Smart Contracts, Property Management, and Blockchain

 

Property ownership is seen as providing economic security and social status in most societies. It is thus incumbent on every society to provide a legally secure process for property purchase and management. The processes enabling property purchase are an embedded part of the society via its history and culture, and are thus different country by country. In the case of populous countries like India, this process will even be different from state to state. Bringing uniformity to this process with a concomitant introduction of a single source (digitised) documentation of a property is no small matter. There are many hurdles on the way to achieving a solution to this problem.

Blockchain as a solution has been waiting in the wings for a problem, but in the case of property management, the solution and the problem are an excellent fit. Of course there is a caveat, property management is neither an easy problem nor blockchain an easy solution. It is a long haul from problem analysis, to proof-of-concept, to prototype, and finally to production. This particular problem impacts an entire society, and thus involves legal and many government bodies. Transparency and good governance will only achieved with their cooperation, input, and involvement.

  • A smart contract represents a Digital Autonomous Organisation (DAO). In the specific case we are considering a DAO can be mapped to a (or a group of) property registration office(s). But, more than that the smart contract represents the process of property purchase represented as a state machine. As such its design can be easily compromised by deficient understanding of the process behind property purchase.
  • From a technical perspective a smart contract is an executable piece of code. It looks very similar to a class definition. Below is a a very rudimentary example, only for the purpose of illustrating some of its features.
contract Flatowners {
Flatowner[] public flatowners;
struct Flatowner {
bytes32 firstName;
bytes32 lastName;
uint aadhar;
}

function addFlatowner(bytes32 _firstName, bytes32 _lastName, uint _aadhar) returns (bool success) {

Flatowner memory newFlatowner;
newFlatowner.firstName = _firstName;
newFlatowner.lastName = _lastName;
newFlatowner.aadhar = _aadhar;
flatowners.push(newFlatowner);
return true;
}

function getFlatowners() constant returns (bytes32[], bytes32[], uint[]) {

uint length = flatowners.length;
bytes32[] memory firstNames = new bytes32[](length);
bytes32[] memory lastNames = new bytes32[](length);
uint[] memory aadhars = new uint[](length);

for (uint i = 0; i < flatowners.length; i++) {
Flatowner memory currentFlatowner;
currentFlatowner = flatowners[i];
firstNames[i] = currentFlatowner.firstName;
lastNames[i] = currentFlatowner.lastName;
aadhars[i] = currentFlatowner.aadhar;
}

return (firstNames, lastNames, aadhars);
}
}
  • All methods that change the state of the underlying contract will expend gas. This is the cost associated with the method execution. How this can be monetised is a issue that needs resolution.

Among the many other issues that need to be resolved before embarking on this are the following,

  • Much of the initial thinking for this was based on Ethereum and their implementation of smart contract using solidity. Ethereums vision would suggest that they wish to rule the world, fencing your blockchain from the rest of the Ethereum network may be necessary.
  • Who bears the compute cost? If the execution model is one of public and private partnership, the answer may be obvious, for a purely public enterprise the compute cost impact has to be evaluated. This is the equivalent of the bitcoin miner.
  • There has to be a guaranteed benefit to the public. No multiple sales of the same property, that is, all property sales have to be through this system. The system should provide a list of all prior owners of a property. The system will be the single source of all documentation regarding any property.
  • There has to be the same legal empowerment of the digital documents as there is with the current physical documents of a property.

Conclusion

These are some early thoughts following preliminary discussions focused solely on the Indian property market. There are many more challenges of varying degrees of difficulty that have to be addressed. The scale of the task for implementation is extremely onerous, considering the government bodies that have to use and manage the system for the public. But, for all the negatives the longterm benefits of smart document and blockchain are unquestionable.

About KM Mukku

Kick-start, build and manage teams in product development (particularly in the financial domain), and enjoy all in adaptive case management, business process design and business process improvement. Currently holding the position of CTO at coMakeIT.
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