The New Tax Law: What Does it Mean for Residential Real Estate?

In recent weeks, I have often been asked what the new tax law means for real estate. Friends and clients want to know if and when should they buy or sell, or more generally how the law affects them. Of course, I recommend that both homeowners and prospective buyers and sellers consult their accountant and/or financial adviser to determine the best course for their particular circumstances.
Here are the law’s main provisions affecting residential real estate:
▪ New homebuyers will now be able to deduct interest on the first $750,000 of mortgage debt on a newly-purchased home. This is down from the current cap of $1 million but higher than the $500,000 limit in the House bill. Current homeowners will not be
affected by the lower cap.
▪ Taxpayers will no longer be able to fully deduct state and local taxes. The law allows an itemized deduction of up to $10,000 for the total of state and local property taxes and income or sales taxes. The original House and Senate bills completely eliminated this deduction.
▪ Though not specific to real estate, the standard deduction is doubled from the old law. This significant provision may reduce the value of mortgage interest and property tax deductions as tax incentives for homeownership.
What do these new provisions mean to real estate in Arlington and the DC metro region? No one knows for sure but, here in the nation’s capital of public policy, there is no shortage of speculation. One notable relevant fact is that 19.5% of new residential loans in Arlington County were valued at $750,000 or greater in 2017.* Assuming this percentage continues in the new year, a significant number of new borrowers at this level will have less to deduct. Compared to the rest of the nation, the DC metro area has a relatively large number of borrowers who will be affected by this new limit on deductions. In addition, there has been speculation in the press about the law’s effects. A December 29, 2017 Washington Post article reported that “the steady increase in housing prices in…the Washington region…is expected to slow in the coming years.” The December 24, 2017 Wall Street Journal also reported that “the tax overhaul is expected to create winners and losers among housing markets across the U.S., dealing a blow to high-cost coastal regions but potentially fueling demand in places in the middle of the country.”
So should we panic and move to Peoria? I don’t think so. There will always be regular life reasons for buying and selling homes – family, work, life choices, etc. – and these changes mentioned above may well be at the margins. What’s more, there is a lot more to this new law than the real estate provisions, and the law’s overall effect on the nation’s and region’s economies remains unknown. It will surely be constantly assessed. As stated earlier, homeowners should consult with tax and financial professionals to determine what is best for them.