https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2022/02/26/why-this-real-estate-investor-is-selling-his-brick-and-mortar-properties-to-build-in-the-metaverse.html

There have been two consuming interests in Albert Shoihet’s life — athletics and real estate.

When he retired as a professional squash player in 2017, Shoihet was already working toward his dream of becoming a real estate developer.

Now the Torontonian is divesting his real-world brick-and-mortar portfolio in east Toronto so he can devote himself to what he sees as a limitless opportunity, developing real estate on a digital plain known as the metaverse.

Shoihet has already sold a property that he bought about a year ago at Kingston Road and Warden Avenue, a stretch slated for densification. Now the other residential properties he purchased in 2017 and 2018 at 14 Coxwell Ave. and 3 Rhodes Ave. are on the market. He hopes the latter will be developed into a townhome project he has dubbed, “Off Rhodes.” He had already assembled an architecture-planning team for the project and hopes the purchaser will buy in to the vision as well as the property.

It’s not about divesting real-world real estate to finance his metaverse dreams, says Shoihet. Selling, he says, will allow him to be 100 per cent focused and aligned with Antler, a four-year-old Venture Capital firm that backs start-ups all over the world and is supporting his move into the metaverse.

“It would be a little bit dishonourable to Antler to be building a business outside of the business that they’re going to be funding,” he said.

Like crytocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), discussion of the metaverse is increasingly mainstream. A Harris poll of Americans in December found 48 per cent of millennials, the generation aged 26 to 41, believe the metaverse will be integrated into our lives in the next decade.

Metaverse properties can sell for millions of dollars. The most expensive ones tends to be located in places with cachet or an attraction that causes people to congregate in the digital world. User experience, utility and social status all play a role in determining the value of digital property, said Shoihet.

As in the real world, metaverse assets are purchased from the previous owner. If it’s a new project, the purchaser buys in on the minting of a digital asset with the payment going to a developer/owner of the project known as Community Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAOS).

Digital transactions require crypto currency, says Shoihet. The complexity of buying into digital properties is one of the areas, Shoihet wants to address in his new venture with Antler. Among his ambitions is bridging the onerous educational and executional requirements that new participants face in the metaverse.

At 29, Shoihet is of the generation of believers that sees the transition from the tangible to the digital as a logical step.

When it comes to conceptualizing a metaverse, he says video games such as Fortnite or Grand Theft Auto are a good starting point. They are digital landscapes where the developers design their own space and their own rules. Well-known metaverses such as Sandbox and Decentraland already operate their own markets, including real estate — virtual spaces that can be developed into destinations for activities such as games, conferences or casinos.

Last month, CNBC reported that someone had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to own digital property near Snoop Dog’s mansion in the Sandbox metaverse.

“Gaming worlds are part of the metaverse and (when) you consider the fact that the gaming industry is bigger than the Hollywood entertainment and music businesses combined, you start to appreciate some of the opportunities,” says Shoihet.

In the future all business will be virtual, he says. Instead of shopping on our phones and laptops we will don a headset or glasses and shop in a virtual realm as it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between reality and virtual reality.

The ascendence of virtual gaming, says Shoihet, “helped push the whole industry forward for people like me to be able to develop, not so much games, but virtual communities, virtual cities, virtual artistic hubs.”

His introduction to real-world real estate actually came by leasing properties and renting them short-term on Airbnb. That gave Shoihet the money he needed to buy into property in Owen Sound, Ont., where he came up against challenges in managing and trying to renovate the apartments he had bought there. When he sold his share of that venture, he came back to Toronto and began purchasing here.

In the metaverse, Shoihet says his first project will be a digital vault containing safety deposit boxes for the storage of digital assets.

“It makes sense that we would prefer digital art to canvas art in a future where we show off our art not by inviting someone over for dinner, but by changing your instagram or twitter profile picture,” as more of our lives — work, play, shopping, transportation — are integrated with technology, he said.

Shoihet says he wants to create digital spaces that are an extension of his interest in personal health. It is something he believes he is uniquely positioned to address because, “I have such an intimate relationship with chronic injuries, chronic stress and mental health.”

Shoihet was a national squash champion at the age of 12 but he chipped his femur, throwing his athletic ambitions in doubt. That levelled “a massive hit” to his adolescent identity and plunged him into depression.

Although he continued playing competitive squash, retiring just before he was to represent Team Canada in 2017, Shoihet says he has suffered from stress and chronic pain related to years of repetitive motion from sports most of his life. Practising yoga at Beaches Hot Yoga in Toronto has transformed his body and allowed him to live pain free, he says.

“This is the first time in my life I’ve found something that could actually reverse that chronic stress and that pain,” he said.

Honour and character also figure large on Shoihet’s personal landscape. He says his grandfather, Irving Shoihet, 93, who was a sociologist at the University of Toronto and taught until quite recently, is his foremost influence.

He credits Irving with coming up with the name of his company, Nower.io. It’s a phonetic spelling of the word “nowhere” — the literal translation of “Utopia.”

One of four brothers, Shoihet says he shares “a synergistic kind of view of the world” with his eldest sibling, Jacob, 31. About two years ago Jacob moved from a business development job to Antler’s first U.S. cohort, based in Brooklyn. He is the co-founder of Marco Financial, a platform that assesses the risk of loans for small and mid-sized Latin American businesses that want to import into the U.S. He encouraged Albert to apply for Antler’s program.

It is an opportunity to pursue his vision unencumbered by the demands of managing and developing his bricks and mortar properties, says Shoihet, who describes his earlier ventures as instructive, if sometimes disappointing.

Shoihet says those experiences and his sport injuries have taught him to persist through adversity. He thinks about what he wants his life to be when “I’m no longer pushing forward.” He has a vision of family, simplicity and peace.

“I have to instill it in myself so that’s the kind of journey that I’m embarking on now,” he said.

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski