Poor Housing Investment Gets Worse in Tax Plan

One of the more scrutinized parts of the House Republicans’ tax plan is the proposal to reduce the mortgage-interest deduction. Taxpayers can now deduct interest on mortgages of up to $1 million. The proposal would reduce the cap to $500,000.

A lot has already been written about the policy implications of such a move. It’s also worth asking, however, how it would change the financial case for owning a home. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told Bloomberg on Friday that the ability to deduct interest “is not what drives you to buy a house.” But it should.

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There’s No Place Like Home

Jason Zweig recently suggested that homeowners make far less money selling their houses than they believe. He cites Yale University economist Robert Shiller’s data, which finds that “real estate generally keeps pace with inflation but seldom offers any return premium above that.”

Homes have done a bit better than that, but not by much. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, which measures the changes in value of single-family homes, has grown at a real rate of 1.1 percent annually since 1975. In reality, even this pittance overstates homeowners’ fortunes since it doesn’t account for the myriad expenses that also accompany homeownership and eat away at returns.

So how did homes get confused with goldmines? It turns out that a short-lived period of unusually high returns is to blame. As expected, that period coincides with the boom years of the real estate bubble, but the seeds were planted during the tech bubble that preceded it. This becomes apparent when looking at the NHPI’s rolling ten-year real returns.

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