Real estate industry in suspense as election hangs in balance

Trump and Biden still battling for votes with key policies on the line

National /
Nov.November 04, 2020 02:12 AM
Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Illustration by The Real Deal)

Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Illustration by The Real Deal)

UPDATED, 12:20 p.m., Nov. 4: The presidential election remained too close to call Wednesday morning, leaving the future uncertain for the real estate industry.

Polls in the final days before the election largely predicted Joe Biden would defeat President Donald Trump in what’s been one of the most divisive presidential races in U.S. history. But hours after polls closed Tuesday night, crucial swing states including Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan had too many uncounted ballots to call.

As of noon, votes were still being counted in those key states, with Biden leading in Michigan and Wisconsin, and Trump leading in Georgia and Pennsylvania. Biden has more electoral college votes than Trump, but that could still change.

Trump ended up winning Florida, a key delegate state. Biden performed well below expectations in Miami-Dade — the most populous county — removing any chance he had to capture the state.

“It ain’t over until every ballot is counted, but we’re feeling good about where we are,” Biden said at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, shortly before 1 a.m. “We believe we’re on track to win this election. We’re going to have to be patient. It’s going to take awhile.”

At the same time, Trump tweeted, “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” Twitter quickly labeled the tweet as potentially misleading.

“They’re never going to catch us — they can’t catch us,” Trump said in a speech shortly after 2 a.m., referring to the key battleground state of Georgia. “We were getting ready to win this election — frankly, we did win this election,” he claimed to his supporters, though in fact the race is far from being determined.

Full results may not be available for some time: Millions of Americans voted by mail in 2020 because of the pandemic. Only nine states anticipate having nearly all of their ballots counted by noon on Nov. 4, according to the New York Times. And there could be legal challenges about which ballots to count.

In the months leading up to the election, real estate players — perhaps sensing a Biden win or reacting to the president’s response to the pandemic — donated more money to the challenger than to Trump. Among the industry vets who contributed to Biden’s campaign were affordable housing developer Jonathan Rose, RXR Realty CEO Scott Rechler, Taconic Investment Partners co-CEO Charles Bendit and Tishman Realty’s Dan Tishman.

Still, Trump’s real estate ties earned him support from many industry bigwigs, including Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steve Roth and Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross. Real estate players in South Florida have largely come out in support of the incumbent, though Jorge Perez, Miami’s biggest condo developer and head of Related Group, was one of the few in the region to endorse Biden.

A survey of more than 450 industry professionals by The Real Deal published Tuesday also found that nearly half of respondents believed that four more years of Trump would be better for the real estate market than a Biden presidency. Only 29 percent said Biden would be preferable, and 22 percent said neither candidate would be better.

Though real estate has typically aligned itself with the business-friendly Republican Party, Trump’s last four years have been a mixed bag for the industry. His tenure has drawn attention to how the real estate industry exploits the tax code and has galvanized liberal voters, moving politics in major cities to the left.

If Biden wins, he might look to change some of those practices. The former vice president has already set sights on dramatically reforming 1031 exchanges, a tax break beloved by the industry, in order to fund child care and elderly care. He plans to limit like-kind exchanges to people making less than $400,000 a year. He has also pledged not to raise taxes on households earning less than that amount — which means taxes on the wealthy are fair game.

Biden has also vowed to reform the Opportunity Zones program, created by the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which provides capital gains tax breaks to developers who invest in “distressed” areas.

Should Trump clinch a second term, however, the industry could expect to continue reaping the rewards from those breaks, including those created by the 2017 tax overhaul.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform called that legislation a “windfall” for real estate developers that would lead to $66.7 billion in gains over 10 years. The law doubled the estate tax exemption, exempted commercial real estate firms from a 30 percent limit on interest deducted by large businesses, and exempted real estate companies from limits on like-kind exchanges. The law is projected to add $1.9 trillion in debt over 11 years, starting in 2018.

But in the near term, the next president will be responsible for leading the country through its worst health crisis in a century. Covid-19 has killed more than 230,000 Americans and infected more than 9 million.
The pandemic has also triggered a recession that has wiped out jobs and devastated city and state budgets. The real estate industry has been left reeling, with nearly every single sector — commercial, residential, multifamily, office, hospitality and more — taking big hits.

Some industry bigwigs cited the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic as a reason to support Biden.

Douglas Durst, chairman of the Durst Organization, was among them. He told TRD in September that “a competent, rational and scientific-based response to Covid is essential for the real estate industry.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Kathryn Brenzel and Georgia Kromrei contributed reporting.


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