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Bitcoin is booming in Miami. But can you buy a house with it?

Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald on

Published in Home and Consumer News

"We're in an area of hysteria right now involving Bitcoin," said Andrew Ittleman, a partner at the Miami law firm of Fuerst, Ittleman, David & Joseph. "There are a lot of people making claims about Bitcoin that they can't substantiate and for the most part are not meant to be substantiated. I do see a lot of uses for cryptocurrency in real estate, but I don't see the disruptive effect some people are promising."

Waning favor?

Andrew Hinkes, a partner at the law firm of Berger Singerman who specializes in technology-related issues, said cryptocurrency is nearing the end of its initial wave of interest from Wall Street and investment by new ventures. Bitcoin still has a long way to go before it is widely embraced by the real estate industry.

"Nothing has really changed insofar as how virtual currencies are impacting real estate," he said. "A lot of people saw tremendous gains in the values of their holdings in 2017. But now that the IRS has made clear how they want to treat the gains on crypto like Bitcoin, there's uncertainty in the market as to how you sell them and find value. In South Florida, that's traditionally in the ground. But if you want title insurance, or if there are any liens or taxes that are owed, those will have to be payed with fiat currency."

The current lack of regulations is one of Bitcoin's biggest draws for its users. And despite suspicion that Miami's real estate market is prey to money launderers, it can be a deal-breaker for real estate. For example, South Korea, the third biggest cryptocurrency market in the world (after Japan and the U.S.), has banned anonymous cryptocurrency transactions, fearful of the potential for shady business.

That uncertainty and lack of transparency, combined with cryptocurrency's volatility, is making real estate developers and investors wary.

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"Bitcoin is too new of a form of currency," said Daniel de la Vega, a Realtor with Sotheby's International. "Anything that operates in a gray area is not something I would want to associate with. I do believe in the future of cryptocurrency. I'm just not bullish on it short term."

The Miami Association of Realtors reports that sales of luxury ($1 million and above) condos and single-family homes in Miami-Dade County surged 47 percent and 16 percent respectively year-over-year in December. But the market is still glutted by too much supply, which caused the average luxury sales price to fall 6.3 percent in 2017, according to Mansion Global.

Still, the need to sell expensive properties is not enough to make developers rally behind Bitcoin -- at least for now. Gil Dezer, president of Dezer Development, said if a buyer made a Bitcoin offer right now on one of the multimillion dollar condos at the Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach, he would turn them down.

"If Bitcoin is so easily transferable to cash, why do they need to pay with that?" Dezer said. "Why can't they transfer it into cash first and pay with that? The transverse effect of that is the seller receiving the money. If he wants Bitcoin, he can take the cash and buy Bitcoin. Why would you use Bitcoin in the actual transaction?"

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