Should builders and banks receive an excise tax exemption as WA State faces a budget deficit?

House Bill 1495 has been introduced into the legislature and is now in committee.  In these times filled with hope, I am hoping this bill dies or at least comes out looking substantially different.  Let’s take a look.

AN ACT Relating to real estate excise tax exemptions to stabilize neighborhoods…

The legislature finds that there is a substantial inventory of unsold or foreclosed vacant homes on the market that is driving property values down and destabilizing neighborhoods. These homes also present an opportunity to provide affordable homes to low-income families, addressing some of the unmet need for affordable housing in the state of Washington. The legislature also finds that providing targeted incentives to housing developers will stimulate the sale of these vacant homes to low-income buyers now and stabilize neighborhoods affected by this growing inventory. The legislature intends to provide such incentives through excise tax relief on sales of homes to low-income first-time homebuyers.

I’ve been asking Realtors in all my classes to begin watching the percentage of financially distressed sellers with homes for sale in their market area.  Agents can do an MLS keyword search using terms such as “short sale,

36 thoughts on “Should builders and banks receive an excise tax exemption as WA State faces a budget deficit?

  1. To continue a thread from another post… I’d have to think that investments in Green Building, rather than tax cuts, would help the state (and its citizens) more in the long term – and should in the short term as well.

    In this case… rather than remove the excise tax, re-invest that excise tax in retrofits for properties being sold to the lower income family. That spurs useful job creation, and means the folks who have less income will pass less in energy bills – which means they have more money to spend.

    Yes, this means less money going to the state, but it certainly seems to make a lot more sense than an exemption on the tax…

    Am I missing something? This seems pretty obvious…


  2. It is virtually impossible to determine the number of short sales or REO properties. But 4671 of 9124 SFR listings in King County are vacant. That’s a huge percentage.

    BTW, we’ll know after the end of the month, but it doesn’t appear there was a surge in listings after the first of the year. A lot of people apparently don’t want to sell in this market, which probably accounts for the large percentage of vacant listings.

  3. Beyond the problem Jillayne mentions regarding qualifying, and the concern I always raise on these type of things really being second time homeowner programs (because it allows existing buyers to sell), what’s to say that the seller is actually going to pass along the savings on excise tax to the buyer?

    The current market has the state collecting about 1/3rd of the excise tax it collected at the peak of the market. I don’t see how it can afford to give up even more.

  4. “Can someone please explain to me how an individual making this salary will be able to qualify for to repay a mortgage loan at today’s inflated values?”

    Last I checked the median family income was around 68K, 80% of that is 54.4K.

    Can you get a mortgage loan for a van down by the river?

    Seriously though, I believe the answer is don’t live near Seattle. You could probably get a decent place in Clarkston or Kennewick with that income.

    Kary, I would be more concerned with repaying than qualifying. Simply qualifying people who can’t repay, like they did before, won’t fix this for long. You have a good point about the seller keeping the tax savings though. With the $7500 tax credit everyone was heralding it as a way to keep prices up and a reason to buy at the still inflated prices. I don’t see why this would be any different.

  5. Cautious Buyer,

    “Stimulus” is to keep things from going into a fear-based freefall. From going down too quickly, or below where it might go, if fear were not the primary motivator.

  6. I don’t really “get” green building. It often seems like a carrot that adds to price, more than a true added benefit.

    Can someone give me a list of “green” items that they deem to be of benefit that are available today that don’t push the price up? I think there are tax incentives for those who add energy efficient improvements, like new windows. But does that fit into the “green” definition.

  7. Why wouldn’t energy efficiency fit the “green” definition? I can’t think of any other home improvements that have nearly as big a “green” impact.

  8. Well, all new construction has new, energy efficient windows, I think. So I don’ think you can call it “green” just because it has new windows.

    Going back to comment #1, I have seen mandatory “retrofits” at time of sale imposed in Santa Monica. The one I recall was “low flow toilets”. Every time a property sold, it had to be retrofitted with all low-flow toilets.

    I’m not sure if that is along the lines of what Gene had in mind. All new windows would be hard to push as a retrofit requirement of sale. Massively intrusive. I’ve never seen it, and there is already a tax incentive (I believe) in the Federal Tax Code for energy efficient improvements for owners.

    I have seen areas impose a “Certificate of Occupancy” requirement on resale properties, that push local agendas. I’ve seen “must have new curbs”, “must have deadbolt with no key needed on the inside, for fire safety”. I have seen improvement agendas pushed in this manner as a condition of sale in various areas around the Country, but at the seller’s expense, and as a condition of sale imposed by the local governments vs. Federal Government.

  9. Cautious-buyer wrote: “Kary, I would be more concerned with repaying than qualifying. Simply qualifying people who can’t repay, like they did before, won’t fix this for long.”

    That’s another reason I call these things second time buyer programs. Even when the market was going up it wasn’t clear you were doing the first time buyer a favor. Especially some of the state programs that looked more like an option arm with the payment set at the least prudent payment level. Like the option arm, they were dependent on future appreciation for success.

  10. Most of the “green” stuff is pretty much “common sense” when you take a whole systems approach and do a number of the improvements. Unfortuantely most builders just build to code and stick with business as usual. The low hanging fruit are things like:

    1. Low flow toilets (since you brought it up)

    2. Replacing – or installing – weather stripping

    3. More, better or “some” insulation if needed (could just be in the attic, could be blow-in if there is none in the walls, etc.)

    4. Windows would be a big ticket item, but might be worth going with double pane/low-E it if the old ones are not double pane

    5. Higher efficiency appliances or furnace (or even geothermal)

    6. Higher efficiency light bulbs (CFL, LED, etc.)

    For residential homes in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll get less bang for your buck on savings – but a good ROI is certainly possible.

    In general if you do “enough” improvements (say windows, insulation, weather stripping, etc.), you can actually save big bucks by then being able to use a much smaller heating (and cooling if you have it) system the next time that needs replacement. This is especially true in commercial spaces where the costs involved are higher for larger systems, though there can be up front savings on a large retrofit/remodel.

    The BuiltGreen program in the region is actually not bad, though in many ways it is just a guide to “best practices”. Unfortunately many builders/renovators do not know or simply do not follow best practices – even when they are more cost effective.

    Oh yeah, the federal tax incentives for new windows/etc. are pretty tiny/pathetic at this point. I think the best you can do is save a few hundred dollars, and have to spend thousands to do so. So while we’re cutting taxes… that would be a nice place to see more tax benefits…


  11. Gene,

    I’ve seen a lot of “cons” to air-tighting a house that was meant to “breathe”. I’ve seen the entire support system of the roof rot out when new windows, insulation and siding were added to homes built in the 70s and 80s. So I have mixed feelings on these types of improvements, if the attic ventilation is not improved to support the extra moisture and air flowing up, and not out.

  12. Ardell,

    If you go for sealing the building envelop completely, then you can add air exchangers to bring fresh air into the house without losing our heating/cooling.

    I can’t imagine how putting new windows/siding/etc. in (properly) would cause the entire roof to rot out… unless the roof is not properly ventilated with ridge or soffit vents.

    See my previous message about many builders/renovators not following “best practices”… And as I mentioned, programs like BuiltGreen tend to provide some of those best practices – though more education is needed no doubt.


  13. “…unless the roof is not properly ventilated with ridge or soffit vents.”

    When the house doesn’t have a lot of insulation and double pane windows, it also often does not have the type of ventilation in the roof that you need for these improvements.

    What I have seen is an owner at different times get new windows, new siding with added insulation, without increasing the roof ventilation. Sometimes even a new second shingle, so it looks like a brand new roof. But without the added ventilation needed, caused by the upgrade in windows siding and insulation, the moisture builds up in the attic space and rots out the wood under the roof. Black mold.

    I think any house built from the 50s to the 90s when ridge vents became more common, can have these problems if one is not careful. I’ve heard many an inspector say “this house was not built to be this air-tight. It was meant to “breathe” more.”

    Perhaps a little old bunglaow left alone is better off than tearing it down and putting up a 3,500 sf “energy efficient” home in its place. Maybe “the little cottage that could” is more “green” in the long run. Just a thought.

  14. Ardell,

    Or, maybe if someone is going to do thousands of dollars completely renovating a place, then should hire people who are going to do it right and actual do something simple making sure there is proper ventilation.

    People can keep the character of a house, yet still make it more comfortable (less drafty, more stable temperatures, less noise) and energy efficient. That is exactly what I’m advocating – the updates that make sense in context.

    I have no idea why you jumped to tear downs as that seems like a completely separate conversation. If you want to talk planning/zoning and green rebuilding, that’s cool. We can talk urban density, walkability, mass transit, beautification and (rooftop even) gardens, permaculture, etc, but I was just trying to stick to the simple stuff.


  15. Gene,

    I apologize, as I said I am not very “green” oriented and am hoping to learn more from people who are. Unfortunately I often see the term as an “ad” gimick, and so am hoping to learn more from someone who is true advocate.

    It may seem like common sense to you, but there is so much being pushed as “green” just to make a sale…it’s hard for me to wade through the insincere.

  16. Targeting the building and banking industries with tax incentives is unlikely to have any effect on the market let alone market wide stabalization of prices. While incenting low income families is a noble proposition for politicians, recent history shows the folly of such well meaning incentives.

    The market we are in is largely the creation of well meaning politicians who promoted home ownership by lowering the requirements for home ownership through the community reinvestment act. Historically home ownership rates have run in the mid 60’s as a percentage of households. In the bubble years it blossomed to 72%. This gave President Bush a great success story and all of the politicians patted themselves on the back.

    The market is likely correcting itself back to the 62% to 67% homeownership rates at which time prices and the market in general should stabilize. I would rather see middle income tax incentives since they are much more likely to use them for the intended effect on the economy. Demographically they are more financially disciplined, more likely to improve on the properties once they own them, and are much more stable in a socio economic sense.

    We’ve seen what banks have done with our bailout money. The mega builders like Quadrant would likely get the lion’s share of the tax incentives while the smaller builders who have taken a devastating blow are unlikely to be saved by the incentive. We would simply be putting money into the pockets of big corporations leaving the state to make up the difference by coming after the middle class tax payers who need the help the most.

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