We're two decades into the 21st century and real estate transactions, at their core, are still as archaic as they have ever been. Any first time home or condo buyer will understand how ridiculous the process is - it's a process that involves:
The four steps to a real estate transaction, simplified a lot
In a general sense, the steps of a typical residential real estate transaction (or even a small retail real estate investment) are as follows:
Step 1 is easy, and Step 2 is relatively easy in practice in developed real estate markets like those in the United States and Canada. Step 1 is easy because the decision is binary, and only one party is involved (the buyer). The "buyer" might also include the buyer's family, but it's all one party when the binary decision needs to be made. Step 2 involves a real estate agent, but it's usually not overly complicated or unpleasant.
Unlike Step 1, Step 2 includes another person. But, this other person isn't truly an interested party to the agreement/transaction that's going to happen down the line. The real estate agent is simply someone helping the buyer with the process. A buyer's agent (as opposed to a seller's agent helping to sell the house) helps the buyer find a place while maintaining a responsibility to act in the buyer's best interests. You, in effect, have a knowledgeable real estate person in your corner -- that's what a buyer's agent is. It, therefore, makes a lot of sense that Step 2 isn't the bottleneck in the process – it's, in fact, the core part of the process itself; it's in Step 2 where the house buying actually takes place.
Once you pick a place, you need to fund the purchase somehow. If you've got the cash set aside, you can skip Step 3 and go directly to Step 4, which involves actually executing the transaction. If you skip Step 3, you also only have to contend with a 2-party sale instead of a 3-party transaction because the lender isn't in the picture.
For most of us, however, Step 3 is needed – we either don't have the money to buy a property outright, or we can't do such a thing more than once and need to use other people's money to obtain assets as we grow our real estate portfolios/businesses. In this case, we'll need a lender – this will almost surely add a ton of complexity to the process and prolong it.
Lender's due diligence adds a ton of complexity to real estate transactions
The primary reason using a lender adds so much complexity is because the lender faces a very significant amount of risk – they are giving you money to buy a house with most of the purchase being put up by them and only a small portion being put up by you (e.g., the down payment). With the lender financing 80% to close to 100% of the purchase price, they are exposed to significant credit risk and are prudent with not taking this lightly. A lender will require a ton of documentation from you so that they can perform the necessary due diligence to (1) understand, (2) mitigate, and/or (3) prevent unacceptable risks. These risks include the following:
All of these due diligence steps lenders take to provide themselves (and future buyers of the debt) with assurance over the quality of the credit risk they are taking on. This process can involve a lot of people – these may be people working at the actual firm lending the money and third-parties like appraisers, inspectors, insurance agents, and bankers.
If technology is to further assist in the real estate transaction process, it's in Step 3 where the most value can be added. An easier way for providing assurance over borrower quality and for determining title might help house buying and selling go a lot faster. If, for example, all property claims or titles were stored on a secure blockchain, title might be able to be ascertained far quicker than it is today.
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