The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Monday began the grueling process of hashing out the disparities between their tax bills — a task that will require reconciling hundreds of billions of dollars in differences.
The two versions of the legislation are a bit of a mixed bag for the real estate industry — disproportionately favoring the commercial sector over residential. Limited liability companies (LLCs) and real estate investment trusts win big under both. Homeowners? Not so much.
Heidi Learner, chief economist of Savills Studley, warned that the benefits will likely come at a cost. After all, the $1 trillion that is expected to be added to the federal budget deficit — as estimated by the Joint Committee in Taxation — will need to be made up for elsewhere.
“From the commercial front, the treatment is quite favorable,” Learner said. “But any perks could be offset by higher interest rates.”
The Real Estate Board of New York has also spoken out against the elimination of the federal deduction of state income taxes, and has voiced concerns over the impact the House’s version will have on affordable housing construction.
“The tax reform legislation under consideration contains elements that will promote economic growth and job creation,” REBNY President John Banks said in a statement. “There are several issues, however, with which we remain deeply concerned.”
Here are the issues that will most dramatically impact the real estate industry:
1. Pass-through deductions
The biggest developers and investors in New York City, Los Angeles and Miami rely extensively on LLCs and partnerships. For this reason, the increase in tax cuts for pass-through entities — which don’t pay income taxes at the corporate level — is likely a significant boon to the industry. The House version caps the pass-through rate at 25 percent, down from the current 39.6 percent. The Senate version allows such businesses to exclude 22.4 percent of their income from taxes.
“This could certainly cause a lot of people to rethink how they structure their business,” Learner said. She noted that more owners may opt to form LLCs or other partnerships to benefit from the deduction.
Real estate investment trusts (REITs) will also benefit from the lower pass-through rates, as the New York Times noted.
2. Corporate tax cuts
Both the Senate and House versions of the bill slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. The House version kicks in next year, while the Senate version starts in 2019.
The Senate bill shortens the depreciable life of commercial assets from 39 years to 25 years, meaning that the rate at which property owners can take these deductions is sped up, according to the Times. Shimon Shkury, founder of Ariel Property Advisors, says the change is a win for commercial property owners.
“The property owner has a non-cash deduction, and essentially shelters more income,” he said.
4. Estate tax
This one’s for the real estate dynasties. The Senate version of the bill would double the federal estate tax exemption levels — currently a 40 percent tax on estates worth more than $5.49 million for individuals, and nearly $11 million for married couples. The House bill would do the same until 2024, when it proposes to repeal the estate tax altogether. According to the Times, President Trump would save $1.1 billion under the House’s bill.
5. Private activity bonds
City officials estimate that the elimination of private activity bonds would mean 10,000 less affordable housing units will be created or preserved each year — in New York, that could cut the de Blasio administration’s goals roughly in half. These bonds are used to claim 4 percent tax credits each year (which yield approximately 30 percent of the cost of constructing low-income housing over a 10-year period), and are a major source of funding for affordable housing across the country.
“You would be looking at a 65 percent reduction in the production of affordable housing [nationwide],” said Chris Eisenzimmer, director of affordable development at Greystone. “It’s creating a lot of uncertainty amongst investors and owners.”
The House bill revokes private activity bonds, while the Senate version leaves them intact.
6. Mortgage and property tax deductions
The House version caps mortgage interest deductions at $500,000, down from $1 million. The Senate’s bill doesn’t change the cap on these deductions but eliminates them for home equity loans, the Washington Post reported. The Senate version has also decided to follow the House in allowing deductions on property taxes of up to $10,000.
Bonus: Private jets!
The inclusion of a tax break for private jet owners in the Senate version of the bill inspired a flurry of angry tweets and stories this month. The measure, however, actually tweaks an existing tax law to assure that private jet owners don’t get hit with a “ticket tax,” which is intended for commercial airlines, according to the Wall Street Journal. Still, the private jet owners out there — Steve Witkoff, Jeff Greene, Michael Stern and Richard LeFrak, to name a few — are probably pleased with the change.