Of course, virtual real estate brokers are not new; Second Life, over the 18+ years of its existence, has had dozens and dozens of companies who buy, subdivide, and sell virtual land for your home or business use. In fact, that’s how the first person to earn a million dollars (U.S.) in Second Life made her fortune! Anshe Chung even had her avatar featured on the May 2006 cover of BusinessWeek magazine (see image, right), an event which sparked a boom period for Second Life, as many people and companies piled on, lured by the opportunity to make some money.
And the newer, much-hyped blockchain-based virtual worlds are going through a similar boom at present, with a predictable result: the rise of the real estate agent who specializes in selling land on the blockchain to individuals and companies!
Among the pioneers in this rapidly-evolving market are Metaverse Property, which was established by the Canadian cryptocurrency entrepreneurs Michael Gord and Jason Cassidy. They describe their service as follows:
The Metaverse Group is a leading virtual real estate company offering exposure to this burgeoning industry via the Metaverses. We facilitate the acquisition of virtual property along with a suite of virtual real estate centric services that are provided by pioneers of the crypto, blockchain and non-fungible token (NFT) industries.
We currently offer (or plan to offer) the following services to help you enter and engage in the metaverse:
• Buying and selling of virtual real estate across the Metaverses
• Development of virtual land (we help bring your dream to life)
• Expert level consulting for all major metaverses
• Finding a rental within the metaverses to fit any need
• Property management of existing real estate
• Marketing and advertising your business in the metaverse
At press time, Metaverse Properties is brokering the sale of NFT-based virtual real estate in Decentraland and Somnium Space (both of which have already launched), and The Sandbox (which recently completed a first, closed alpha test, and is expected to launch later this year):
And even some real-life real estate brokers are jumping on the bandwagon. Kim Velsey wrote in New York magazine last month:
Tal and Oren Alexander, the brothers who became famous for closing megadeals in their early 20s then moved onto the biggest deals ever in their early 30s — they represented Ken Griffin when he bought that record-setting $238 million penthouse at 220 Central Park South in 2019 — recently announced that they’ll be developing and selling luxury real estate in the metaverse…
The brothers have formed a partnership with Republic Realm, a metaverse developer that recently paid $4.3 million for virtual property in the Sandbox, one of the more popular metaverses. (It also owns a 259-parcel virtual estate in Decentraland that it bought for about $900,000.) “We want to just focus on trophy properties in the various metaverses,” Alexander told the Real Deal. This will take the form, according to Republic Realm, of an “architecturally significant master-planned community.” Which sounds a little (or very?) depressing.
Real estate has always been about status and shelter, skewing increasingly toward the former as one moves up the economic ladder. Speculators like Republic Realm and the Alexanders are banking (literally) on the fact that you can take the shelter piece out of the real-estate equation altogether, leaving just speculation and status.
Kim raises an important point about all this speculation in blockchain-based virtual real estate, which is all about artificially-induced scarcity: that it’s a luxury item, a status item, something to give you (or your company) bragging rights. Real-world real estate agents like the Alexanders wouldn’t give a toss about the metaverse unless they smelled an opportunity to make money.
As I have written before, we’ve already seen the rise and subsequent fall (circa 2006 to 2008) of Second Life, when everybody and their dog trooped in, set up shop, then just as quickly trooped out a year or two later, when they realized that the money-making opportunities were just not what they had hoped for. It takes more than just setting up a virtual version of your brand to make money in the metaverse!
And, while the current signs for the blockchain-based social VR platforms and flat-screen virtual worlds certainly do look very promising, it still remains to be seen whether all this excitement will translate to the average, non-crypto consumer. All the people and companies who are currently investing in virtual real estate in Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, Somnium Space, and other NFT-based real estate won’t have a problem attracting the blockchain enthusiasts, the crypto bros (and women, and those who identify as non-binary).
They will, however, also have to entice Joe and Jane Average Consumer to pay a visit, set up a wallet and an avatar, obtain and spend cryptocurrency, and stick around long enough to help build a strong community. And that’s going to be a much harder sell.
We could see a repeat of what happened in Second Life, as companies realized that they were spending a lot of money on something that wasn’t helping their bottom line, and then largely pulled out. Or we could see great success, who knows? (God knows my track record at making predictions on this blog is absolutely abysmal. I once infamously predicted that Cryptovoxels would fail miserably, and they have been going from strength to strength! I also predicted that Virtual Universe would be a hit, only to have it fold. So, meh, what do I know??!?)
But I do find it amusing how so many people are breathlessly talking about the metaverse like it’s some new thing, as if the non-blockchain-based virtual worlds and virtual worlds never existed for them. Half the time now, when I click on an article talking about the metaverse, all it talks about are NFT-based virtual real estate. There’s just so much more out there, and I believe it’s important to take a broader view of all this, especially in the current hype cycle of all things metaverse.
So, to answer the question in my admittedly click-bait blogpost title: are virtual real estate agents a trend or a fad? I would argue, based on my 14+ years of experience in Second Life, that they are an already-established trend worth watching. I think that there is a possibility that in the future, real estate agents will buy, sell, and trade virtual properties, acting as brokers for individual and corporate customers who don’t want to fuss with their purchasing experience on OpenSea and other NFT marketplaces, and are willing to pay to have somebody advise and navigate them through all the fussy details of owning a piece of the metaverse.