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Where the GOP tax bill won't help: Housing prices

Tax plan impact

The new Republican tax bill is delivering an unwelcome message to some Americans about the value of homeownership: Tax breaks are still available, but only up to a point. 

One of the most controversial aspects of the bill is its $10,000 cap on deducting state and local taxes (SALT), which includes local property taxes. That's leaving many homeowners in expensive states feeling anxious about their tax burden in 2018 and beyond. 

Apart from potentially higher tax payments, homeowners in expensive states like New York, New Jersey and California may feel an unwelcome side effect of the tax bill: dampened real estate values, according to Moody's Analytics. Those markets are likely to become less enticing to buyers, which will reduce the potential for home appreciation over the next several years. 

The national impact on housing prices will reach minus 4 percent by mid-2019, meaning home prices are likely to be 4 percent lower than if there were no tax bill, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. 

"It's not that they would decline, but the rate of growth will slow," Zandi said of his prediction. "If housing prices would rise by 5 percent next year, with the tax cut, they will rise 1 percent."

The new treatment could also dampen home construction on top of dampening home values, according to Moody's Investor Service. 

"The SALT change plus the higher standard deduction and tighter limit on the mortgage interest deduction also reduce the tax incentive for home ownership, which is likely to slow home construction and sales, and moderately suppress home values and property tax growth in higher-price markets," Moody's analysts wrote in a Thursday research note. 

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Moody's Analytics

Yet some regions will bear more of the brunt, with parts of Florida, California, the Northeast and urban centers in the Midwest feeling more pricing pressure, he said. It's not only millionaires and wealthy families that will feel the hit from the tax bill's new approach to housing, but many middle-class families who live in high-tax states. 

New Jersey residents, for example, have the highest annual real estate taxes in the country, with an average of about $8,400 per year, compared with less than $1,000 annually for Southern states such as Alabama and Louisiana. 

Essex County, New Jersey, is among the areas that stands to lose the most, according to Moody's. A mostly suburban county home to many professionals who commute into New York City for work, the average property tax bill exceeds $10,000 per year. 

Not all homeowners in the county are wealthy, as its towns span the struggling city of Newark to middle-class suburbs like Nutley, where more than half of of homeowners are paying more than $10,000 in property taxes, yet the median household income is about $76,000. That means those homeowners won't be able to fully deduct their property taxes starting in 2018. 

Sticker shock for housing in Silicon Valley

"The initial effect will likely slow home sales as buyers and sellers try to figure out what it means," Zandi said. "It will effect where people decide to live and expand and start businesses. It makes the Northeast, especially around New York, less competitive."

Partly because the tax bill cuts the corporate rate to from 35 percent to 21 percent, GOP lawmakers sought to find ways they could raise taxes from other sources, which led to the cut in SALT deductions and lowering the mortgage interest deduction. Lowering corporate taxes will likely give the stock market a boost, Zandi said, but he added that he questioned the trade-off against homeowners. 

About two-thirds of Americans own their homes. But, noted Zandi, "Only at most half of US households own any stock at all, and the majority is owned by the top 10 percent of the distribution, so it's very narrowly held, while homeownership is broader," he said. "The impact of the change in house prices is bigger than the changes" that will help shareholders.