Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why A Tax Credit For Move-Up Buyers Is Important

Today I posted a question on Facebook - asking for input from existing homeowners on the appeal of a tax credit that would not be restricted to first-time buyers. There is currently a proposal on the table that:

  • Extends the deadline for the first-time $8000 buyer credit
  • Increases the income caps on accessibility of the credit
  • Adds a $6500 credit for move-up buyers
While I've seen many first-time buyers get excited about the $8000 credit, and especially in recent weeks as the deadline approaches, my gut sense was that the $6500 move-up credit would make far less impact in encouraging people to move than an $8000 credit encourages a renter to ditch their landlord.

Most of the responses I got were pointing at political aspects of this (which I don't care to get into here), but it did elicit a few private messages from people who said they would consider it. None of these people was previously insistent upon staying still, so it's hard to tell if the allure of a $6500 credit would make anybody budge who wasn't already oriented that way...

But then I recalled a very interesting article that I read a few weeks back from the Pragmatic Capitalist. In this post, they take data to the theory of market lock-up, and explore the level of equity most homeowners need to be in a position to sell and buy. They look at how many homeowners are 'trapped' and unable to become a move-up buyer even if they wanted to. It's not an optimistic outlook, so remove all sharp objects from the area before reading.

The move-up buyer credit goes straight at the problem raised by the Pragmatic Capitalist. Maybe $6500 isn't enough to grease every jammed-up gear in the system, but it's got to help some scenarios. I'd argue it could be the last nudge needed to spark a few transactions currently stuck. As with everything economic, it affects the margins.

Add to this conversation the Plankton Theory as it applies to Housing (discussed frequently by Bill Gross and Paul McCulley of PIMCO)- which stresses the importance of first time buyers (the plankton) to continuously bring new money to the market so that the bigger fish (move-up buyers) and whales (McMansions) can have something to feed upon.

If we have low inventory at the first-time buyer level (we do, as evidenced by reports of 20-40 offers per listing), and a move-up buyer creates lower-end inventory, than the enticements need to be hitting this move-up market. The first-time buyer needs inventory, not a tax credit.

So if it works, it encourages market activity in the middle and upper price brackets, essentially adding fluidity to the market. I like it.