Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Housing Tax Credit: NAHB Projections and more

by Bill McBride on 10/07/2009 04:02:00 PM

From the NAHB:

Extending the credit through Nov. 30, 2010 and making it available to all purchasers of a principal residence would result in an additional 383,000 home sales ...
The NAHB has also been arguing to expand the tax credit from $8,000 to $15,000. But using $8,000 per home buyer - and estimating 5 million home sales over the next year - the total cost of the tax credit would be $40 billion.

According to the NAHB this would result in 383,000 additional home sales. Dividing $40 billion by 383 thousand gives $104,400 per additional home sold!

That is higher than my original estimate that an extension of the tax credit would cost about $100 thousand per additional home sold.

Note: If the NAHB meant $15,000 per home buyer, the cost would be $75 billion - or $157 thousand per additional home sold.

And this doesn't included the costs of the unintended consequences.

  • The tax credit is simply motivating some renters to become homeowners (not reducing the overall number of excess housing units). This is pushing up the vacancy rent, pushing down rents and leading to more commercial real estate (CRE) defaults and foreclosures - and will lead to more losses for lenders. The additional defaults associated with lower rents will probably be higher than the cost of the tax credit. From the WSJ: Fed Frets About Commercial Real Estate
    [Fed economist] Mr. Conway's presentation painted a bleak picture of the sliding real-estate values and enormous debt that will need to be refinanced in the next few years. Vacancy rates in the apartment, retail and warehouse sectors already have exceeded those seen during the real-estate collapse of the early 1990s, Mr. Conway noted. His report also predicted that commercial real-estate losses would reach roughly 45% next year. Valuing real estate has always been tricky for banks, and the problem is particularly acute now because sales activity is practically nonexistent.
    More than half of the $3.4 trillion in outstanding commercial real-estate debt is held by banks.
  • Motivating some renters to become homeowners has increased demand at the low end and pushed up house prices (more demand). However when the tax credit eventually ends (it will someday), the price-to-rent ratio will equalize, applying downward pressure on home prices.

  • Many of the additional sales in 2009 were to buyers who used the tax credit as their downpayment. These were marginal buyers who haven't proven the ability to manage their finances and save for a down payment. The default rates will probably be higher for these buyers than for other buyers.

  • The housing tax credit raises the risk of deflation. Falling rents will probably already push core CPI close to zero in 2010. An extension of the housing tax credit will probably push rents down further (as those 383,000 additional home buyers move from renting to owning), and that will probably mean core CPI will be negative in 2010. Not only will this impact any program adjusted by CPI (like Social Security), but this could lead to a deflationary mentality for consumers - with consumers holding off purchases waiting for lower prices.

    Anyone analyzing the tax credit should call the economists at the BLS and ask about how falling rents will impact owners' equivalent rent and CPI. Then call the economists at the Federal Reserve and ask how CPI deflation will impact consumer behavior and monetary policy. Welcome to the Fed's nightmare.