Category Archives: taxes

How Does the Market Look?

The regular market reports will resume on Friday, but for today I just wanted to expound on the general market a little.

Things have really changed in the last few months.  Just 4 or 5 months ago, I was constantly looking for “follow through” on strong numbers for almost every market segment.  There would be a good month or two, but then there would be a lousy one to cast doubt into the recovery process.

There were programs designed to “bring back the housing segment”, and while some of them did manage to move the market for a short time, for the most part, they only seemed to steal from future sales.  Sales that would have happened regardless were moved up in order to qualify for government subsidies or more favorable tax treatment.  But over the long run, they didn’t create many sales that wouldn’t have happened over the follow couple of months.

After all of that worked through the system, and consumers were more certain that there wouldn’t be future inducements, sales started picking up again… but the real boost to the sales numbers has been inventory reductions.  And while there are still rumors of a “tidal wave of foreclosed properties”, those same rumors have been around for 3+ years, always with the tidal wave 4-6 months away.  There could indeed be a wave of foreclosed properties poised to hit the market, I wouldn’t bank on it.  And the market does seem ready to absorb some more inventory, especially on the entry level end of the spectrum.

The bottom line is that the real estate market is getting back to normal.  In fact, under $200k in most of Gwinnett, it is well into Seller’s Market territory.  From $200k-$400k, it is mixed.  Above that, it is still pretty much a Buyer’s Market, but not to the extent it has been for the last few years.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the market when the general economic recovery starts in earnest.  I am still of the opinion that the best stimulus for the housing market is a recovery in the jobs market.  While the unemployment rate has gotten better, the labor force participation percentage rate hasn’t budged much.  The unemployment rate discounts workers that give up or time out on unemployment, while the labor force participation rate includes everyone that could be in the labor force.

I’m firmly of the belief that many buyers are reluctant to make a 30 year plan (buy a house and get a mortgage) when they are worried about the security of their job over the next year.

Stay tuned to see how it all shakes out…

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What Can “Fix” Housing?

There are still a few politicians, and a lot of real estate professionals talking about the government “fixing” the real estate market.  But the question is…

Is there a way or a role for the government to fix the housing market?

We’ve seen a substantial tax credit for purchasing a home, both for first time buyers and for existing (hopefully) move-up buyers.  And we’ve seen calls for more of the same.  But at the same time, there are a lot of experts that don’t think that the tax credits created many sales that wouldn’t have happened without them.

Even $8000 isn’t that much of a motivating factor for someone to make a $150K+ purchase.  And most of the people that took advantage of the tax credit were only hastened by the tax credit, not created by it… in other words, they would have purchased the home anyway, only their time-table was altered… in many cases, only by a couple of months.  Looking at past sales, it is obvious when the credit expired.  Sales increased at a rapid pace, and then dropped precipitously as the credit expired.  Sales remained well under par for many months after the credit expired.  Some economists estimate that the $8000 tax credit had a cost of over $44,000 for each sale it “created”.

There are other ideas floating around on Capitol Hill about ways that the federal government can spur housing sales.  And there are a lot of folks… especially in the halls of the National Association of REALTORS® that feel that housing needs to come back in order for the economy to rebound.

I think they have it backwards.  In order for real estate to rebound, people have to feel secure with the job market.  How can someone be expected to make a 30 year plan (getting a mortgage, for example) when they are worried about their job in the next few months?  So, focusing on job creating, especially by smaller businesses, and removing impediments to starting or expanding small businesses would do wonders.  Instead of tax credits focused on housing, tax relief for people starting businesses would do more for the housing market.

What do you think?

It’s About the Jobs…

selfmade image of U.S. Unemployment rate from ...

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Every time I say this, I annoy a lot of my real estate friends…  Real estate is NOT the solution to the economy.  It is a symptom.  Nothing more.

To put it simply, People without jobs are NOT buying homes.  People that are worried about their jobs are NOT buying homes.  and as long as those people aren’t buying homes, people that DO want to “move up” can’t… they need to sell their current homes.  As I write this, the unemployment rate is around 9%.  But, the BLS also says that the “real” unemployment rate (including people that are not filing for unemployment anymore) is closer to 17%.

And while I tend not to get too political on this blog, I will make a couple of statements…

  • Attacking job producers, like Gibson Guitars, is NOT going ot make entrepreneurs take the risks that they need to take in order to start or expand their businesses.  (If you didn’t know, they are not allowed by the government to import raw Indian Rosewood, but they ARE allowed to import the manufactured fretboards made from Indian Rosewood.  In effect, the government is telling them to set up manufacturing for those parts outside of the US rather than doing it in Nashville, TN).
  • Attacking companies like Boeing Aerospace for expanding in ways that the union (big money contributors to the Obama campaign) doesn’t like.  (If you didn’t know, the NLRB is trying to stop Boeing from opening an additional production facility in South Carolina.  They have continually been hit by union strikes in Washington state, and want to have a second facility in a “Right to Work” state… one which doesn’t force union membership).
  • Supporting companies like GE, rewarding the CEO with a Chair on President Obama’s “Jobs Council”… as the company inks a deal on expansion and job creation… in China, but not the US.  All the while, GE is holding money off-shore to avoid taxes.

The private sector WANTS to create jobs.  But, with the incredible growth of deficit spending (which squeezes private lending), and the incredible growth of regulation ($1.74T in regulatory costs to businesses), and the desire to increase taxes on those same business, and the increasing costs on the horizon from ObamaCare, businesses are not willing to take the risks.

The government doesn’t create permanent jobs, except for the people that they directly hire… and the government is already too big.  But they certainly have the ability to kill jobs in the private sector.  And until the government stops trying to kill jobs, there won’t be a recovery in real estate… 

No matter what Nancy Pelosi says about how Unemployment is a GREAT stimulus, people aren’t buying homes or cars or much else while they sit on unemployment… 

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Mortgage Interest Deduction… Good or Bad?

The NAR building and the U.S. Capitol in the b...

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There is a lot of discussion in the real estate world about the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID) on Income Taxes.  The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is virtually flipping out with just the thought that it could be eliminated by Congress as they look for more “revenue enhancements” (they are unwilling to say “tax increases”).

The NAR position is that with a weak housing market, and the fact that homeowners have benefited form the MID for decades, this is NOT the time to eliminate it, increasing taxes on mostly middle class taxpayers/homeowners.  I can’t argue against that position very forcefully.  It isn’t that I want to agree with the NAR, because I don’t.  And, in fact, my reasoning is much different from theirs.

Opponents of the MID argue that homeowners shouldn’t get special treatment v. renters in getting a tax credit for a portion of their mortgage.  And that IS  a strong argument, but there is one HUGE flaw…

Renters might not get a tax credit, but Landlords DO.  They may or may not pass that savings along to the renter (depending on the competitiveness of their rental market), but as a business, interest is a deductible interest expense.  So, in effect, a homeowner would be penalized for occupying a home that they own.  And with all of the talk of “fairness” coming out of Washington, DC, taxing the Mortgage Interest for Owner/Occupants, while not taxing it for investors seems kind of dumb. 

Also, this would be going after the heart of the middle class.  Many opponents argue that upper middle class families benefit more from the MID than those with lower incomes… although, the truth is that income isn’t as much of a determinant as is mortgage debt.  BUT, those with higher incomes might have a tool available that those with lower incomes may not.  Many are already business owners.  And, it wouldn’t be that tough for them to incorporate, transfer the ownership of their home to their business, and rent the house. 

This would give them the tax deduction for the mortgage interest as a business expense.  Homeowners with smaller mortgages and/or smaller incomes might not be able to swing the same deal… meaning that they would be more adversely impacted by the change than higher income and/or higher debt homeowners. 

One other thing, which I personally think is important, but a back burner aspect of the debate, is the benefit of a home-ownership society.  Simply put, home owners are a more stable group than renters.  They have a stake in their neighborhoods, schools and communities.  Renters want nice neighborhoods, schools and communities, but have a much easier time escaping if things go sour.  They won’t pay a financial penalty for getting out… in fact, if demand increases for a specific area, they might actually end up having to pay more.

BTW, I DO consider business deduction of interest to be something that should NOT be taxed.  It is a legitimate business expense.  And since I don’t think businesses should have to pay taxes on the interest THEY pay, I don’t think it would be right to force owner/occupants to pay interest for the exact same thing.

What do YOU think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Add a comment.

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Another Way to Increase Existing Home Values…

Abolish the IRS

Image by chasingfun via Flickr

I am a fan of the FairTax.  I don’t think that income taxes are right… at ANY level.  When taxing production, the government is laying claim to a portion of the life of the taxpayer… and I don’t feel that ANYONE has the right to lay claim to a portion of the life of another.  By taxing consumption, there is no direct taxation on the production of a person, but rather on what they take up.

But that is another post…

But, as I was thinking the other day, I had a thought…  Implementation of the FairTax might be a natural solution for homeowners that are underwater on their homes. The FairTax would eliminate all payroll and income taxes, replacing them with a single retail level sales tax.  That tax would make up 23% of the cost of new retail goods and services.  In effect, new construction homes would be subject to the tax, but existing homes would not.

While the savings for builders (and their subcontractors) would likely drive down new construction prices by some portion, there would likely be a period at the beginning where existing home prices would bump up.  In effect, sellers would be able to raise their prices since the competition from new homes would be limited.  In the long run, prices for new homes would return to pre-FairTax levels (or slightly higher), but there would be a window allowing some sellers to get out from under their homes.

There is also the matter of economic growth.  There are a fair number of studies that point to increasing economic growth (spelled J-O-B-S) going hand in hand with the FairTax.  Increasing employment would also increase housing demand… increasing prices.  Again, that would help those that are just hanging on by letting them get out without resorting to short sales and foreclosures.

 

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