Making Money Through Virtual Ownership

Not able to buy a house in the Bay Area? Now there is a way you can, and make money like a landlord, but it all happens in a virtual world. Owning property virtually is a new frontier for the Web.

Next time you’re in Sausalito, you might run into a young fellow named Erik Christiansen. This is his town.

Erik Christiansen: “I’m Erik Christiansen. I’m the virtual mayor of Sausalito.”
Yes, the virtual mayor of Sausalito. Christiansen owns Sausalito on a Web site called Weblo is an online version of the board game Monopoly. Monopoly is where you can buy Boardwalk or Park Place. Well, Weblo lets you buy an entire city, a landmark, or even a house, virtually.
Instead of play money, you pay real money.

Erik Christiansen: “You can’t afford property, real property anymore, and now with Weblo, we can afford to own property in Marin and San Francisco. So, for some of us, it’s all we’ve got right now.”

Like real property, you fix it up to increase its value. Erik’s Sausalito site on Weblo features video so people can see the Bay view and the current weather conditions.

He paid Weblo three dollars for the site, and he earns money when people click on advertising links placed on his page.

People have already snapped up the Golden Gate Bridge and the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. However, the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Public Library are still available.

I could even buy a deli in Sausalito, and I wouldn’t even have to change the name. I did snap up 900 Front Street, the home of ABC7.

Why are people doing this? Weblo is Rocky Mirza’s creation.

Rocky Mirza, Weblo CEO: “It’s like buying baseball cards. Why do you buy baseball cards? You buy them for two reasons — you buy it, one, because you want to be the most popular kid in the neighborhood. Second, because some day that rookie card is going to be worth a lot.”

Take Seattle, for example. Someone bought Seattle on Weblo for $40 dollars. It re-sold for $2,000 dollars. Now it’s available for $10,000 dollars. Weblo takes a 4.5 percent commission. Still, that’s a tidy profit.

Chris Tithof is the virtual owner of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It’s for bragging rights and for fun. He paid $3.85 to get it, and he’s turning a profit from those clicks on advertiser links.

Chris Tithof, Weblo Member: “I’ve made the grand total amount of about $5.75.”

ABC7’s David Louie: “So, you’re ahead of the game.”

Chris Tithof: “I’m ahead of the game. I’ve made a profit…. Don’t tell the IRS.”

These Weblonians — the name given to virtual property owners — may be the latest indication where the Web is heading, allowing anyone to create a money-making site that will generate enough traffic so advertisers will support it.

Weblo provides the tools to post the content. Nearly 2,800 U.S. cities have been snapped up, including Sausalito, where the virtual mayor is taking his ownership so seriously, he’s giving tourists tips on where to eat.

Erik Christiansen: “There’s good pizza slices right there… .. and then they have sandwiches in there, so that’s a good spot.”