President Donald Trump may have dented the growth of California property values when he signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law last December, experts say. The new law sharply reduces deductions of mortgage loan interest and property taxes, and also caps other local and state tax deductions — gutting many financial incentives for home ownership. The state’s more than 6.9 million homeowners are grappling with the new law’s impact on their tax bills — both immediately and over the long term. The big question is, what will the tax hikes do to the housing market and property values?
“The 2018 tax reform bill is going to have an adverse affect on housing sale prices and housing supply in California,” said Oscar Wei, a senior economist for California Association of Realtors (CAR). “It may not be a significant impact, but it will have an impact. Prices will continue to grow, but the tax reform bill lowers the price growth.”
Both home prices and appreciation are expected to take a hit from the new tax bill. Before it passed, California home prices were predicted to grow 4.2 percent by the end of 2018, Wei said. Factoring in the slashed deductions, CAR has lowered its growth rate prediction to 3.2 percent, he added. By contrast, he noted, single-family home prices in 2017 grew at 7.2 percent. The median projected price of a California house in 2018 is $555,600 — $5,400 less than the median predicted before the new law. The 2017 median house price was $538,500, said Wei. (These projections don’t include condos, townhouses and new construction.)
Nationally, home prices are predicted to be 4 percent lower than they would have been without the new tax legislation, with the impact peaking in summer of 2019, according to a report by Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody Analytics, a New York– based economic research company. “Any longer-run benefit from the lower marginal tax rates will be washed away by the fallout from the bigger budget deficits and government debt load,” Zandi, a critic of the tax reform plan, wrote. “Good tax reform is very difficult to do.” And the tax reform bill lawmakers passed did not get it done, he added.
Still, some real estate experts and economists expect house sales in Pasadena and other hot markets, where demand outstrips supply, to sell as briskly as before tax reform. “I have not seen any impact on the market yet,” said Shel Downing, a Keller Williams Realtor, who sells property all over Southern California. “I am seeing a slowing in outlying areas such as Upland in the last two or three months. But in the hubs like beach cities and Pasadena, I have not seen it.”
But tax reform may still impact demand for moderate-priced homes because some potential buyers may find that renting is preferable with the new increased standard deduction, said Wei. “The impact is small to this price segment, because the supply in this sector is extremely short,” he continued. “Since there is more demand than the supply can fulfill, the impact on sales is very minimal.” The most competitive housing sector is lower-to-middle-range homes for any given neighborhood, said Wei. The new law is not expected to impact that price sector because there are far more buyers than available houses.
The pricier, higher-tax communities, where homeowners have jumbo mortgages and big property tax bills, are going to take the biggest hit in slowed price growth under the law, said Zandi and Wei. “The impact on house prices is much greater for the higher-priced homes, especially in parts of the country where incomes are higher, there are a disproportionate number of itemizers and where homeowners have big mortgages and property tax bills,” Zandi noted in his report. “The Northeast Corridor, South Florida, big Midwestern cities and the West Coast will suffer the biggest price declines.”
Affluent housing markets throughout California — including San Marino, San Francisco, West Los Angeles, coastal communities and Pasadena, where the median home price is $930,000 — will likely absorb the brunt of the bill’s impact, but lack of housing in those markets may soften the blow. For New York City, Moody predicts a 9.5 percent drop in Manhattan home values, whereas in Brooklyn and Queens prices could fall by less than 2 percent. Fifteen of the 30 counties hit hardest in the U.S. are in New Jersey, where housing is projected to lose one-tenth of its value, according to the Moody report.
There is a possibility that the pace of home sales where demand sharply outstrips supply may slow down, according to experts. Home owners could hold onto their houses even longer than planned because of tax reform, diminishing supply even further. For those who still want to sell, there should be plenty of buyers. “I just met with clients from the Northwest who are buying a house and they are pretty savvy about buying and selling houses,” said agent Steve Clark of Clarkliving in Compass real estate’s Pasadena office. “They are not happy about [the tax reform bill] but it is not a deciding factor in buying a house. People who want to sell their house and move to southern Oregon will be okay. But if you are trying to make a lateral move, where are you going to go? The real issue is lack of inventory.”
Here’s a summary of the new law’s measures and how they could affect home values, sellers, buyers and the overall housing market in your community.
Slashing the Mortgage Interest Deduction Threshold
People who want to buy or improve a home between now and 2026 (when the tax measure expires and the law reverts to pre-2018 provisions — barring new legislation) can deduct the interest paid on mortgages of up to $750,000 — down from $1 million. The lower threshold impacts all homes bought after Dec. 14, 2017. But buyers who secured a mortgage on or before Dec. 14 can still deduct interest on up to $1 million in loan debt, the previous cap. The new tax law also killed the deduction for home equity loan interest, including that on existing home equity loans, as of Jan. 1. But the interest for 2017 home equity debt can still be claimed on 2017 taxes. In 2026, the law returns to previous provisions: Mortgage interest on up to $1.1 million in and home equity debt, alone or combined, will be eligible for deduction, once again, as long as no new legislation is passed.
The law is expected to put homes worth $750,000 or more out of reach for some home buyers. The mortgage interest deduction is a prime selling point played up by real estate agents and described as a government subsidy to home ownership at a cost to the government of about $100 billion a year, according to housing experts at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.–based think tank. Reducing the tax incentive to buy a home is expected to rattle the market. When added to the sharp cuts in IRS deductions for property taxes and for other state and local taxes, the tax spike may cause some homeowners to gasp come tax time next year. The new law will also make selling homes worth more than a $750,000 potentially unattractive to many homeowners, who might hold onto their properties longer; the prospect of upgrading to another presumably even more expensive home without the traditional deductions may be too costly. All of this will tighten an already constricted housing supply.
State and Local Tax Deductions
All property taxes paid to state and local government agencies used to qualify as an itemized deduction, unless the homeowners paid the alternative minimum tax, which would preclude itemization. The old law also allowed deductions for state and local income taxes or sales tax. The 2018 law combines these state and local taxes (also called SALT) and caps the deductions at $10,000 for both individual and married couples.
Many homeowners in high-cost, high-tax states, such as California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland, pay far more than $10,000 in property taxes (in addition to income taxes). Nationwide, more than 4 million Americans nationwide pay more than $10,000 in property taxes alone, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, an Irvine-based property data research firm. Los Angeles County is among the U.S. counties with the greatest number of home loans topping $750,000 (i.e., 9,197) for 2017, according to ATTOM. Overall, 9.2 percent of L.A. County homeowners pay more than $10,000 in property taxes each year, ATTOM says.
Though some homeowners rushed to pay their property taxes for 2018 early, assuming their property taxes could qualify for deduction from their 2017 taxes, the IRS stated that only 2018 taxes that had been assessed would be eligible. Homeowners who made the early payment and were not assessed before this year will not benefit from the deduction.
The new law doubles the standard deduction to $12,000 for people filing taxes as an individual, and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. For some couples, the increase in the standard deduction will outweigh the benefit from itemizing deductions; that would apply to homeowners whose combined mortgage interest and SALT deductions do not add up to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly or $12,000 for individuals (although adding other deductions, such as medical expenses, may put them over the top).
But the standard deductions may offer more of a tax advantage to renters than to many buyers, said Wei. “When the law increased the single deduction to $12,000 to an individual and $24,000 for a married couple, for many renters, it created a disincentive to buy,” said Wei. “People may decide to rent for a little longer so they can take advantage of the tax savings, and they may not think they need to be a homeowner now. That affects sales a little. Even though there will be a disincentive, there will still be a good amount of home-buying activity because of the limited supply and high demand for houses, say, that are priced $500,000 and under.” Wei said renters in the market for lower-priced property — a house for $350,000, for example — would likely be better off continuing to rent and taking the standard deduction.
A report released by Zillow, a home search and data website, found that 14 percent of U.S. homes have high enough market value and tax bills that a new buyer borrowing 80 percent of the home price would benefit from itemizing. But under the previous tax law, 44 percent of homes were pricey enough (the prior cap was $1 million) to warrant buyers itemizing deductions.
Federal Reserve Interest Rate Adjustments and Higher Mortgage Interest Rates
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December, the third time in 2017, due to a growing economy and improved labor market. The Federal Reserve sets interest rates — the amount banks will be charged to borrow money from Federal Reserve banks — in an attempt to control inflation and stabilize the economy.
The new tax legislation will result in higher mortgage interest rates for two reasons, Zandi noted in an email. “The Federal Reserve will need to raise interest rates more aggressively given that the deficit-financed tax legislation will lead to a temporary pick-up in growth, and since the economy is already at full employment, increasing price pressures,” he noted. “Second, because the federal government must borrow more to finance the tax cuts, the [U.S.] Treasury will sell more bonds, pushing interest rates higher.”
The higher mortgage-interest rates, combined with the greatly reduced mortgage-interest and property-tax deductions, will increase the true cost of buying a new home, Zandi added. The increased costs will weaken housing demand and drag down price growth, especially in communities where those deductions are important incentives for home buyers.
Capital Gains Taxes
Greatly reducing the tax incentive to buy a home is sure to rattle the residential real estate market, but the industry breathed a collective sigh of relief when the final bill didn’t tamper with the exclusion for capital gains tax from the sale of a primary residence. Homeowners selling their primary residence may exclude up to $250,000 of the profit from taxation — $500,000 for married couples filing jointly — as long as they have lived in their primary residence for at least two of the past five years.
Earlier versions of the bill would have increased the requirement of living in the primary residence to five out of eight years. That draft of the bill would have had an even more negative impact on an already tight supply of houses for sale, said Clark. Homeowners who need to sell a house after a couple of years due to circumstance (including relocation for a job or relationship changes, such as divorce or marriage) would likely sit on their property longer, said Clark.
About 6,943,000 California homes are occupied by homeowners, according to 2016 National Association of Realtors (NAR) research, and most of those homeowners are just now coming to grips with the new law’s effect on their after-tax housing costs. Certainly, these are volatile political and economic times and the housing market is intertwined with the overall health of the economy. Whether predictions and projections for 2018 are realized is yet to be seen. For now, the consensus is desirable housing markets are likely to stay desirable and there will be people with enough money to buy in those markets, but the rate of price growth is expected to slow. In other words, California’s out-of-control housing prices might just reset to slightly more affordable numbers — by California standards, that is.