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Reminder: 3.8% Tax is Not a Transfer Tax on Real Estate17 Oct

Tax time is nearing and once more rumors are circulating on the Internet and by e-mail that the health care reform law enacted two years ago includes a 3.8 percent transfer tax on real estate starting in 2013. That rumor is not true;  It’s a tax on a very narrow band of investment income for high-wealth households (those who earn $250,000 in a joint return or $200,000 as an individual) that could come into play on the sale of a house if the sales gain is more than $500,000 for a married couple or $250,000 for an individual.

Even in the unlikely event the sales gain is more than that amount, the tax would only apply based on other considerations having to do with the household’s income and tax situation. The bottom line is that the tax, which was imposed to help shore up Medicare, will hit only some portion of investment income.

Shortly after the federal government enacted sweeping healthcare reform earlier this year, there was considerable concern over a last-minute addition to the legislation: a 3.8 percent tax on investment income of upper-income households to help shore up Medicare. The tax takes effect in 2013.

Among the concerns expressed among consumers and business people, including real estate professionals, both then and today, is that the tax amounts to a transfer tax on real estate. Not true, NAR Director of Tax Policy Linda Goold says.

Here’s how the tax works. For individuals earning $200,000 a year or more and married couples earning $250,000 a year or more, certain investment income above these income levels might be subject to the 3.8 percent tax on a portion of that income. I say “might” because whether the tax applies or not depends on many factors having to do with the kind and amount of the investment income the household receives.

Investment income includes capital gains, dividends, interest payments, and, for those who own rental property, net rental income.

Importantly, the $250,000 (for individuals) and $500,000 (for married couples) capital gain exclusion on the sale of a principal residence remains in place. So, if you’re a married household that sold a house for a $500,000 gain (that’s gain, not sale proceeds), that amount remains excluded from your income calculation.

Let’s take a look at a married couple that has $325,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI), plus $525,000 in capital gains from the sale of their house.

This household would be considered upper-income by most standards. Not only is their income relatively high, at $325,000 (adjusted gross income, or AGI), but they’re receiving a $525,000 gain on their house sale. Presumably, they bought their house years ago and it’s appreciated over the years, so upon selling it, their gain is a relatively high $525,000.

For this household, only $25,000 in investment income would be subject to the 3.8 percent tax. That would amount to $950. That’s because it’s the $25,000 over the $500,000 capital gains exclusion that’s taxable.

Before they would know that, though, they would have to do a calculation that involves their adjusted gross income. They would have to add their capital gain of $25,000 to the amount of their income above the $250,000 income trigger (for married couples).  Since their income is $325,000, they would add the $25,000 to $75,000 ($325,000 – $250,000), which would equal $100,000. Then they would compare the $25,000 to that $100,000, and apply the tax to the lesser of the two, which is the $25,000. Thus, $25,000 x 3.8% = $950.

So, you have a household that had income of $850,000 for the year, and its tax on investment equaled $950.

This is a simplification. Other tax issues could come into play. But it shows that the tax applies to just a portion of investment income for certain upper-income households and that the capital gains exclusion remains untouched.

Nobody likes taxes, and this tax was inserted into the legislation at the 11th hour as a “pay-for,” that is, as a revenue generator to help offset some of the costs of the reform. It’s expected to generate $325 billion over eight years.

NAR has prepared a brochure that looks at how the tax might apply under eight income scenarios: 1) sale of principal residence (which we just looked at), 2) sale of a non-real estate asset, 3) gain, interest, and dividend from securities, 4) real estate investment income, 5) rental income as sole source of earnings, 6) sale of second home with no rental use, 7)  sale of inherited investment property, and 8. purchase and sale of investment property.

You can download the brochure for free. It’s written in plain language and I think you’ll find it organized efficiently, so you can see at a glance the potential considerations for the different scenarios. Of course, it’s just guidance: each household’s situation will be different, so you would want to suggest to your customers and clients that they consult with a tax advisor to make sure the tax is applied correctly in their case.

 

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Existing-Home Sales Maintain Solid Growth in July

WASHINGTON (August 20, 2015) — Existing-home sales steadily increased for the third consecutive month in July, while stubbornly low inventory levels and rising prices are likely to blame for sales to first-time buyers falling to their lowest share since January, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 2.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.59 million in July from a downwardly revised 5.48 million in June. Sales in July remained at the highest pace since February 2007 (5.79 million), have now increased year-over-year for ten consecutive months and are 10.3 percent above a year ago (5.07 million).

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the increase in sales in July solidifies what has been an impressive growth in activity during this year’s peak buying season. “The creation of jobs added at a steady clip and the prospect of higher mortgage rates and home prices down the road is encouraging more households to buy now,” he said. “As a result, current homeowners are using their increasing housing equity towards the downpayment on their next purchase.”

The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in July was $234,000, which is 5.6 percent above July 2014. July’s price increase marks the 41st consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

“Despite the strong growth in sales since this spring, declining affordability could begin to slowly dampen demand,” adds Yun. “Realtors® in some markets reported slower foot traffic in July in part because of low inventory and concerns about the continued rise in home prices without commensurate income gains.”

Total housing inventory3 at the end of July declined 0.4 percent to 2.24 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 4.7 percent lower than a year ago (2.35 million). Unsold inventory is at a 4.8-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.9 months in June.

The percent share of first-time buyers declined in July for the second consecutive month, falling from 30 percent in June to 28 percent — the lowest share since January of this year (also 28 percent). A year ago, first-time buyers represented 29 percent of all buyers.

“The fact that first-time buyers represented a lower share of the market compared to a year ago even though sales are considerably higher is indicative of the challenges many young adults continue to face,” adds Yun. “Rising rents and flat wage growth make it difficult for many to save for a downpayment, and the dearth of supply in affordable price ranges is limiting their options.”

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage climbed to 4.05 percent in July from 3.98 percent in June — the first time above 4 percent since November 2014 (4.00 percent) and the highest since September 2014 (4.16 percent).

Properties typically stayed on the market for 42 days in July, an increase from June (34 days) but below the 48 days in July 2014. Short sales were on the market the longest at a median of 135 days in July, while foreclosures sold in 49 days and non-distressed homes took 41 days. Forty-three percent of homes sold in July were on the market for less than a month.

All-cash sales increased slightly to 23 percent of transactions in July (22 percent in June) but are down from 29 percent a year ago. Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 13 percent of homes in July, up from 12 percent in June but down from 16 percent in July 2014. Sixty-four percent of investors paid cash in July.

Representing the lowest share since NAR began tracking in October 2008, distressed sales4 — foreclosures and short sales — declined to 7 percent in July from 8 percent in June; they were 9 percent a year ago. Five percent of July sales were foreclosures and 2 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 17 percent below market value in July (15 percent in June), while short sales were discounted 12 percent (18 percent in June).

NAR President Chris Polychron, executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark., says the housing market is in a much better place and has come a long way since the depths of the recession. “Five years ago, distressed sales represented 33 percent of the market in July,” he said. “For many previously distressed homeowners throughout the country, rising home values in recent years have helped recover equity and the vast improvement in several local job markets means fewer are falling behind on their mortgage payments.”

Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales

Single-family home sales increased 2.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.96 million in July (highest since February 2007 at 5.08 million) from 4.83 million in June, and are now 11.0 percent above the 4.47 million pace a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $235,500 in July, up 5.8 percent from July 2014.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 3.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 630,000 units in July from 650,000 units in June, but are still up 5.0 percent from July 2014 (600,000 units). The median existing condo price was $221,800 in July, which is 3.2 percent above a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

July existing-home sales in the Northeast decreased 2.8 percent to an annual rate of 700,000, but are still 9.4 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $277,200, which is 1.3 percent higher than July 2014. In the Midwest, existing-home sales were at an annual rate of 1.32 million in July, unchanged from June and 10.9 percent above July 2014. The median price in the Midwest was $186,500, up 6.6 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 4.1 percent to an annual rate of 2.29 million in July, and are 9.6 percent above July 2014. The median price in the South was $203,500, up 7.0 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West rose 3.2 percent to an annual rate of 1.28 million in July, and are 11.3 percent above a year ago. The median price in the West was $327,400, which is 8.4 percent above July 2014.

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NOTE: For local information, please contact the local association of Realtors® for data from local multiple listing services. Local MLS data is the most accurate source of sales and price information in specific areas, although there may be differences in reporting methodology.

1Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings from Multiple Listing Services. Changes in sales trends outside of MLSs are not captured in the monthly series. NAR rebenchmarks home sales periodically using other sources to assess overall home sales trends, including sales not reported by MLSs.

Existing-home sales, based on closings, differ from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which account for more than 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger data sample — about 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month — and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.

The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.

Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.

2The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical of market conditions than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions. The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if additional data is received.

The national median condo/co-op price often is higher than the median single-family home price because condos are concentrated in higher-cost housing markets. However, in a given area, single-family homes typically sell for more than condos as seen in NAR’s quarterly metro area price reports.

3Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions and condos were measured only on a quarterly basis).

4Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), days on market, first-time buyers, all-cash transactions and investors are from a monthly survey for the NAR’s Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at Realtor.org.

NOTE: The Pending Home Sales Index for July will be released August 27, and Existing-Home Sales for August will be released September 21; release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.

Contact Information

Alaska Association of REALTORS®
4205 Minnesota Drive
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

Phone (907) 563-7133
FAX (907) 561-1779
Toll-Free (800) 478-3763

joinus@alaskarealtors.com

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