The Fiscal Cliff – How Does It Affect Real Estate?
There’s been a lot of discussion in the news about the fiscal cliff lately. In case you aren’t already familiar, the fiscal cliff is a combination of several laws which would result in tax increases and spending cuts starting in 2013. So, how does any of this relate to real estate?
The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 is one of the tax breaks that is set to expire at the end of the year. Generally, if debt is forgiven or canceled, this can be considered income to the borrower because it’s money they borrowed that they no longer have to pay back. So the borrower could be taxed on the amount of debt they were forgiven. This act excludes forgiven debt related to foreclosure, short sale, or loan modification of a primary residence from being taxable.
Even though the NAR (National Association of Realtors) is fighting hard to extend this act, I’m kind of torn on my opinion. Part of me says, we absolutely need to prevent people who have lost their home from being kicked while they are down and taxed on their debt forgiveness. Although, the other part of me says without this act we would have fewer people strategically foreclosing (walking away for convenience or part of their financial plan), which I don’t agree with. Maybe this act could be revised to provide incentives for short sales instead of foreclosures? This may prevent some strategic defaults while still helping those that are really trying to work with the banks.
Capital Gains Taxes are also set to increase from 15 to 20% on January 1st. I’m somewhat indifferent on this topic too. As real estate investors, lower capital gains taxes are beneficial for my wife and I in the long run. Although, I also understand the need for the government collect more than they spend, and I don’t think this is such a terrible place to squeeze more money out of tax payers. This will however, raise expenses for investors who are helping to revitalizing distressed properties, which could have a negative impact on a recovering market. So, I’d prefer to delay the increase a year or two or slowly raise it back to 20% over a period of a couple years.
The Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction is also a discussion item. Currently mortgage interest is a tax deductible item. Although, law makers are threatening to trim deductions allowed related to mortgage interest. Again the NAR is fighting to keep this tax deduction around. I think we all realize that this tax deduction is an incentive for home ownership and taking it away could slow (if not severely damage) the recovery of real estate markets. Although, I don’t think it would have much market affect if they set a lower maximum allowable deduction or eliminated the deduction for second homes. I’m probably the only Realtor and real estate investor that you will ever hear say this… but I wouldn’t mind if this tax deduction was reduced over time and eventually disappeared. Why? because I don’t think our government should dole out rewards for having debt. Debt and the willingness of the American people to overspend is what got us in this mess to begin with.
What are your thoughts on the fiscal cliff? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts?