March 28 (Bloomberg) -- Forsyth Real Estate, a Sydney-based property broker, will accept property deposits and payments from sellers in virtual currency Bitcoin to lure business from Chinese home buyers.
The realtor, which has one office in Willoughby, a suburb 8.5 kilometers (5.3 miles) north of Sydney’s center, this week became able to accept Bitcoin payments, according to spokeswoman Hayley Johnston. While it hasn’t yet taken deposits in the virtual currency, it expects to soon, she said.
The broker is Australia’s first property agency to accept Bitcoin, the most popular digital currency, to respond to an influx of foreign investors and expatriates seeking property in the nation’s most populous city, according to its website. Chinese buyers overtook their U.S. counterparts to become the biggest real estate investors in Australia in the year ended June 30, plowing A$5.9 billion ($5.5 billion) into residential and commercial property, according to the nation’s Foreign Investment Review Board.
“We’re trying to be proactive and innovative, and we do have an influx of international investors and expatriates,” Johnston said. “It’s cheaper and easier because it takes out the middle man, takes out the fees and charges” associated with more traditional forms of payment like bank transfers, she said.
Forsyth will accept the payments through Melbourne-based Bitcoin exchange CoinJar Pty, Johnston said. CoinJar has handled more than A$30 million in Bitcoin transactions from 20,000 local users since it was founded in May 2013, according to Chief Executive Officer Asher Tan.
Some 7 percent of the population of the Willoughby council area, where Forsyth is based, was born in China, according to the 2011 census, more than double the proportion of greater Sydney. About half of Forsyth’s purchasers of new properties are from China, according to the company’s senior sales consultant Jane Li.
The exchange calculates payments in real time so Forsyth receives the correct amount in the local currency, according to the property broker’s website. The transactions, subject to a 0.5 percent exchange fee paid by those making the payments, are still subject to Australian taxes, Johnston said.
Bitcoin was introduced in 2008 by a programmer or group of programmers under the name Satoshi Nakamoto and has since gained traction with merchants around the world. Bitcoins have no central issuing authority and use a public ledger to verify transactions.
Forsyth’s offering comes as digital currencies come under scrutiny in markets from China to Russia and the U.S., with some regulators calling for bans or limits on their use. The Chinese central bank barred financial institutions from handling Bitcoin transactions in December to limit attempts to launder money and evade capital controls.
Bitcoin has been hard hit since Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest, halted withdrawals on Feb. 7, sending prices tumbling more than 8 percent. The exchange filed for bankruptcy weeks later after about $470 million in Bitcoins belonging to its customers and the firm disappeared from its registries.
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