Despite concerns that the 2018 tax reform law would undermine housing values, Westchester and the Hudson Valley held steady in the third quarter, with prices rising throughout the region and up dramatically in some counties.
Some analysts have expressed concerns about the effects of the 2018 Tax Reform law on our regional housing market. The tax law capped the deductibility of state and local taxes and reduced the mortgage interest deduction, which particularly impacts high‑tax areas, like Westchester and the Hudson Valley. Indeed, those analysts might see evidence for this theory in the third-quarter results, with regional single‑family home sales falling almost 2% from last year, and down in almost every individual county.
For the most part, though, sales are down because of a lack of supply, not a lack of demand. Regional inventory levels have gone down 25 straight quarters, falling from a high of around 16 months to the current six months. Quarter after quarter, inventory went down until we reached a point where we have a shortage of desirable homes for sale. That’s what’s holding back sales – a lack of “fuel for the fire.”
How do we know that falling sales aren’t the result of slackening demand from the impact of tax reform? A couple of reasons:
First, this trend of declining sales predates tax reform. We’ve been tracking falling sales for almost two years, with regional sales down, in five out of the last six quarters, well before the passage of tax reform in late 2017.
Second, sales are down in all markets, not just high‑priced markets. Tax reform would not explain why sales are down even in the lower‑priced markets, where most buyers do not itemize taxes in a way that they’d be affected by changes in deductibility. And yet, quarterly sales were down more in Rockland and Dutchess than they were in Westchester.
Third, prices are up in almost every market segment. Regional average sales prices were up almost 3% for houses and 5% for condos in the third quarter and were up (in some cases dramatically) in every individual county for almost every property type. If tax reform had sapped demand in the market, we’d be seeing flat or declining pricing, not robust appreciation.
All that said, tax reform might be having a small impact on the very high end of the market, where the loss of deductibility for mortgage interest and local taxes hits the hardest. Price appreciation was more pronounced in the lower‑priced markets, with single‑family average prices rising 11% in Putnam, 6% in Rockland, 14% in Orange, and 7% in Dutchess. Meanwhile, Westchester’s single‑family home pricing was up just a tick on average, and only fell 1% at the median. We’re talking about a marginal, not a major, impact. Prices aren’t rising at the rate they are in the lower‑priced markets, they’re basically flat, not falling.
Moreover, inventory is starting to respond to these rising prices. For the first time since 2012, inventory levels went up this quarter, which illustrates fundamental economic market theory: If demand is strong, and supply stays steady (or goes down), prices will go up. And when prices go up, new inventory will come onto the market. That’s what we’re seeing now: After years of decline, single‑family inventory was up in almost every county in the region, stabilizing near that six‑month level that usually signals a balancing market.
Going forward, we believe that the appetite in the market can handle both the impact of tax reform and this increased inventory while still driving continued price appreciation. With strong economic conditions, relatively low‑interest rates (and the specter of rate increases on the horizon), and pricing still at attractive 2004‑05 levels, we expect a robust market through the end of the year.
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