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Impact of Self-Sovereign Identity in Real Estate

With SSI, landlords can comply with GDPR and lower their exposure to data breaches because tenants are in control of their data.

The last few years have put the spotlight on online privacy and security, driven in part by frequent data breaches coupled with the users’ growing innate need to own and protect their data and identity.

In turn, it has led to the development of an approach called Self-Sovereign Identity that addresses the issue of “establishing trust” within interaction by empowering people to own their data and also determine where information is stored and with whom it is shared.

Despite being a relatively new philosophy, interest in SSI has been rapid across industries.

One sector where SSI is expected to have far-reaching implications is the real estate industry, as it has the potential to bring in a lot of transparency and trust among the stakeholders.

So, how does SSI fit into this traditional real-estate sector?

We asked Katrie Lowe, the CEO and Co-founder of Domi Labs, a company that specializes in issuing rental passports using verifiable credentials.

Here are the excerpts.

COVID has created new opportunities and challenges in the real estate industry. Can SSI address them?

Absolutely, yes!

COVID has enabled flexible work options that can take us to new places around the world. But, finding a place to rent in a new city may not be enjoyable, as you’ll have to navigate through different properties and neighborhoods, understand the prevailing tenancy laws, and maybe even work through the biases of landlords and property managers.

This is where SSI fits, as it can create trust regarding a tenant’s rental capacity, and in the process, reduce the bias.

Let’s understand this with an example. Let’s say, Lisa is an individual who decides to move to Berlin from Chicago to find a job. In the traditional setup, it’s difficult for Lisa to find a place because she can’t give any rental references in Berlin that a potential landlord can verify. She doesn’t have a job, so there’s a question of how she’s going to pay the rent.

With SSI, she can show her potential landlord that she has not missed even a single rental payment in the past, even though she had lived in a different country. Also, she can show her education credentials and working experience to prove that she is qualified enough to quickly find a job in Berlin.

This creates a sense of trust in the landlord, thereby helping tenants to find rentals easily.

Do you think SSI is a gamechanger in the real-estate industry? If yes, why?

Real estate is one of the sectors that has not completely embraced digitalization, and this means, there’s a lot of potential to bring about change in this sector.

Currently, digital means sending documents such as payslips and past rental agreements in PDF format by email. In this new age of digital identity and verifiable credentials, there’s so much more that can be done such as identifying tenants with confidence based on verified information and being able to make informed decisions about tenant selection.

And this is where SSI will be a gamechanger.

Further, landlords can confidently comply with GDPR and lower their exposure to risks associated with data breaches and hacks, because they have adopted a solution where tenants are in control of their own data.

In fact, using verifiable credentials to check a potential tenant’s rental history is the first step. Soon, it can spill on to property management, property buying, and other aspects of real estate as well.

How can SSI address some of the urban housing challenges such as liveability?

Though sustainability and liveability can mean different things in different cities, there’s no doubt that every city must help its people to thrive day after day.

Housing is an important part of everyday life because good housing can enhance the quality of life and make living a lot less stressful. It can allow you to focus on other aspects of your life as well.

SSI brings about transparency in the housing market and removes frictions in finding a house. More importantly, the tenant’s documents that contain his/her PII can be shared safely and securely.

Another aspect is that there isn’t a lot of data around housing now. SSI provides the opportunity for rental data to be shared anonymously, so that at a city level better policy decisions can be made, developers can better understand market needs, and citizens can be more informed about, and active in, conversations around housing.

All these together can enhance the quality of life in a city.

How do you envisage the future of SSI in the real estate space?

At this point, there is a lot of hesitancy to adopt digitization in the real estate market. But that is changing as COVID has necessitated a push towards digital adoption.

Further, there is a considerable effort going at the highest national levels to create more awareness about digital identity, and overall, the next 3–5 years are expected to be big for SSI.

As more people take up flexible working opportunities and travel for new experiences, SSI gives them a secure way to prove their financial capabilities and rental histories across countries.

Leaders in the financial and government sectors are already testing out SSI and there’s such an opportunity for real estate to be bold, take advantage and be a frontrunner.

Note: opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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