Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency are ultra-trendy among investors, speculators and others who dream of making a quick fortune. But they're also becoming increasingly mainstream, especially among the super-rich, as illustrated by what appears to be a first for the luxury-home market in Aspen.
One seller with a spectacular property in the exclusive Starwood development has announced that interested buyers can pay for it using the digital asset, which is secured using cryptography.
Cryptocurrency "has been a phenomenon in the area," says Erik Berg, a real estate adviser with Engel & Völkers Aspen who's handling the property with colleague Tracy Lofgren. "Aspen has a lot of sophisticated clients."
The price for 498 South Starwood Drive, a six-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 6,270-square-foot mountain hideaway, is set at $5,350,000, or around 600 bitcoin at the present rate. Bitcoin recently slipped under $8,500 apiece after going for more than twice that amount (nearly $18,000 per) as recently as December.
Here's the Engel & Völkers Aspen description of the place: "Absolutely stunning views in Starwood! Gaze out at all four ski mountains — and beyond — from this bright and light Starwood property. Visual delights and dazzling views from the updated living room space; wet bar off living room make relaxing a breeze! Evening dinner on the spacious deck while luminous stars shine above make for effortless entertaining. Five bedrooms en suite — plus bonus nanny/kids play room. Brand-new furniture, bedding and flat-screens in each room. Master bath with skylights and sunken tub will make your life quite heavenly! You will appreciate the beauty, quiet, space and privacy of Starwood."
These qualities are highlighted in the following video:
Lofgren acknowledges that before she and Berg began working with the home's seller, who has asked to remain anonymous, she knew "very little" about cryptocurrency.
"I'd heard friends talk about it and their experiences, and how it's hot and how they're making money off it," Lofgren says. "But then this happened — and I've learned a lot since."
Berg compares cryptocurrency to "some of the things that were happening in the dot.com era. There was a lot of hype and a lot of people were making money. Then the correction hit, and a lot of companies went away, but a few made it. It's going to be the same with cryptocurrency. You only hear about a few biggies" — beyond bitcoin, other prominent examples include Ontology and Ethos — "but the reality is, there are tons of them, and there's been so much wealth created. And I feel if there's going to be a correction, a lot of them will go away, but some won't."
In his view, the appeal of cryptocurrency is obvious "when you look at what's going on with currencies around the world, a lot of which are terrible. If you talk to accountants and tax attorneys and those kinds of people, you can really understand the benefits of it. And in the last year, give or take, some of these currencies have gone up ten or fifteen thousand percent. Those are staggering numbers."
Such digits even get the attention of people who can afford to live in Starwood, Aspen's only gated community. Its most famous past resident, singer-songwriter John Denver, actually wrote a song about it ("Starwood in Aspen"), and among the billionaires with a place there at present are Robert, Dirk and Daniel Ziff, heirs to the Ziff publishing fortune, Sears Holdings CEO and onetime AutoZone main man Ed "Crazy Eddie" Lampert, and John Paulson, a massively successful hedge-funder.
In 2012, Paulson bought Aspen's Hala Ranch, complete with a 14,395-square-foot mansion, for $49 million from Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a past ambassador to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. As an indication of the prince's wealth, the abode where his engineer was housed during the construction of the ranch manse went on the market in 2015 for a mere $5.87 million.
The price point at 498 South Starwood Drive is similar, and for that amount, Lofgren says, "you get amazing views all the way down valley to Independence Pass. All four Aspen ski areas can be seen from multiple patios."
"It definitely has some of the best views in the area, and that's zero exaggeration," Berg stresses. "There's also the privacy and safety factor, and you've got all the amenities: tennis, cross-country skiing, horseback-riding. And it's not that far from town."
Using cryptocurrency to buy the joint will require some extra protections for both seller and buyer, Berg concedes.
"Agreements have to be put in place to deal with the volatility, which can be extreme," he says. "You'll need to set some parameters depending on what's going on when the property sells. It might take seven to ten days to fully convert over, so you'd have to have some language where you'd have to have a floor and a ceiling, perhaps, in terms of determining the final price, because of the fluctuations and how much the value could change."
At this writing, the bitcoin pitch hasn't lured a suitor for the Starwood pile, but Berg points out that "when you think about it, you only need one person to buy a piece of property. And if you really understand crytocurrency, it makes a lot of sense depending on your net worth and percentages and things like that."
The seller "is a really smart, wealthy guy," Berg goes on, "and he happens to be open to it. And over time, we feel that bitcoin and some of these other cyptocurrencies aren't going to be any different from the yen, the peso, the U.S. dollar, the euro. It's just the way things are evolving, and it makes total sense."
Click to view the listing for 498 South Starwood Drive in Aspen.