A Blockchain Property Deed

Milestone in Vermont

The Vermont city of South Burlington has become a trendsetter in blockchain deed recording. Looking at the South Burlington test run, we can see that a deed on the blockchain doesn’t look like some futuristic metaverse creation. (Scroll here for a look at the deed.) Instead, it resembles your typical property deed. The only unusual aspect you’ll find is some computer code, by which anyone can locate the instrument on the Ethereum blockchain.

As normal as it seems, its existence is a milestone. At its early stages, South Burlington city clerk Donna Kinville described the pilot recording project:

I will tell you this one transaction has generated a lot of phone calls from all over the country and Montreal, mostly from various tech magazines but also one of Virginia’s county recorders, attorneys, title insurers, and interested citizens.

Vermont was a blockchain-curious state even before the cryptocurrency boom of 2017, when many people gained an interest in its technology. And deed recording is an oft-mentioned use case for blockchain. South Burlington’s interest is tentative, yet in keeping with Vermont’s innovative spirit.

What’s Been Happening in the City Clerk’s Office? How Vermont Is Testing the Tech

South Burlington already documents title transfers in the office of the City Clerk. The point of the pilot project is to find out if the normal process can be improved for the public benefit.

The pilot’s timeline goes something like this. Someone transfers a normal title, and the South Burlington City Clerk’s office accepts a paper deed for recording. The only unusual aspect is the computer code, signifying its recording on the blockchain ledger.

Blockchain’s ledger system can record data from any kind of instrument a government might use.  Therefore, South Burlington’s milestone deed was handled as any plain vanilla deed would be. The City Clerk’s office did not need to apply any special processing. A company named Propy, with its proprietary software, handled the blockchain side of the recording.

What did Propy need to do? As part of the official process, the blockchain needed to have an entry from the City Clerk’s office showing South Burlington’s act of recording the deed, and the payment of city recording fees. This happened through Propy’s blockchain software, which the City Clerk agreed to connect to South Burlington’s title records.  

If the city decides to embrace blockchain recording as the default method, Propy’s set of software would replace the city’s existing Conduent stack.

What’s Propy All About? A Maverick Company in a Fast-Moving Sector

Propy helps remote buyers buy real estate using blockchain technology. The company’s innovative platform has handled more than $4 billion worth of blockchain-based property transactions to date.

Propy operates online, through its website and mobile app, assisting clients in property deals and the recording of transactions on the blockchain.

The CEO of Propy works with the National Association of REALTORS®, and participates in NAR’s REACH accelerator initiative.

See more at Blockchain and Cryptocurrency: NAR Dives In.

As for its work with cities and counties, what is the major question for the company’s future? It’s whether local governments can carry out blockchain recording, yet still submit the necessary paperwork to satisfy state requirements.

What’s the Verdict? Are Blockchain Deeds an Advancement?

Because it works through a digital, decentralized ledger, blockchain recording can be expected to run more efficiently than the traditional paper and postal method. This could make home buying easier.

More important is blockchain’s potential to make transactions scam-proof. As City Clerk Donna Kinzer says, every action involving the title is “etched in stone” and cannot be stealthily altered. Blockchain entries are publicly visible online from anywhere in the world.

The benefits fit well with the needs, vulnerabilities, and pain points of title transactions. It’s fair to say blockchain could transform deed records, and South Burlington’s effort is part of a bigger adoption curve.

Supporting References

Vermont Legislature: S. 269 – Donna Kinville Testimony (PDF; Mar. 28, 2018).

Ben Miller for GovTech.com: Here’s What a Blockchain Property Deed Looks Like (Apr. 07, 2022). 

Ben Miller for GovTech.com: Vermont City, Real Estate Startup Try Out Blockchain for Recording Property Transactions (undated).

And as linked.

Photo credit: Morthy Jameson, via Pexels.