The Impact of Tax Reform on The Real Estate Sector

photo by Sergiu Bacioiu

Congress passed the tax reform act on December 20, 2017 and President Trump is supposed to sign it by the end of the week. A lot of ink has been spilled on the impact of tax reform on homeowners, but less on real estate as an investment class. It will take lawyers and accountants a long time to understand all of the in ands outs of the law, but it is pretty clear that commercial real estate investors will benefit significantly. Most of the provisions of the act are effective at the start of the new year.

Homeowners and the businesses that operate in the residential real estate sector will be impacted in various ways (the net effect on any given taxpayer will vary significantly based on a whole lot of factors) by the increase in the standard deduction; the limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes; the shrinking of the mortgage interest deduction; and the restrictions on the capital gains exclusion for the sale of a primary residence. There are tons of articles out there on these subjects.

The impact on real estate investors has not been covered very much at all. The changes are very technical, but very beneficial to real estate investors. There are a couple of useful resources out there for those who want an overview of these changes. The BakerBotts law firm has posted Tax Reform Act – Impact on Real Estate Industry and the Seyfarth Shaw law firm has posted Tax Reform for REITs and Real Estate Businesses.

To understand the impacts on the real estate industry in particular, it is important to understand the big picture.  The new law lowered the highest marginal tax rates for individuals from 39.6% to 37% (some individuals will also need to pay unearned income Medicare tax as well). The highest marginal tax rate applicable to long-term capital gains stays at 20% for individuals. The other big change was a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 21%. Because qualified dividends are taxed at 20%, the effective tax rate on income from a C corp that is distributed to its shareholders will be 36.8% (plus Medicare tax, if applicable).

Benefits in the new law that particularly impact the real estate sector include:

  • REITs and other pass-through entities are eligible for as much as a 20% deduction for qualified business income;
  • favored treatment of interest expense deductions compared to other businesses;
  • Real estate owners can still engage in tax-favored 1031 exchanges while owners of other assets cannot; and
  • Some types of commercial real estate benefit from more favorable depreciation provisions.

While it is clear that real estate investors came out ahead with the new tax law, it is not yet clear the extent to which that is the case.

Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever

I was interviewed on the Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever with Joe Fairless podcast. The interview, How to Negotiate the Interest Rate on Your Mortgage Down…A LOT, went live today. The teaser for the show reads,

Today’s Best Ever guest shares just how important it is to do you due diligence with everything. From negotiating the interest rate on your mortgage rate down to an unheard of number, to learning about different zoning codes and what they mean to you.

The interview runs about half an hour. I always like to be invited to speak on a long-form program because I can go into greater depth about things that I think are important. I also got a chance to discuss some topics that usually only come up in my Real Estate Practice class.

The Best Ever Real Estate Investing Advice Ever show is one of the highest rated investing podcasts on iTunes, up there with Suze Orman, Jim Cramer, Marketplace, Motley Fool, NPR and the Wall Street Journal. The show is sold with some hype, but it was a substantive discussion, geared to the newish real estate investor. All in all, this was a fun interview to do.

 

 

Reiss on Investing In Real Estate Versus REITs

Investopedia quoted me in Investing In Real Estate Versus REITs. It reads in part,

The U.S. real estate market is finally starting to fire on most, if not all, cylinders, with investors’ enthusiasm gathering steam seemingly each passing month.

According to a study from the Urban Land Institute and PwC,expectations on profitability from the U.S. real estate sector are on the upside going forward. “In 2010, only 18% of respondents felt the prospects for profitability were at a good or better level,” the ULI reports. “This has improved steadily each year, with 68% of respondents now feeling that profitability will be at least good in 2014.”

The study reports that myriad investment demographics are pouring into the market, including foreign investors, institutional investors and private equity funds, as well as leveraged debt from insurance companies, mezzanine lenders, and issuers of commercial mortgage-backed securities.

“The anticipated interest in secondary markets is indicative of how the U.S. real estate recovery is expanding beyond the traditional investment hubs,” says Patrick L. Phillips, chief executive officer at the ULI. “Access to greater amounts of both debt and equity financing, combined with a sustained improvement in the underlying economic fundamentals, means that the opportunities and returns offered in smaller markets are potentially very appealing.”

A burgeoning profit avenue for investors is the real estate investment trust market, a market that is truly growing by leaps and bounds. Ernst & Young reports the REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) market has grown from $300 billion in 2003 to $1 trillion by 2013, with growth expected to accelerate going forward.

By definition, an REIT is a corporation, trust or association that owns and, in most cases, operates income-producing real estate and/or real estate-related assets. Modeled after mutual funds, REITs pool the capital of numerous investors. This allows individual investors to earn a share of the income produced through commercial real estate ownership, without having to go out and buy or finance property or assets.

REITs differ from traditional real estate investing, primarily due to the fund-heavy strategic asset flow from REITs, versus the traditional free, more direct access flow from real estate investing (like becoming a landlord or buying stocks from homebuilding companies.) But both investments offer distinct advantages

*    *     *

some industry experts say the advantages of both investment classes cut much deeper than the descriptions above.

One big difference is that the market for REIT shares is much closer to the efficient market described by Nobel Prize winner Eugene Fama than the market for individual real estate parcels is, says David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, and an expert on REITs.

“That means that the price of a REIT’s shares is more likely to contain all available information about the REIT,” he says.

“Because individual real estate parcels are sold in much smaller markets and because the cost of due diligence on a single property is not as cost-effective as it is on REIT shares, an investor has a better opportunity, at least in theory, to get a better return on his or her investment if he or she does the diligence him or herself.”