By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A prominent realtor yesterday warned the Bahamas to prepare for Bitcoin and other digital currencies, describing it as a potential "game changer" for conducting real estate deals.
Mario Carey, principal of Better Homes and Gardens MCR Bahamas, told Tribune Business that his firm had already been analysing how it could facilitate Bahamian property purchases made via cryptocurrency. "We now have to see if we can use Bitcoin to do deals down here," he said. "We have people trying to facilitate that ability. We're trying to figure out how to do cryptocurrency transactions with certain clients. "Once we get facilities in place it's a game changer. It's a paradigm shift in the way we do business. At some point we'd better be ready for the cryptocurrency."
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are a form of digital money which, using the Internet, are designed to provide a secure and anonymous form of payment for numerous types of transaction.
While Bitcoin has produced tremendous volatility in global markets in recent weeks, Mr Carey said he and his firm were already in discussions to determine how they could handle cryptocurrency deals.
"We've been in discussions with different suppliers and lawyers on how we'd be able to handle that," he told Tribune Business. "Cryptocurrency should definitely be in the discussion in the real estate industry. It's there. It's real."
Mr Carey warned that the Bahamas may also have to adjust its laws and regulatory regime to account for Bitcoin and its fellow cryptocurrencies, warning that their arrival could prompt a shake-up where exchange control and taxation - and the Government's collection of the latter - were concerned.
"When we do cryptocurrency transactions, does that mean we're still charging Stamp Duty [on real estate purchases]?" he asked. "I guess so. How is the Government going to regulate that? What changes does it mean for the way we do business now?
"The cost should be the same. It's the manner in which payment is made that could be a lot easier, where you're not having to rely on exchange control and wire transfers. Whatever questions come up with regard to cryptocurrency, they need to be looked at."
Mr Carey, meanwhile, expressed optimism that real estate would enjoy "a very good season" in 2018 due to improved confidence and growth in the US economy.
He added that the surging Wall Street stock market was enhancing Americans' wealth and providing them with the confidence, and capital, to invest in foreign second home markets such as the Bahamas.
The devastation inflicted by hurricanes Irma and Maria in the southern Caribbean was also driving real estate purchasers towards the Bahamas and other destinations that had not been impacted, Mr Carey said.
"Money is still affordable in US currency, and we're still an attractive place to business," he told Tribune Business. "We're still benefiting, unfortunately, because of the hurricane damage that was done.
"People view Nassau as not really being in the hurricane belt; New Providence itself and even the Bahamas in general. We're seen as a 'relatively safe' hurricane prospect, and the market is gaining momentum."
Mr Carey was backed by Mike Lightbourn, Coldwell Banker Lightbourn Realty's president, who told this newspaper: "We're optimistic for this year. What's encouraging to us is that the US economy seems to be getting stronger so farm and we follow them.
"If they continue to strengthen, that helps us, and we're going to benefit from it. If the US economy gets stronger, the Bahamian buyer market and the foreign buyer market will strengthen.
"In the real estate market, we expect a better 2018. Assuming natural catastrophe-type events don't happen, I think we should have a very strong year."