Nov 09, 2010
Is uncertainty about taxes fueling a surge in commercial listings?
09 Nov 2010
Posted by Andrew Kantor
Could the end of the Bush-era capital gains tax cut mean a jump in commercial sales? Could be, at least according to an article in Bloomberg.
With Congress deadlocked over extending the tax cuts, chances are looking good that rates will return to pre-Bush rates — most notably the capital gains tax, which will go back to 20% from its current 15%. That potential jump, Bloomberg contends, is convincing some commercial-property owners to try to sell now, rather than pay higher taxes later.
Longtime U.S. property owners … are testing the sales market amid uncertainty over the status of the tax cuts, setting the stage for a surge in transactions followed by a decline, said Robert Knakal, chairman of Massey Knakal Realty Services, a brokerage in New York. His firm has already seen a jump in deals, with contract signings reaching the highest monthly totals in three years each month since July.
There may be precedent as well.
Commercial-property sales soared before the implementation of a 1986 change in the federal tax code that increased the capital-gains rate to 28 percent and ended the practice of allowing real estate losses to generate large tax write-offs, said Hessam Nadji, managing director of research and advisory services at brokerage Marcus & Millichap in San Francisco.
“The second half of 1986 was off the charts,” Nadji said in a telephone interview. “We did about a year’s worth of business in about four months. There was such a frenzy to sell and book profits before the tax laws changed.”
But economics is rarely simple, and others point out that you can’t be sure that it’s the impending end of the tax break behind the sales bump.
The increase in deals could stem from a sense that real estate values are no longer plummeting, rather than tax uncertainty, said Robert Bach, the Chicago-based chief economist at commercial-property broker Grubb & Ellis Co.
“The tax issues are sort of overwhelmed by the broader issues of supply and demand,” Bach said in an interview. “There’s a limited number of properties, and maybe the increase is from the fact that buyers and sellers are coming to common ground as contrasted with a year ago, when there was little clarity on pricing and nobody was doing anything.”
And, of course, there’s the simple fact that prices are still dropping — down 3.3% from July to August to the lowest level they’ve been since 2002. Property owners may figure the recovery is further off than they want to wait.