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NEWS BITES

1. Virtually Lucrative

They have a bridge to sell you: a virtual one, that is. Digital assets are all the rage, as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have proven. The next space for expansion? Virtual property on platforms like Decentraland, a multiplayer metaverse that calls itself the “first fully decentralized world” built on the Ethereum blockchain, can be bid on and bought using cryptocurrency. With its total parcels capped at 90,000, Decentraland is incorporating the same scarcity model that helped Bitcoin rocket to the high valuations it sees today. With the ability to transform plots to everything from casinos and art galleries to music venues, some users are already seeing returns on their investments: Land sold in Decentraland for $500 in 2019 was reportedly trading for over $7,860 in early April.

2. Almost Heaven?

Once known for its cramped coal camps, rural West Virginia is blooming as an Airbnb hot spot. A recent redesignation of the stunning New River Gorge as a national park and preserve has led to an explosion of interest from outside buyers in southern West Virginia. Small residential homes once used as squat housing for coal workers are now being swallowed up and converted into Airbnb rentals, leaving fewer options for locals. “In the past, you might have had to wait a while for a house [to come up on the market], but you could always find something,” Haynes Mansfield, who works at a local adventure resort, told OZY. But these days, folks like Mansfield are being approached by strangers asking if they can buy their houses outright — before they hit the market.

3. Sight Unseen

COVID was expected to zap profits for algorithm-powered real estate sites, but the pandemic has made buying sight unseen palatable, leading to a surge in sales everywhere from Salt Lake City to Atlanta. In recent years, sites like Zillow and venture-funded upstarts such as Opendoor and Offerpad have tried to ax the middleman, while owning the entire homebuying process. They’re buying properties themselves to flip — and offering their own agents and lenders. The pandemic accelerated those trends by making buyers more comfortable with virtual video tours and other remote services. That’s bad news for local brokers and private agents, who grouse that the upstarts provide subpar services compared to them. Zillow could soon dominate real estate the way Amazon dominated the online book marketplace … before it conquered the world of e-commerce itself.

4. Isles of COVID

When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey banned Donald Trump from his platform, he might have done so while wearing flip-flops. He was, after all, vacationing on a French Polynesian island — and he was far from alone. Island communities opened themselves up to a number of billionaires seeking isolation from a disease-ridden world. In June, Fiji’s attorney general relayed how 30 people from a “well-known company” — believed to be Google, considering its co-founder Larry Page was seen there on his $45 million yacht — would spend three months on one of the archipelago’s islands. As of January, at least 95 boats had entered Fiji through its “Blue Lanes” program allowing free entrance to passengers with negative COVID tests.

5. Seoul Searching

While much of the world wonders whether high-rise offices are a thing of the past — thanks to shuttered workplaces and empty malls — South Korea is seeing a business real estate boom. Transaction volumes in Seoul have hit all-time highs despite weakened global investment and last year’s shrinking economy. Why? Demand for logistics facilities and office space in the greater Seoul region spiked as South Korea largely contained the virus — with just 107,000 cases in a nation of 52 million (similarly sized Colombia, by comparison, recorded more than 2.6 million cases). Will other countries experience an appetite for office life once their outbreaks have been contained?

6. Senior Living

Retirement homes were devastated by the pandemic, leaving more than 182,000 residents and staff dead in America alone — a number that exceeds total COVID deaths in all but four countries. While one might assume that would lead to seniors fleeing elderly living hubs, that’s not the case in India. This week’s deadly COVID spike in the country is sure to slow things, at least temporarily, but Indian customers, up till now, have still been keen to access on-site assistance and health care, industry leaders say. “We have already sold one-third of our inventory after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out,” Tara Singh Vachani of Antara Senior Living told the Indo-Asian News Service. “In Dehradun as well, where we had already sold 70 percent of the inventory, both [inquiries] and sales have risen.”

7. He’s Grabbing a Pitchfork

Once the world’s richest man, Bill Gates is now the largest owner of farmland in the United States. Even as he gives much of his wealth to charity, Farmer Bill is gobbling up new land assets. From Louisiana to Arkansas and his home state of Washington, Gates has built an empire with about 242,000 acres of American farmland, according to The Land Report. He even coughed up a reported $171 million for a 14,500-acre plot in the idyllically named Horse Heaven Hills region, not far from Microsoft’s headquarters. When asked why on Reddit, Gates said his investment group had chosen the investments but cited seed science and biofuel development as major drivers.


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