Tax reform’s winners (and losers) manifest in luxury real estate

by Scott Klocksin

No piece of financial legislation can benefit all players, but it’s clear that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is having widespread impact on residential real estate across the country.

Case in point: Williamson County, Tennessee. The affluent county of about 225,000 residents south of Nashville experienced a 10 percent increase in its average home value throughout 2018.

Amazon’s announcement of creating 5,000 high-paying jobs to the area starting in 2019 couldn’t have hurt, but a big driver in Williamson County, as in many other wealthy areas in states with little or no state income tax, was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which went into effect on New Year’s Day, 2018.

Tennessee, like Texas, Florida and Washington state, has no state income tax at all, and experts like Realtor.com chief economist Danielle Hale have been expecting the high ends of the market in those places to do well in the new normal ushered in by the sweeping tax law.

“At this point most people know the parameters of the tax plan,” Hale told Mansion Global. “The luxury data already reflects this, and it’s the first place where we expected see it.”

Coastal South Florida, even in areas vulnerable to increasingly frequent and intense hurricanes, has been a winner in the new taxation order, with the number of seven-figure-and-up sales in six different counties spiking upwards of 20 percent in 2018.

That considerable bump in high-end sales isn’t just due to more local demand, some who track the market closely have said.

“The Northeast is Florida’s new luxury buyer,” said New York-based real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller, who noted that the exodus from high-tax states is likely related to the tax law.

The tax law will cause a tax increase for about 5 percent of those who file, a group which includes those with over $500,000 in annual income who pay a large amount of state and local tax. That’s because deductions for state and local tax are limited under the law to $10,000 per year—an amount that’s consistently dwarfed by the local and state tax bill of many high-earners in states like New York, California and Illinois.

One need only look to wealthy areas in and around New York City to see what that may mean for real estate in a state with high taxes. While the causes of this slowdown can’t be reduced solely to the tax law, it bears noting that $1 million-and-up home sales dropped 12.5 percent over a year ago in Manhattan. And in the rarefied air of Suffolk County, home to the weekend beach houses of many New York City’s movers-and-shakers, the dip in sales was 16.3 percent.

The tax law, widely characterized as a punitive shot at heavily-Democratic parts of the country, may be a factor in some well-heeled suburban congressional districts flipping from Republican to Democratic in the recent midterm election.

Home sales cracking $1 million in Lake County, Illinois, for example, dropped by 20 percent in 2018. The largely affluent county includes parts of two congressional districts that flipped from Republican to Democratic in the election.

Similar flips were seen in places like Washington, DC’s Virginia suburbs and several parts of California.

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