The real estate listing reads like your typical Bay Area condo – a tidy, two-bedroom, one-bathroom, with upgraded appliances, granite countertops and just a 10-minute bike ride to Google headquarters and downtown Mountain View.

But the Silicon Valley seller and agent added a sweetener for the crypto-savvy: Bring your offers in bitcoin, Ethereum or other virtual currency and we’re willing to consider a deal.

“It’s not as difficult as it may seem,” said real estate agent Greg Bryant, who listed the property for his client, a tech professional. “Sellers should be less afraid.”

Realtor Greg Bryant is seen in the reflection of a mirror as he gives this news organization a tour of his client’s condo in Mountain View, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Cryptocurrency — gaining popularity with investors, venture capitalists and, more slowly, traditional banks — may be starting to play a small role in Bay Area real estate. But real estate sales done entirely in cryptocurrency remain extremely rare. Several Bay Area agents surveyed reported no recent crypto deals and spokespersons for online brokers Zillow and Redfin report almost no instances of crypto being used to market properties.

Cryptocurrencies are a form of digital payment not backed by a government or central bank. The currency is “mined” by computers, and can be used to buy and sell goods, or be traded online.

Yet more buyers may be investing in the notoriously volatile cryptocurrencies to help quickly build wealth for a down payment.  A Redfin survey in December found nearly 12% of first-time homebuyers planned to sell cryptocurrency to help finance a purchase. The number of first-time buyers turning to crypto investments has grown from 5% in 2019 to 9% in 2020, according to previous Redfin surveys.

“The market is very tough for first-time homebuyers,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. These buyers, she said, “use crypto as a way to break into the middle class and upper-middle class.”

With the median price of a Bay Area single-family home now exceeding $1 million, it’s a stretch for many young couples to save $200,000 to even compete in the nation’s most expensive real estate market.

Still, the volatile cryptocurrency market can make or ruin a fortune quickly. Bitcoin, for example, saw its value swing between $34,000 and $65,000 last year, and Ethereum has ranged from about $1,400 to $4,800.

Fairweather said there are less risky ways for homebuyers to get into the market, including government-backed programs that help new buyers without requiring a standard 20% down payment. “For most people,” she said, “they should avoid the risk.”

But some are willing to embrace the risks and use real estate as a way to convert virtual currency into tangible property. Agents say some legal structures can help buyers defer taxes on crypto gains.

Los Angeles agent Piper Moretti did her first crypto transaction five years ago. The idea was so new, she researched to see if any other California agents had done similar deals. She found just one, the $1.6 million sale of a Lake Tahoe property in 2014 to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Moretti’s first crypto client had substantial investments in virtual currencies. But, she said, “the seller didn’t want to take crypto.” Her client converted the virtual currency into cash, much like selling stock or other equities, allowing the sale to go forward.

Moretti has done five sales involving crypto, mostly in Southern California and in the Caribbean.

Some lenders are willing to make short-term loans backed by crypto, she said. However, most are reluctant to view crypto as collateral for a loan. They want the currency converted into cash before approving a loan, and then go through another financial review and waiting period, she said. Often, the additional financing and regulatory steps involved in a cryptocurrency deal can take weeks or months – time that can scuttle a deal in fast-paced and competitive California markets.

“The process itself is really clunky,” she said. “There’s all this new-found wealth (but) it’s volatile.”

Still, Moretti believes it is becoming easier as lenders grow more comfortable counting virtual currency as part of a borrower’s assets. Attitudes about virtual currency have brightened, she said, from being a niche market for speculators to more general acceptance.

Bryant hopes Silicon Valley is willing to embrace the concept for the 990-square-foot condo not far from the shops and restaurants on Castro Street. The first-floor unit comes with small front and back yards and is a short walk from the community’s pool.

An interior view of a 2-bedroom condo for sale in Mountain View is seen on Jan. 19, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Bryant’s client, who declined to be interviewed, bought the property a few years ago, and recently bought a bigger two-bedroom condo in San Francisco with crypto. They converted the crypto to cash for the San Francisco purchase, Bryant said.

When it came to selling the old unit, Bryant and the client agreed to entertain crypto offers. They’re hoping it will drive up interest – and the final price of the condo, Bryant said. The seller expects to start taking offers in a couple of weeks.

Bryant has worked with lawyers to set up a legal structure that would allow a buyer to defer taxes on crypto investment gains, he said.

Buyers and sellers should start to consider crypto, Bryant said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

An interior view of a 2-bedroom condo for sale in Mountain View is seen on Jan. 19, 2022.  (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

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