Michael Stephenson: Technology is giving power to the people when it comes to investing

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      By Michael Stephenson

      They called her Disaster Girl.

      In 2005, when Zoë Roth was four years old, her father took her to watch a controlled burn—a fire started intentionally to clear a property—in their neighbourhood in Mebane, North Carolina. Dave Roth took a picture of his daughter gazing at the camera with an inscrutable, mischievous smile on her face as a building burned down in the background.

      That photo took on a life of its own when it became a viral Internet meme. Last week, Zoë, now a university student, sold the photo at an auction as a non-fungible token, or NFT. The sale earned the erstwhile Disaster Girl the equivalent of US$500,000 in the cryptocurrency Ethereum. 

      That’s not a bad haul for a 21-year-old student. Fortunes are being made in the buying and selling of digital assets. This should come as no surprise as people around the world are turning to bitcoin and NFTs amid growing inflation concerns and booming real estate markets. Here in Canada, ever-rising costs—the national average home sale price posted a nonseasonally adjusted 31.6 percent year-over-year gain in March—have many young investors feeling as if they have been priced out of the market.

      Democratizing real estate investing

      If you take the narrowest possible view of what real estate ownership means, they’re right. In April, the benchmark price for all residential properties in Metro Vancouver was $1.15 million. While that’s certainly out of the reach of most millennials, it doesn’t mean would-be investors are shut out of the industry completely.

      I, along with my co-founders at addy, are democratizing real estate investing in the interest of creating a space with fewer barriers to entry, one in which everybody—not just the super rich—has the opportunity to get into the market and take part in the joy of ownership.

      We’ve tapped into the power of crowdfunding, enabling Canadians to invest in property for as little as $1. It can be as easy as reaching into your pocket and pulling out your phone. If you’re like most people in these unprecedented times, you do a big chunk of your shopping online, and maybe even all of your banking. You can now also use your smartphone to purchase shares in an apartment complex or mixed-use building that would otherwise not be available to you.

      In major real estate transactions, like the ones we provide access to, the barrier to entry is hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars, making it next to impossible for ordinary investors to join in. Further, even if one did have the capital, it’s generally too cumbersome and costly for the lead on these deals to manage tons of investors, so they generally just stick to their usual investor base. However, through the addy platform, we not only enable thousands of investors to invest together in deals, we make managing thousands of investors easy.

      Last month—at the touch of a button—addy sent 833 investors across B.C. the first of what will be quarterly distributions from their investment in a building that hosts a 2,100-sq ft. Starbucks location at Yale and Airport Road in Chilliwack. It was completed in minutes.

      Invest in the communities you love

      Exciting things are happening in Vancouver. As we slowly emerge from the long shadow of COVID-19, downtown could get a lot more vibrant this summer, if one city councillor’s ideas find favour. Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung has proposed closing select streets, including the Granville Entertainment District, to vehicle traffic. Kirby-Yung’s ideas—which she plans to present to council on May 18—include expanding patio spaces for businesses, bringing in live music, and allowing farmers markets and craft markets to set up shop.

      We’ve built addy to enable people to invest in the communities they love and want to directly support. I’m excited at the prospect of a revitalized Granville Entertainment District and we’re glad that the next addy property, the Lex—a mixed-use building on the 1200 block of Granville Street—will give Vancouverites the opportunity to own a piece of the future of Granville Street, for an amount that fits their budget.

      Access to real estate for many young people doesn’t need to feel like an impossible dream. Through addy, they could be reaping the financial rewards that property owners have come to enjoy—and have a few bucks to spare to invest in an NBA Top Shot.