Despite dealing in one of the most valuable asset classes in the world, the real estate industry largely relies on outdated real estate interest recording systems requiring paper-based filings with local government offices. The administrative burdens, inaccuracies and security issues raised by such systems are well known. Increasingly, both government actors and private parties have recognized the potential for key attributes of blockchain technology to modernize real property conveyance and improve processes for recording deeds and other related instruments:
- Greater efficiency due to digitization. The deed recording processes currently employed by many U.S. localities impose burdensome administrative costs. Typically, a physical deed must be delivered to a government employee at the local recording office, where it is subsequently scanned onto the county’s centralized database. Data points from the deed are then manually input onto a public index, which is relied upon to determine ownership of each piece of property recorded thereon. Any subsequent transfers of, or claims to, real property must be manually reconciled with this public index. Blockchains, on the other hand, are entirely electronic data structures. As such, their implementation could greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the constant need for scanning documents, printing labels and organizing physical files in local recording offices – enabling local governments to reallocate human resources to areas where they can be employed more productively.
- Accurate record of ownership that updates in real time. The manual indexing process described above is not just costly and time-consuming. It is also prone to human error, where inputting mistakes may cause future difficulties in accurately tracing chain of title. Since blockchains have the potential to consolidate conveyance and recording of real property rights into a transaction, they can greatly increase the likelihood that the public record accurately represents each conveyance, and do so in real time.
- Tamper-proof and disaster-resistant decentralized ledger. Finally, centralized databases, where recorded deeds are currently stored, are vulnerable to malicious attacks by third parties (or government insiders) seeking to steal, erase, forge or alter existing records. By design, blockchains may ensure that any such endeavor to corrupt the information contained “on-chain” is prohibitively costly. Further, localities typically do not have the resources available to implement a robust back-up system for their property records. Therefore, in the case of a natural disaster destroying physical files or a malicious cyberattack wiping a database, the entirety of the record could be permanently lost. A blockchain, meanwhile, may store recorded data on nodes spanning both geographies and populations, alleviating concerns of lost records, while concurrently reinforcing the integrity and security of the data with each additional node.