In a packed conference room at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel last month, Danielle Garofalo fielded question after question from Coldwell Banker Global Luxury® Property Specialists following her talk at the ENGAGE summit. The presentation – called “The Blockchain Broker” – covered everything from the blockchain to NFTs, crypto, and the metaverse and how these innovations are poised to disrupt the real estate industry.
“How is the blockchain going to affect me and my business?” They asked.
“What do I do next?”
“Is this really a thing?”
“Yes, it’s really a thing,” she answered with a grin.
For Garofalo, a crypto cheerleader who has been teaching social and digital marketing for over 10 years to agents, this moment feels like déjà-vu – as if she’s back in 2012 when the real estate industry finally caught the social media wave of Web 2.0. More recently, she has turned her attention to Web 3.0 (now simply called “Web3,” which envisions a new iteration of the World Wide Web that incorporates concepts such as decentralization, blockchain technologies, and token-based economics). In 2022, she and co-founder Jason Haber launched The Metaverse Institute, an education portal dedicated to helping real estate agents understand Web3.
“I remember when agents were asking the same questions about digital marketing and social media, history is about to repeat itself.”
To get more clarity on our Web3 future, we sat down with Garofalo to get her take on what’s next for the new technology, agent FOMO and what agents need to do now to get ready for doing blockchain business.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: First, what is a ‘Blockchain Broker’?
Danielle Garofalo: Blockchain broker is an agent that understands the power and impact that these decentralized networks will have on the real estate industry. The Blockchain Broker is ready to engage in business using all the tools based on the Metaverse and on Web3 platforms.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: What are the main ways you see the blockchain disrupting the real estate industry?
Danielle Garofalo: I have taught social and digital marketing to real estate agents for over 10 years. I remember when we were looking at the internet and social media as passing fads. Some people are looking at the blockchain the same way.
The blockchain is going to disrupt the industry in expected ways, but also in some surprising ways. Most expected is the way the industry will eventually be conducting transactions, and how transactions will be recorded. Title is the most obvious element that will be transformed. But there are going to be a lot of surprises too. I think we’re going to look back on this moment someday and realize, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that? That was so obvious.”
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: How far away do you think we are from the blockchain officially blowing up?
Danielle Garofalo: We hear people talking about Web3 like it’s five years out. But if you are really paying attention to what’s going on around us right now, I think it’s going to be much sooner than that. Major brands are already making big investments in the Metaverse. Walmart, Disney, Ralph Lauren, Microsoft, Amazon… the list goes on. Nike just acquired a digital fashion and 3D creation studio and released their first version of Nike Cryptokicks. Gucci and Louis Vuitton are selling digital merchandise. These things are happening now. For some reason, Web3 feels like it’s in this far off distant time, but we are much closer to it than we think. The only thing that’s slowing it down right now is the markets, because the markets are down. But over the next two years, in some way, Web3 is going to be part of our everyday lives.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: How do you envision this happening? Will it be a slow adoption or more of an explosion?
Danielle Garofalo: Every market will be different. Miami is already doing transactions in crypto. New York is difficult because of the local laws. As other markets will embrace it, it will eventually push other markets to join. It will be market-to-market.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: The real estate industry is notoriously slow to catch on to new technologies. Why do you think it’s important for today’s realtors to know about the blockchain?
Danielle Garofalo: It’s a two-fold answer. More businesses are going to be utilizing blockchain technology with increasing frequency, so you need to know how it functions. And it’s also going to impact your business the way that Web1 and Web2 did. Real estate was late to the party then. In 2012, when I started to work in real estate, agents were saying to me that they didn’t believe in social media. And I would say, “It’s happening whether you believe in it or not.” I know the blockchain can seem complicated, but sticking your head in the sand doesn’t make the technology go away. Your clients are going to know about it – especially the younger generations. This is the way the world is going. It’s better to learn and adopt it now, instead of ignoring it and playing catch up later. That’s why we started the Metaverse Institute. We are from the real estate industry, and we understand what agents need and how this is going affect them. You need to learn, and you need to be educated so you can be ready.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: A lot of the discussion around the blockchain in real estate is related to proof of ownership, or tokenized ownership. But there are other potential avenues of disruption, such as decentralizing the MLS. Can you walk us through how the blockchain might do this?
Danielle Garofalo: The blockchain makes data public, secure, and easily accessible. Transparency is good for the real estate industry. Remember when agents are the vanguards of information? Those days are gone. Information is out there, and it is up to the agent to adapt and do their business accordingly.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: It’s interesting to think about, especially when it comes to standardizing data and transparency internationally as many countries outside the U.S. do not have an MLS.
Danielle Garofalo: Yes. Transparency is the best part about all of this. Everything is in the public domain. There is no wondering. The information is all in front of you.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: Turning to the Metaverse, do you see virtual real estate ever intersecting with real-life real estate?
Danielle Garofalo: There is no doubt, virtual real estate is an emergent asset class. What version of land will be more valuable? Someone recently bought the land next to Snoop Dogg in the metaverse for $450,000. Will it be the most valuable piece of property, or will it go to zero? That’s going to be decided by market forces. It’s highly speculative at this point, and it will be that way for a while.
In a certain way, COVID was an accelerator for all of this. It changed the way we work and our lifestyles, so we got accustomed to never leaving our houses if we didn’t have to. The metaverse is going to become the new town square and gathering place. There are many ways that brokerages and developers can pair real estate in the metaverse with real-life real estate. What’s up in the air right now is which ideas will resonate with clients and become the next ‘must have’ feature. It’s going to be exciting to watch that develop.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: When you presented at ENGAGE what were real estate agents’ general reactions?
Danielle Garofalo: A lot of light bulbs were going off in the room. The vibe in the room was curious and excited because someone is finally saying: “It’s ok you don’t know, ask away. That’s why we’re here.” Over the last few years, one of the things I’ve noticed is the lack of patience people in the space have when asked a perfectly good question about crypto or NFTs. Like ‘this is so easy, why don’t you understand it?’ This baffles me because to make all these things work, we need increased adoption. In my opinion, that’s one of the reasons why adoption has been slow as well. No one wants to come across as foolish for not knowing, so they’re afraid to ask.
Agents were also looking for a direction. Some of them were asking things like, “Should I be specializing in De-Fi (decentralized finance)? Or NFTs?” I told them, “I’m not here to tell you what to specialize in, I’m here to educate you on the directions you can choose.” Their responses – and the overall response to The Metaverse Institute – has shown us we were 100% right in our assessment of what was needed. A judgement-free place to ask questions, to learn and acquire knowledge on a ton of different subjects so you can take that information and figure out how it’s going to work best for your business.
Coldwell Banker Global Luxury: For real estate agents, there always seems to be this underlying threat of going extinct whenever a new technology enters the picture. But that fear never really becomes a reality. What would you say to the person who says in five years or ten years, the agent won’t be needed anymore because of the blockchain (or insert new technology here)?
Danielle Garofalo: This question always comes up, whether it’s a new listing platform or the latest shake-up of a brokerage model. People are always putting an expiration date on the real estate profession. But all of these companies coming in to disrupt and change the model, eventually find out the same thing: The agent cannot be easily replaced. How agents do business and how the business comes to them is constantly evolving, but you cannot easily replace them as an advocate or trusted guide who is committed to getting their client the best deal. Artificial intelligence may help agents do their jobs faster, better, cheaper – but you cannot underestimate the value of human intelligence. A good agent knows more about the details of the history, and future of their market better than any algorithm ever will. I’ve always believed that technology is here to enhance the agent, not replace them. Real estate agents are going to be here for the long haul.
To sign up for a course at the Metaverse Institute, visit www.metaverse.io and use a special discount code: CB2022. Danielle Garofalo is a co-founder of The Metaverse Institute. She has spent 10+ years working with top agents, luxury real estate firms and Fortune 500 companies fine-tuning branding and building successful marketing campaigns. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her co-founder Jason Haber can also be reached at [email protected].