Housing approaches the fiscal cliff

by Dan Krell
© 2012

Fiscal cliffMoving forward after the election, there are a number of events and possible legislation that could impact the real estate industry. The most imminent is the “fiscal cliff.”

The “fiscal cliff” is the term that describes the expected economic outcome of the automatic budget cuts (sequestration). Sequestration was part of a budget deal that was passed as the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011. Even though it is described as an economy falling off a cliff, some say it is more apt to an economy hitting a brick wall; because the sequestration will make it very difficult for the economy to expand. Others are not as pessimistic about the fiscal cliff; some describe the “cliff” as a gentle slope that may present some impediments to the economy that are not insurmountable.

Regardless of the description, there is a consensus that there will be some economic obstacles. There is an economic truth that the housing market benefits from a thriving economy, as well as suffering when the economy slows.

The Congressional Budget Office has provided warnings that a “fiscal cliff” could cause a recession in 2013 and possibly increase unemployment significantly. As we already know, a recession combined with increases in unemployment will not be good for the housing market. In a Florida Realtors® 2010 study conducted to determine causes of foreclosure in Florida, determined that there is a correlation between unemployment and foreclosure – citing a combination of increased cost of living, unemployment or decreased pay, and other factors.

To address budget deficits and avoid a fiscal cliff, various committees have convened and provided recommendations proposal for improve the budgetary process that included a number of recommendations to lower the budget deficit. One common thread in addressing budget deficits is to either eliminate or further restrict the mortgage interest deduction.

The origination of the mortgage interest deduction is not as extraordinary as you’d expect; however the fact that it has remained through tax reforms during the Reagan administration has been described as rather “remarkable.”

Fiscal cliffThe mortgage interest deduction is often described as a subsidy for the housing industry to encourage participation in market (similar to the first time homebuyer tax credits offered several years ago). Much like social security, it is a political hot potato that elected officials are hesitant to address. Some have argued for many years that the mortgage interest deduction should be eliminated since because they assert the subsidy artificially inflates home prices.

However, a National Association of Realtors® (NAR) December 1, 2010 press release, stated “The tax deductibility of interest paid on mortgages is a powerful incentive for home ownership and has been one of the simplest provisions in the federal tax code for more than 80 years…” The release cited a survey that indicated that the deduction was extremely important or very important to three-fourths of the 3,000 homeowners and renters surveyed (Realtor.org).

Several years ago, the Congressional Budget Office recommended the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction. Additionally, the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (more commonly known as the Simpson Bowles Commission) provided recommendations to reducing the mortgage interest deduction benefit from the current $1,000,000 limit to a cap of $500,000.

A resolution to the fiscal cliff may be reached before year’s end; the housing recovery depends on it.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of November 12, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.