Quick and profitable home sales by short-term owners in the Bay Area could face steep new taxes under the Republican federal tax overhaul.
Owners selling a house within five years in the region, one of the nation’s most expensive real estate markets, would be punished by new capital gains rules found in the GOP tax proposals, according to a new study.
Analysts fear the new rules would also encourage Bay Area homeowners to stay put, further choking the already limited supply of available homes. A typical home seller in the region staying in a property less than five years could see his or her capital gains tax bill go up by as much as $75,000 in pricier neighborhoods.
“It’s a really big number, and it’s going to be felt,” said Skylar Olsen, senior economist for the real estate platform Zillow.
The tax proposals in the House and Senate would extend the length of time an owner must spend in their primary house to be excluded from capital gains taxes. The taxes are levied on the profit made on a home sale: the selling price minus the purchase price, and certain transaction costs and home improvements.
An owner now can avoid paying capital gains taxes on a profit of up to $500,000 on a home sale if they have stayed in their home for two of the past five years. Under both the House and Senate Republican proposals, owners selling before living in their home for five of the last eight years would be subject to federal levies on the first $500,000 profit on a sale.
Pricier communities, particularly white-hot Silicon Valley, would get hammered if the proposal becomes law.
The California real estate industry has rallied against other parts of the House proposal that would punish homeowners in the state. The plan cuts the mortgage interest deduction on new loans from $1 million to $500,000, and caps state and local property tax deductions at $10,000, lower than the annual levy for many Bay Area residents. A Senate version eliminates deductions for state and local property taxes altogether but keeps the higher mortgage interest deduction on new loans.
The GOP plan has passed the House, while the Senate version is still being debated. Some Republican senators have already expressed doubts over different aspects of the plan, including estimates showing it will explode the federal deficit. Democrats have shown no support for either bill.
The president of the National Association of Realtors last week called the House plan “an all-out assault” on home ownership. “Make no mistake, middle-class homeowners will see their home values fall if this proposal moves forward, while large corporations walk away with the bulk of the tax cuts,” association president Elizabeth Mendenhall said. “American homeowners shouldn’t have to pay for corporate tax cuts with their home equity.”
Jeff Bell, a Coldwell Banker agent in Cupertino, said the capital gains adjustment would delay or discourage some Bay Area homeowners from selling, further squeezing record low inventories and driving up prices.
“It’s just going to make it that much more difficult,” Bell said.
The tax proposal hits hardest on wealthier communities and cities where real estate prices are rising rapidly, Olsen said. “Silicon Valley has experienced some pretty serious appreciation,” she said.
The median price for a single-family home in the Bay Area was $768,000 last month, up 15 percent from a year ago.
Every desirable Bay Area housing market — including Sunnyvale, Mountain View, San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland — would carry an added tax burden for a homeowner selling before they’ve spent five years in their house.
For example, the owner of a typical Palo Alto home selling after four years would see their capital gains tax quadruple, from $22,200 to $97,200, according to Zillow. A San Jose resident selling a median-priced home would see a tax hike of $23,500.
Zillow estimates the GOP proposal would hit 11 percent of home sales in the country.
Bell said a typical Silicon Valley homeowner stays in a house between 7 and 10 years. But work transfers and other concerns sometimes make moving unavoidable, he said. “There’s always people in a situation where they have to move quickly.”
Bay Area cities impacted by proposed changes to capital gains taxes
According to real estate platform Zillow, the proposed changes in capital gains on home sales would boost taxes dramatically on some Bay Area houses. In these examples, the owner sells a median-priced home after four years:
CITY TAX INCREASE
Palo Alto $75,000
Mountain View $69,140
Redwood City $56,546
San Mateo $49,424
Santa Clara $43,108
Santa Monica $40,305
San Francisco $38,113
Source: Zillow analysis of city level, median home values and proposed changes to U.S. tax code.