The Impact of Tax Reform on Real Estate

Cushman & Wakefield have posted The Great Tax Race: How the World’s Fastest Tax Reform Package Could Impact Commercial Real Estate. There is a lot of interesting insights in the report, notwithstanding the fact that ultimate fate of the Republicans’ tax reform is still a bit up in the air. Indeed, C&W estimates that there is a 1 in 5 chance that a bill will not pass this year.

Commercial Real Estate

C&W states that history

suggests that tax law changes by themselves are often not key drivers for transactions or for investment performance. However, there is likely to be a period of transition and market flux as investors restructure to optimize tax outcomes with implications for the underlying asset classes. Corporations are likely to separate the real estate aspects of their businesses. (2)

The commercial real estate industry is largely exempt from the biggest changes contained in the House and Senate bills. 1031 exchanges, for instance, have not been touched. C&W sees corporations being big beneficiaries, with a net tax cut of $400 billion over the next 10 years; however, they “anticipate that the tax cut will be preferentially used to return capital to shareholders or reduce debt, rather than to increase corporate spending.” (2)

Residential Real Estate

C&W sees a different effect in the residential real estate sector, with a short-term drag on home values in areas with high SALT (state and local tax) deductions, including California, NY and NJ:

The drag on home values is likely to be largest in areas with high property taxes and medium-to-high home values. There is also likely to be a larger impact in parts of the country where incomes are higher and where a disproportionate proportion of taxpayers itemize. Both versions of the tax reform limit property tax deductibility to $10,000. While only 9.2% of households nationally report property taxes above this threshold, this figure rises to as high as 46% in Long Island, 34% in Newark and 20% in San Francisco according to Trulia data.

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) estimates that 22% of mortgages in the U.S. have balances over $500,000, with most of these concentrated in high costs areas such as Washington, DC and Hawaii—where more than 40% of home purchase loans originated last year exceeded $500,000. This is followed by California at 27%, and New York and Massachusetts at 16%. (6)

C&W also evaluated tax reform’s impact on housing market liquidity and buy v. rent economics:

The median length of time people had owned their homes was 8.7 years in 2016—more than double what it had been 10 years earlier. Now that interest rates have begun to tick upward from their historic lows, the housing market may face a problem called the “lock-in” effect, where homeowners are reluctant to move, since moving might entail taking out a new mortgage at a higher rate. This leads to the possibility of decreasing housing market liquidity in high-priced markets.

All things considered, the doubling of the standard deduction and the cap on the property tax deduction is likely to have the largest impact on the buy vs. rent incentive, especially as it seems likely that there will be minimal changes to the mortgage interest deduction in any final tax reform bill. (7-8)

Mortgage Market, Hiding in Plain Sight

David Jackmanson

I blogged about the Center for Responsible Lending’s take on the 2014 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data yesterday.  The mere act of aggregating this data reveals so much about the state of the mortgage market. Today I am digging into it a bit on my own.

There is a lot of good stuff in the analysis of the HMDA data released by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC). I found the discussion of the effects of the Qualified Mortgage and Ability to Repay rules most interesting:

The HMDA data provide little indication that the new ATR and QM rules significantly curtailed mortgage credit availability in 2014 relative to 2013. For example, despite the QM rule that caps borrowers’ DTI ratio for many loans, the fraction of high-DTI loans does not appear to have declined in 2014 from 2013. However, as discussed in more detail later, there are significant challenges in determining the extent to which the new rules have influenced the mortgage market, and the results here do not necessarily rule out significant effects or the possibility that effects may arise in the future. (4)

This analysis is apparently reacting to those who have claimed that the new regulatory environment is restricting lending too much. The mortgage market is generally too complicated for simple assertions like “new regulations have restricted credit too heavily” or “not enough” There are so many relevant factors, such as changes in the interest rate environment, the unemployment rate and the change in the cost of housing, to be confident about the effect of the change in regulations, particularly over a short time span. But the FFIEC analysis seems to have it right that the new regs did not have such a great impact when they went into effect on January 1, 2014, given the similarities in the 2013 and 2014 data. This reflects well on the rule-writing process for the QM and ATR rules. Time will tell whether and how they will need to be tweaked.

While the discussion of the new rules was comforting, I found the discussion of FHA mortgages disturbing: “The higher-priced fraction of FHA home-purchase loans spiked from about 5 percent in early 2013 to about 40 percent after May 2013 and continued at monthly rates between 35 and 52 percent through 2014, for an annual average incidence of about 44 percent in 2014.” (15) Higher-priced first-lien loans are those with an APR that is at least one and a half percentage points higher than the average prime offer rate for loans of a similar type.

The FHA often provides the only route to homeownership for first-time, minority and lower-income homebuyers, but it must be monitored to make sure that it is insuring mortgages that homeowners can pay month in and month out. If FHA mortgages are not sustainable for the long run, they are likely to do homebuyers more harm than good.