Lots of electronic ink has been spilled this week on winners and losers coming out of the Tax Reform Act passed on December 20.  Much of this is fairly speculative but some is simply common sense.

If you are a homeowner, take a look at last year’s bill for real estate taxes, then calculate what the foreseen or unforeseen buyer of your house will pay as a mortgage if he or she finances at 4.0-4.5%.  Realize that, until today, real estate taxes and mortgage interest were entirely deductible subject to “phase out” as adjusted gross income grew higher and higher.  For your purposes, assume no phase out by your imaginary “buyer”.   Now take that number and cap it at $10,000, knowing that this is the maximum you can deduct for real estate taxes and state and local income taxes combined.  If you are looking to buy a home for $1,200,000 in Pennsylvania you have to be earning $250,000 a year and the state and local taxes on that income alone will consume your capped deduction of $10,000 for all forms of tax (again, income and property tax).  So your $15,000 a year in school and municipal taxes is effectively lost as a deduction.  Then we have a new cap on deductions for home mortgages.  That cap is $750,000.  If you put 20% down on your $1,200,000 mansion you will still have a $960,000 mortgage.  Only the interest on $750,000 is deductible.  Thus 22% of your mortgage interest payment will be non-deductible, i.e., paid with after tax income along with your real estate taxes.  If you borrowed at 4.5% your $43,000 in annual deductions for mortgage interest is now capped out at $33,700 and your $15,000 in school/municipal taxes was consumed by your deduction for state and local income taxes.  Surprise!  You have $24,000 in deductions lost to tax reform.  With the new rates this income is effectively taxed at 24% (the old rate was 28%).  The new house is about $500 a month more because of the new tax reform.

The fact is that smart buyers will look at this and conclude that what was once fully deductible is now mostly not.  Will they adjust their offer accordingly? $500 a month is not deal killing in its own right given the numbers we are using, but realize as well that big fancy homes are not selling like they used to because younger buyers have grown up in a world where houses are not appreciating by leaps and bounds.  So if you own a high end house, either in terms of what the mortgage debt will be or the real estate taxes will consume, realize that this tax package is making your house pricier than it was just a day ago.

This last year seemed to be the year for buyers in the $500,000 and lower sellers.  They sold homes quickly and often for premiums.  New home buyers seem scared by big debt and their credit histories often include lots of consumer and student debt.  So they often can’t afford the big house even though they might want to own it.  They also tend towards new construction because they perceive it as less problematic. Sellers may view the buyers as short sighted but they are sellers and not buyers.

Bottom line.  Big, expensive, older homes just took a hit.  They were already on the ropes because they were perceived to be high maintenance.  Now they have the added disadvantage of being more expensive because of the limits on deductions the new tax law provides. As we have said many times, real estate is not the investment we experienced in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.  This is truly a new day.