you to have a percentage of allocation to alternatives. Real estate being predominantly the biggest part of that. So it's a great asset class to historically want to own and now it's possible to do it faster, cheaper, and more transparently.
Lauren Weymouth (04:32):
Yeah, it actually sounds like a perfect use case for blockchain, that you're solving for the problem of lengthy transactions, high transaction fees. And blockchain, we've seen in many different areas be able to mitigate both of those challenges.
Geoff, are there any competitors, and how do you differentiate with what you are doing?
Geoff Thompson (04:50):
There are numerous companies doing blockchain tokenization in different ways. we think that we know everyone and then we find a new one every week. it's a very dynamic field. And people have been active in this space for at least five years. there are people doing a lot of great things. We love to see, everyone. The more, the merrier in our view, because there are a lot of difficult problems to solve, and it's a massive space. So we're not stepping on each other's toes. There's plenty of building to do.
But what we do differently than anyone else to our knowledge,
is the transaction structure that Sanjay and I were describing that allows you to literally complete the transaction on chain with one click. So the two differentiating factors is, this is all one click, and you can pay with crypto natively. You don't need to off board your crypto into fiat to do a traditional closing settlement process. so that is how we think about the, kind of, the competitive playing field. Lot of great ideas out there, and we have a slightly different approach than other people have taken.
Lauren Weymouth (05:51):
I think that's important for our audience to hear that you're not just building something on blockchain, but you're walking the walk with allowing the transactions, enabling, encouraging transactions to be in digital assets. That's awesome.
So, I love that you guys went through Cypher, Wharton's Accelerator Program. Sanjay, I noticed that you're an alum of UPenn. Is that how you chose the program?
Sanjay Raghavan (06:09):
that was a big part of it. looking at the Wharton website to see what was going on with respect to digital assets. UPenn, as you know tries to be in the forefront of anything financial services, FinTech, and noticed that the Steven Center for Innovation and Finance led by Sarah Hammer, they were forming a new Web3 accelerator to help blockchain companies and Web3 companies basically get better at what they were doing and expand the universe of companies operating in the space. so that's what made us apply to it. Geoff and I were very pleased that we were accepted into the Genesis cohort, and it was an invaluable experience and would love to talk to you about it more.
Lauren Weymouth (06:44):
Yeah, well, tell us, like, top three things that you got out of it.
Sanjay Raghavan (06:47):
Well, let's see. So over a 12 week period, we probably had about 60 different webinars or discussions with leading Web3 companies. Everything from protocol, to infrastructure, to legal, to taxation and so on. So that knowledge delivery it was basically getting an overdose of, vitamin shots every day with new ideas and thoughts, and that was tremendous. I think we gained about a year or two's worth of learning and knowledge in those 12 weeks. that was fantastic to go through that.
And also the teams that were there, we forged really long lasting relationships with some of them. one of teams that was in the program is an advisor to us and has helped us with our Web3 journey. And I serve as an advisor to the company he's working for Par G Penguins, which is a NFT collectable project.
Lauren Weymouth (07:33):
That's awesome. So the network.
Geoff, any personal or background shares that inspired your passion in working with Web3, working with blockchain.
Geoff Thompson (07:42):
I fell down the rabbit hole early. I call it second wave maybe, 2017-ish when I noticed a lot of my developer friends talking about this new technology and the ICOs and having a legal background. They brought me into the conversations to try to piece through what was happening. I just believe in a lot of the things that have been said about blockchain. the power to create a transparent, immutable ledger for transactions. it's very powerful, and it can change, obviously, payments, but it can also change real estate transactions, and it can change the entire creative space by giving creators direct access to royalties from their works. And the list as we know can go on, and on, and on. But all of those promises that have been spoken about I'm a believer it takes a long time to build. Everyone knows that. but we, we are achieving, a better way of allocating resources in society. I mean if you had to abstract at the most general level, it's a better allocation of resources.
So it matters for our particular project, but it matters for that individual creator, and it matters for the world at large. And that's enough to make me get out bed and get up early and stay up late thinking about this every day.
Lauren Weymouth (08:55):
Yeah, no, I think that's really important to hear. I think it's becoming more and more clear that there are so many potential use cases and advantages of using this technology, but it's something else to actually go and do it. So I think it's important to thread the needle between great ideas and what had you actually start it for an existing company, or something from scratch. and I always like to ask, this could be for either Sanjay or Geoff, how do you keep up with the fast moving innovations in this field? What resources do you use to stay on top of new trends?
Sanjay Raghavan (09:23):
I think we can probably both share our perspectives on that. There's three or four leading crypto publications and just staying on top of what's happening in the market almost every day. There's 20 different pieces of articles that you have to skim through. And then decide which is pertinent to you, and then dive deeper into it. crypto Twitter is another great source. we follow a lot of people on Twitter and things that are happening in real time, that's a great place to learn about it. and then like, just Twitter spaces, occasionally you will listen into companies talking about different projects or things they're doing, and that's another great way to also learn about what's going on in the industry. For the first time, in the last few years, we have this combination of smart contracts, which obviously the Ethereum platform was able to provide to us. But adding to that, the concept of programmable money, right? 'Cause with USDC, for example, which is a stable coin pegged to US dollars. and it's programmable money 'cause it can interact with, smart contracts and it... you know, you can move money around, and you can move assets around. this unique combination of having smart contracts and programmable money creates in finite, an almost in finite number of use cases for different industries and different ideas to look at and evolve into. So it's a very exciting time to be in Web3.
Geoff Thompson (10:36):
Yeah, I would totally agree with all that. And I would say we spend a lot of time actively seeking out conversations with people in the space. And a lot of our time is devoted to talking to anyone and everyone who could potentially have a connection to what we're doing. And a lot of times, we don't know if we're helping them, or they're helping us, what the conversation is going to produce. But talking to people in the space is absolutely critical to staying on top of things.
Sanjay Raghavan (11:02):
That's true. And then we also, Geoff and I attend a lot of Web3 conferences because those are fantastic avenues to meet a lot of people, who are all gathered at one place. And so that's also been a great resource.
Lauren Weymouth (11:15):
And don't you find that because we're all at the forefront of this new technology and developing technology, that the people that you do meet that are in it, are just so excited to meet you, kind, nice, enthusiastic, passionate.
Geoff Thompson (11:26):
Sanjay Raghavan (11:27):
Absolutely. there's a sense of selflessness about Web3 and crypto enthusiasts that you don't find coming from TradFi and other industries where people try to maintain their competitive modes as their unique proposition. But as here, people are free to share their knowledge and their learnings, and not just the things that work right, but the things that haven't worked right in the past.
And so it's a much more collaborative environment in that sense. And I think that's something we both really love about Web3.
Geoff Thompson (11:56):
Yeah. It's positive energy. it's optimism, it's belief that we can build something here that really matters, that permeates almost every conversation. it keeps people excited about what is coming next.
Lauren Weymouth (12:10):
Well, moving on from building something that really matters. Last we spoke, you were working on the first tokenized home for sale. Where are you at with that?
Geoff Thompson (12:16):
So we are about to complete the first sale,
Lauren Weymouth (12:18):
Geoff Thompson (12:21):
we expect it very shortly, can't quite announce a date yet, but, stay tuned there will be a press release in the very short term. we're very excited that we had numerous offers on the property. we had a lot of excitement from different corners of the potential customer bases. So we had traditional real estate investors looking at it. We had Web3 natives and then everyone in between. And we're excited to make an announcement very soon.
Sanjay Raghavan (12:47):
And I also wanna add to that, this first sale will involve DeFi lending product as well that's integrated into it. So for the first time, you know, we'll be able to see how this NFT sale combined with DeFi financing on the blockchain, at a rate that's actually at least a couple of hundred basis points cheaper than what you might find for an investment property in the TradFi world. So it's making all the, DeFi thesis, it's all coming true in the sense of better capital efficiency, a cheaper product that eliminates most of the traditional intermediaries in financing. So there's gonna be a lot of positive news about all that in the next few days, mm-hmm.
Lauren Weymouth (13:22):
, it's so exciting. And for someone who's not so familiar with tokenization or decentralized finance, can you, kind of, break down for our listeners how exactly this is working?
Sanjay Raghavan (13:31):
Yeah. So with TradFi or traditional finance, the way it works typically is, , when you're trying to get a home, you reach out to a lender, and then the lender is underwriting you as a, as a borrower. and then once the underwriting is approved, and that's based on your personal credit, personal debt to income ratio, your assets and liabilities and all of that, once, once that underwriting decision has been made, then typically, there's appraisals that happen on the property to make sure that the LTV is within the limits, the lenders willing to lend you against.
And then there's a process of recording a mortgage at the county. So there's a very complex process in TradFi for originating a loan. And then most of these originators are making these loans so they can repackage them and either sell them to an agency like Fannie Mae, which will then securitize and sell those, loans in the market. Or if they're nonconforming loans, they go through private label. non-conforming securitization, but, you know, typically there's a whole cycle once these loans are made. They're either sold, or they're further repackaged and then sold. and that's, that's a complex process. It involves numerous intermediaries. And of course, all these intermediaries need to take a fee for the service they're providing. So, TradFi therefore is cumbersome, complex and expensive. DeFi or decentralized finance is this idea that you have this concept of smart contracts and programmable money. How do you bring those two together to essentially allow people to get asset based financing that can be done at a fraction of the time. And because there's None of your traditional intermediaries, um, you can actually also reduce the cost of capital for the borrower.
in Web3, as we frequently say, it's read, right, own. meaning that the creators and the consumers are all participating in the economy. And so, if there's a way we can reduce intermediaries and pass on some of those savings to the consumer, that's a win in the Web three world. And that's exactly what DeFi can do just because of the way it's constructed. It's, it's lines of computer code that are moving money and assets around. There's something really elegant.
Lauren Weymouth (15:30):
And it sounds like it's not just advantageous to the consumer or the buyer, but also the seller because things are gonna move faster and there's gonna be,
Geoff Thompson (15:37):
Faster and cheaper in real estate transactions, the sellers typically pay most of the closing costs. And for a seller, this dramatically changes their cost structure.
Lauren Weymouth (15:147:
Well, we love that. Well, you must be working with partners to get this entire cycle accomplished. maybe you can talk to us a little about how you sourced your partners and how you're all coming together to get this done.
Geoff Thompson (15:57):
that's part of the conversations that we alluded to that, that for us started in earnest with the Cipher program at the beginning of the year, with two or three introductions a day to people in the space. And again, , you really don't understand who's doing what until you just talk to them. everyone has a website, or a Discord, or whatever and you can glean some information, but you don't really get to understand, you know, what the potential overlaps with your business are until you talk to someone.
So how have we found people? , it's by asking for introductions. , you know, reaching out to people that we know in our network and beyond our network that look like they could have a potential overlap. I think the beginning the first half of the year, or - at least the first six months that we were involved in this, we probably had a hit rate of, you know, less than 5% of useful actionable conversations. Not to say they weren't useful, but actionable because it was just a discovery phase and, you know, these are basically 8 conversations a day, 10 conversations a day, of every day for a good six month period. And understanding who's doing what, and what we're doing, and what the overlaps are.
And then after a certain moment when we had our product really structured and we could put something firm on someone else's, um, desk as a proposal and say, "This is what we're doing. We're ready to, um, you know, to, to pull the trigger and, and put something together." At that point, which only happened really in the last two or three months, um, we found a lot of interest. Um, I... People were able to share the same level of enthusiasm that we had for this project. They see the real estate, um, play as being a big one. And, um, we've been really fortunate in finding some great partners. We have for this particular launch, um, you'll, you'll see the publications involve, uh, at least five or six partners who, without whom, we couldn't get this done.
We're working with Origin Protocol as the provider of our native marketplace, the NFT marketplace. We're working with Wire which, is a well known payments company. We're working with Teller, which is a finance company, the, financing solution that Sanjay referred to. Polygon is involved because,Madic is a better, cheaper way to do some parts of these transactions. We're using USDC to transact, so Circle's part of it as well
it takes a village, right? We, we have to have all of these partners together.
Sanjay Raghavan (18:12):
One thing to highlight here is how Web3 is different from Web2, right? Traditionally, if a Web2 company had tried to solve this problem, they would've gone out and built the marketplace, and they would've gone out, and tried to create the financing structure added to it, and so on and so forth. Geoff and I spent as, as being truly trying to be true to Web3, we spent all our time on the legal structure and analysis that makes this a sound product. everything else we tried to see what can we, leverage in the ecosystem.
So we needed a native marketplace for our NFT. So Origin was a good fit for that. We need payment trails 'cause people who have fiat need to be able to convert it to crypto. So we, you know, did our analysis, and Wire was a great partner for that. And then, you know, with Creative Financing Solutions we may have more than one over time, but Teller was a phenomenal partner to get this started. And they have a product called usdc.homes, which was a really good fit for this particular offering.
So that's how we got to getting these current partners. Obviously, we wanted to standardize on USDC because it's one of the better known, um, stable coins out there. And so that was also part of the, um, you know... We looked at a bunch of different alternatives and then settled on USDC.
Lauren Weymouth (19:20):
Well, you're definitely walking the walk with Web3, the nature of Web3 with your collaborative launch. it's really inspiring to hear. And of course, yeah, future, there's always different partners, but it's great that you now have this foundation, right, and this example of how it's all working. So what's next for Roofstock OnChain?
Sanjay Raghavan (19:36):
Well, we do want to explore other asset based DeFi lending alternatives as well. So we want our consumers to have more than one choice when they come to the platform. the Teller option will be fantastic for some, subset of the customers and others may want, uh, more compound, or Ave like experience. And so we're gonna be building out a protocol that allows that, where, again, different liquidity providers can come in and, uh, become, you know, providers of capital and under different, uh, terms, different interest rates, uh, maturities and so on. And so the customers will have a menu of choices to select from. So that's an important thing for us to focus on.
Geoff Thompson (20:14):
yeah, and I would say we're also looking at expanding, obviously, our inventory and scaling up and putting these in the hands of, as many parties , are interested, in holding them.
And we are excited about the possibility of offering these not only to retail investors, but to crypto institutions. We do think there's a lot of money right now that's held in crypto by protocols and dows, and even VC, backed companies that receive their funding in crypto. And it's difficult and cumbersome to off ramp all of that crypto and do something useful with it, and then bring it back on the chain when you need to.
so what we would propose at this... is that this is a something of a treasury management solution for those crypto institutions that have, money sitting there that they, they don't necessarily wanna keep in stablecoin because it doesn't earn yield and they don't wanna keep it in another token, because of the volatility. This is a third path that allows them to have access to a stable asset. But it also creates yield and it has all of the other characteristics that Sanjay mentioned. It's not correlated and it has the appreciation play as well. so we're excited about exploring those conversations. We've had some initial very positive feedback from that space. that's where we're headed.
Sanjay Raghavan (21:30):
add to that point. a lot of the kind of treasuries hold predominantly most of their cash, either in their own native coins, some BTC, some ETH, probably some USDC. the problem with that is that that whole basket is a very highly correlated basket, and when BTC goes down, all the L ones go down with it. And when the L ones go down, the native tokens that are on those L ones, they go down in value as well.
So, it's a good risk management tool to have 5 or 10% of your balance sheet type, you know, diversified into other asset classes. And this one particularly is interesting because even though you're purchasing an NFT, or doing it using crypto on Web3, there is a real world asset behind the scenes. So it's not volatile like crypto. And as Geoff was mentioning, it produces rental yield and also over a 5, 10 year period, the value of these homes go up typically.
Lauren Weymouth (22:21):
his part of the conversation makes me wonder, I'm sure eventually, you'd like your target audience to be mainstream, but there's, like, a ramp up period for everyone adopting, right? So right now, are you really focused with those that are comfortable trading in Web3 that own a digital wallet that hold cryptocurrency?
Sanjay Raghavan (22:37):
You know, there is an intersection of people that are comfortable with the real estate asset class, and over time I think you know, with Coinbase popularity and Robinhood now offering crypto products and so on a vast majority of traditional investors are now crypto curious, or they have some familiarity with the asset class. So we're starting there. of course, and then it's gonna require to take some education, but we're prepared to do that. We're here for the long haul.
Lauren Weymouth (23:02):
That's awesome. So with that, where do you see the world in 10 years supported by block?
Geoff Thompson (23:07):
n our sector in particular, the major advancement that we could hope for would be for title to be able to be recorded on chain directly. the structure that we've set up now works within the existing legislation, and the existing system, which still does require a deed to be, you know, a physical deed, to be recorded and stamped at the local county registrar's office. the natural place for this to go would be for the blockchain to serve as that, um, that ultimate source of truth for property records.
That is a massive undertaking. We're not naive and certainly not expecting that it would all happen within 10 years. But if we could see some progress, maybe a few counties here and there, adopting that, maybe some of the bigger metro areas. there are a lot of learnings and , it has to be thought through very carefully. But that's where I would love to see this particular implementation of blockchain go in the next 10 years.
Sanjay Raghavan (24:00):
You know my generation is comfortable, mostly having these custodial, Coinbase accounts or Robinhood accounts where they're not dealing with private keys or phrases. There are some people like me, obviously, who are in Web3 that are comfortable with having self custody wallets. but the, the next generation, which is in their 20s and 30s right now, they're all very crypto savvy, and they all know how to use self custody wallets. in 10 years time, they're all gonna be in their 40s. They're gonna have considerable wealth, and I think that's how they're gonna do commerce. the days of going on websites and putting your credit card information, you know, on different websites and trying to buy and sell things using credit cards, I think that is going to shift radically. crypto will become the predominant payment rails in Web3, and I think that's where, in 10 years, I see the world moving in that direction.
Lauren Weymouth (24:51):
Okay, which ones are gonna win? No, just kidding. All right, (laughs).
anything else we haven't discussed that you'd really like our listeners to know about?
Geoff Thompson (25:00):
I think we've hit a lot of the, the key topics. Sanjay, anything come to mind?
Sanjay Raghavan (25:04):
Yeah, I mean, the, the only thing I would say is a time in the evolution of Web3. It's still sort of first innings but a lot of the infrastructural pieces are finally together that allow, our kind of business use cases to evolve from, right? Like, before Ethereum existed, we could not have come up with this this particular implementation of buying and selling a home in a few minutes. But even after Ethereum was there, if we didn't have stable coins that could be used to transact this, this programmable money could've been hard to, to do that. even with those two things there, if we didn't have a partner that could do crypto on ramp, it would've been hard. And then like, again, finding somebody, you know, who has a financing solution. So all of these different pieces, like the industry has been putting together over the last four, five years. And finally a lot of those pieces are here together that it's pretty easy to, cobble up something that's, of course, based on sound reasoning and analysis. But can use all the infrastructure that's been built out.
And you can stand up an application fairly quickly.
Like, Geoff and I formally started the Web3 division for Rooftop this year. But we have a marketplace, we have a financing solution, we have all these things working already, which in the Web2 world would've taken many years to develop. So my message would be that companies that are looking to adopt Web3 This is, this is probably the best time to, uh, get into it and start building.
Geoff Thompson (26:30):
I agree with that. Well said.
Lauren Weymouth (26:31):
Very well said. All right. Where can our listeners learn more?
Sanjay Raghavan (26:34):
On chain.roofstock.com is the website. You can look at the properties there. also the website provides a lot of, , introductory information about how the program works. follow us on Twitter, rsonchain, @rsonchain. And then, , follow me @e_ sanjay.
Geoff Thompson (26:51):
And you can follow me on Twitter @_Gtoms.
Lauren Weymouth (26:54):
All right, Twitter followers, we'll drop those links into the episode itself. Transforming real estate is another way we're seeing blockchain become mainstream, automating systems and disintermediating processes. Roofstock is onto something and we'll be seeing many more tokenized house sales in the near future. Geoff, Sanjay, your innovators in the industry, developing, promoting cool upgrades to outdated systems and bringing value to people. Thank you for sharing your work with us. We're thrilled that we had the opportunity to host you on All About Blockchain today.
Sanjay Raghavan (27:23):
Geoff Thompson (27:24):
Likewise, thank you.
Sanjay Raghavan (27:25):
It was a pleasure being here.
Lauren Weymouth (17:27):
And thank you listeners for your time, your comments on my LinkedIn and feedback to email@example.com is always appreciated. Until next time.