NAR’s Research into Blockchain

Blockchain Real Estate
CRT Labs was launched in August 2015 with the purpose of educating the REALTOR® membership about emerging technologies that could have a potential impact on the real estate industry. Since then, we have strongly advocated for proper security and privacy in today’s smart home, developed fantastic educational material for REALTORS®, and designed innovative and affordable solutions for monitoring indoor air quality.

Today, we are excited to be discussing blockchains, which we feel have countless applications for use in our industry. The purpose of this blog post is to give a basic explanation of what blockchains are, how they differ from traditional database models, and to provide an update on NAR’s research.

What Are Blockchains?

Blockchains are digital ledgers that are shared among a distributed network of computers and interested parties. These digital ledgers are permanent and tamper-proof because the underlying technology allows each participant on the network to interact with the ledger in a secure way without the need for a central administrator.

While that might sound complex and a bit difficult to understand, the basic idea behind blockchains is actually pretty straight forward.

Simply put, blockchains provide a verifiable, trustworthy record of events or transactions.

This digital record of events, or ledger, maintains a continuing growing list of ordered entries called blocks. Each block is linked to the next in chronological order and contains cryptographically secured information that links it to the previous block (like a chain). This allows for information to be added to the ledger in a manner that is impossible to alter retroactively.

What Are the Benefits to Blockchains?

Beyond the fact that they are tamper-proof by design, there are many other advantages to using blockchains instead of traditional databases in your applications.

Some of the key benefits:

  • Each participant retains its own copy of transactions, as ledgers are not centralized and can not be controlled or altered by a single party.
  • Blockchains allow for smart contracts, meaning the ledger itself can be programmed to trigger transactions automatically based on predefined, software-based clauses.
  • Decentralization of the data removes any single point of failure.

These benefits are often overlooked due to skepticism surrounding early blockchain applications involving digital currencies like Bitcoin. Although Bitcoin is the most successful example of a blockchain application, it is important to not equate the two.

Bitcoin uses blockchain technology, but Blockchains ≠ Bitcoin.

Why Is NAR Focusing on Blockchain Research?

Personally, I believe blockchain has the potential to be one the most impactful technologies of the next few decades.  I also predict we will begin to see more and more blockchain-based applications enter the mainstream real estate industry in next few years. After financial tech and supply chain management, the real estate market will be the target for entrepreneurs trying to disrupt traditional business models.

CRT Labs believes that smart contracts could greatly reduce the cost of doing business. The automated checks and balances these smart contracts provide will help REALTORS® and their clients get to the closing table faster and with less risk involved. We are also beginning to see the public sector getting involved. Chicago’s Cook County is testing Blockchain-Based Property Title Transfer which could help protect rights to property ownership records.

NAR’s short term goals are to create practical, open source blockchain applications that highlight the positive aspects of the technology that can also be used as case studies by our industry partners. Our first project uses blockchain to provide an improved method of sharing membership engagement levels (committee service, education history, CE Tracking) across all local, state, and national levels of the association. We are hoping that this initial work will help lay the groundwork for adoption of more high-impact projects in the future.

NAR’s Progress To Date

Since September 2015, NAR and CRT labs have:

  • met with NAR committees, advisory boards, and industry partners on over twenty occasions to discuss the potential of this new technology
  • published two white papers  ( 1, 2 )
  • released the source code for the prototype that what will soon become our membership engagement tracker.

Going Forward

Over the next  few months, I will be speaking at three conferences on this topic:

CRT Labs and NAR also plan to continue developing and sharing practical blockchain solutions.


NAR Resources

White Papers:

Projects:

Previous Posts:

External Resources

Blockchain Solutions:

The Long Road Around The Weather Underground

The year is 2013, I’ve bought a small vacation house in western Michigan, in the country, way out in the country. Western Michigan gets a lot of snow in the winter, or at least it used to. We haven’t had much snow the last 2 years, but that’s not the point. Weather can make or break a weekend away, so knowing what’s going on in the area, weather wise, is really helpful.

Being an engineer and programmer I really wanted to be able to automate systems around the house and track the weather patterns over time. There are certain websites that will give you access to this data, some charge a nominal fee, others not so nominal, and others offer that data for free with limited access. Free sounded really good, especially after buying a house, but limited access wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted access to the data as often as I needed, and near real-time. Also, for a reliable system, this would require extremely reliable internet, and my internet connection at the house is anything but reliable.

This led me down a very long path to finding reliable sensors that allowed local access to the data, outside of a simple display. After a few searches on the internet I found myself at Ambient Weather. This is a great site for everything weather related, most of their offerings are around a basic weather display, but they also sell some kits that are WiFi enabled. In general the the WiFi systems use their connectivity to send data to Weather Underground, which is one of those free but limited sites I mentioned before. Wunderground is a great community of weather enthusiasts who install their own sensor arrays and push data to “the cloud” aka Wunderground’s servers. Developers can get access to this data using the Wunderground API, which I’ve used many time before on less intensive projects.

This is great, but again my access would be limited. I needed reliable real-time data if I wanted to integrate it into an automation system. I knew the sensor arrays had radios to transmit their data to the base stations, but intercepting and decoding that data was a bit beyond my skillset at the time. Although I did pick up a SDR to attempt it, with little success.

Long story short, I ended up purchasing this system WS-1001 WiFi Observer. It has a decent sensor array and is very reliable, but I was stuck with using the Wunderground API for data access. It worked great for tracking weather patterns, but the automation system would have to wait.

Fast-forward almost 3 years, I started working at NAR in the R&D Lab. We have a mission to improve quality of life for homeowners and educate our membership on the coming technology shifts in real estate. Smart Homes and home automation were on the rise, and members wanted and needed to know more about the benefits and pitfalls of a connected home. My previous work on local automation really shined when it came to the security concerns of a connected home. With little to no internet required, the attack vector was extremely small, someone would need physical access to the network to do any real damage. The search began again, with vigor, for local weather data. Luckily other people with far more skills in reverse engineering RF had been busy building software and hardware to address my concerns.

Ambient Weather had sold a device to do exactly what I needed, the Airbridge Receiver, it was out-of-stock and pretty expensive, but it actually works with the exact sensor array I have and the more expensive Davis Instruments systems. I was eventually able to track down the producer of the receiver, SmartBedded, they market the receiver as the MeteoStick. I went ahead and purchased a few sticks as well as the individual sensor arrays that I’d had great success with over the last 3 years. A few weeks later all the components had arrived, I put together the sensor array and plugged in the meteostick, and holy crap, I had real-time weather data streaming into my laptop with no internet required!

Grafana Weather Dashboard

Grafana Weather Dashboard

We’ve since gone on to build out a whole system for monitoring the health of buildings, including our own IEQ sensors as well integration with smart meters for monitoring energy consumption. We call the system Rosetta Home. I’ll be giving a talk about the system at a technical conference at the end of March. We’re also working with several non-profit organizations that are doing work with residential energy retrofits.