Catching up with the First-time Homebuyer Tax Benefit Amendment Act of 2015

Catching up with the First-time Homebuyer Tax Benefit Amendment Act of 2015

First-time buyers and real estate pros in the District of Columbia awaiting word on the status of the First-time Homebuyer Tax Benefit Amendment Act of 2015 can expect to hear a response from the office of Mayor Muriel Bowser this week.

A final version of the bill that would amend the District of Columbia Deed Recordation Tax Act was transmitted to the Mayor’s office Feb. 2, and a response is due by Feb. 16.

The revised transfer tax rule would retroactively go into effect Oct. 1, 2016, according to the final bill, provided the measure is approved by the Mayor and passes the 30-day congressional review period.

As we previously reported, the bill will create a new transfer tax rate of 0.725% for homebuyers who have never purchased a house, condo or share in a cooperative unit in the District of Columbia. The current transfer tax rate for D.C. homebuyers is 1.1 percent on purchases of $399,999 or less and 1.45 percent on purchases of $400,000 or more.

The median home price in the region soared to a record high of $446,000 last summer, the Washington Post reported.

When we checked in last April with the bill known as B21-0417, or the First-time Homebuyer Tax Benefit Act of 2015, it was under committee review and awaiting scheduling for a mark-up. That happened last November.

After a first reading of the of the bill was delivered Dec. 3, 2016, Councilwoman Elissa Silverman (D-At Large) was the only one to vote against the measure, later telling Washington City Paper that because the bill did not specify income limits, the tax break would benefit a homebuyer in Ward 3 five times more than a homebuyer in Ward 8, rendering the benefit "regressive."

Councilwoman Silverman was not the only individual to express this sentiment. The lack of an income restriction has been a concern of the bill’s critics all along.

During testimonies that took place about a year ago, a representative from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute said the city would negatively impact its Housing Production Trust Fund, which has produced or preserved more than 8,000 affordable homes since its inception in 2002.

“Rather than provide a new tax benefit for all first-time homebuyers, DCFPI recommends that policymakers review the city’s current deed tax assistance to low- and moderate-income homebuyers and make adjustments if they appear warranted,” said DCFPI Housing Policy Associate Claire Zippel in her testimony last February.

The city regularly alters the income and purchase price restrictions on its popular D.C. Tax Abatement program, and the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue most recently increased the income and purchase price limitations at the end of last year.

However, the income-restriction concern in regards to B21-0417 was addressed Dec. 13, 2016 when Councilwoman Anita Bonds (D-At Large) introduced an amendment that added two eligibility requirements, an income limit of 180 percent of the area median income as well as proof of District residency.

The median income in D.C. in 2015 was $109,200 annually, so buyers earning up to $196,564 could potentially qualify for transfer tax relief.

The amendment also created a lifespan of four years after the program’s implementation date, at which point the Mayor must submit a report to City Council that reviews the benefits or impact of the tax relief program on homeownership rates.

With the Bonds amendment in place, Council voted unanimously in favor of the First-time Homebuyer Tax Benefit Amendment Act of 2015 on Dec. 20, 2016.

The cost of buying a home in Montgomery County to increase Sept. 1

Despite protests from the local real estate community, the Montgomery County Council last week unanimously approved an increase to the recordation tax, paid by homebuyers and sellers at closing, as a way to pay for school construction.

The recordation tax rate will now increase for the first $500K from $6.90/$1,000 to $8.90/$1,000 and for amounts above $500K from $10/$1,000 to $13.50/$1,000, a "pretty significant increase said County Council President Nancy Floreen who proposed the bill.

Put another way, a property purchased for $400,000 under the old tax rate would carry a recordation tax of $2,415 split between the buyer and seller. Under the new rate, the recordation tax will be $2,670, an increase of $255. A property purchased for $700,000 will see an increase of $1,155 in recordation taxes. A property purchased for $1,000,000 will cost an additional $2,205 in recordation taxes.

The median sales price in Montgomery County was approximately $411,000 last April, up 1 percent from a year ago.

Initially the tax increase was slated to take effect July 1, but the Council pushed it back to Sept. 1 amid protests from the real estate community who said they need more time to adjust to the change. The Council also opted to increase the county’s principal residence exemption from the first $50,000 to the first $100,000 in response to industry concerns.

Those in favor of the tax increase, such as the county’s Board of Education and the PTA, said funding increases for schools have not kept pace with growing enrollment. Montgomery County Public Schools is adding around 2,500 new students per year.

Those opposed to the tax increase said the financial burden was being unfairly placed upon a small subset of the county’s population. Roughly 13,000 units are bought and sold each year in Maryland’s most populous county that is home to over 1,000,000 residents. They also said increasing the recordation tax unfairly affects first-time homebuyers and elderly residents.

In the near future, the Council will examine ways to ease real estate tax burdens for senior citizens. They are also contemplating a 6 to 9 percent increase in property taxes.

Check back for updates as we hear more from County Council.

MoCo Council to consider increase to recordation taxes

The cost of buying a home in Montgomery County may soon increase, as County Council President Nancy Floreen has proposed an increase in the recordation taxes paid at real estate closings as a way to finance school construction.

The measure is projected to raise $185 million in revenues with $155 million earmarked for school construction, and a hearing on the bill is scheduled for May 10.

The current recordation tax in Montgomery County is $6.90 per $1,000 for the first $500,000 of purchase price. The recordation tax rate increases to $10 per $1,000 for anything over the $500,000 mark. Buyers and sellers customarily split the recordation tax 50/50.

For example, a purchase price of $400,000 at the current recordation tax rate would amount to $2,415 split between the buyer and seller. On a home sold for $600,000 the recordation tax would amount to $4,105 split between the buyer and seller.

Real estate agents are opposed to the tax increase saying it will hurt first-time homebuyers in particular and may have a negative impact on the local real estate market overall. Proponents of the legislation say it is necessary to fund school expansions in the growing county.

Montgomery County’s population has increased by more than 100,000 residents over the last 10 years and exceeds 1 million residents, making it the most populated county in Maryland.

Check back for updates on this legislation.

What’s the status on B21-0417, aka The First-time Homebuyer Tax Benefit Amendment Act of 2015?

Legislation that would offer tax relief for District residents buying DC real estate is currently under committee review and awaiting scheduling for a mark-up, a spokeswoman for the Council's Committee on Finance and Revenue said.

Known as the First-time Homebuyer Tax Benefit Amendment Act of 2015 (B21-0417), the bill would create a new transfer tax rate of 0.725% for homebuyers who have never purchased a house, condo or share in a cooperative unit in the District. It would go into effect Sept. 30, 2016.

During mark-up, which is a vote in the Committee to send the bill before the whole Council, the Committee will have an opportunity to amend the bill (or not) and will also have a chance to review a financial impact statement to analyze costs and revenues of the proposed legislation.

If the bill passes mark-up, it will go to Mayor Muriel Bowser for a signature before going to Congress for review and passive approval. If it fails mark-up, the bill will get kicked to the Committee of the Whole and added to the agenda for the next legislative meeting.

Impact on low- to moderate-income residents a concern

The Council held a public hearing about the bill on February 10 of this year, which is when Settlement Observer picked up on the story. Then on February 24 a representative from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute testified before the Committee about concerns regarding a lack of income restrictions and the impact the tax cut would have on the city’s Housing Production Trust Fund.

“Rather than provide a new tax benefit for all first-time homebuyers, DCFPI recommends that policymakers review the city’s current deed tax assistance to low- and moderate-income homebuyers and make adjustments if they appear warranted,” said DCFPI Housing Policy Associate Claire Zippel in her testimony.

The bill was introduced last October by councilmembers Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), David Grosso (I-At Large) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large).

Grosso acknowledged concerns regarding the economic impact of lowering the transfer tax rate across the board and, in particular, how such a deduction would affect the Trust Fund.

“I am committed to working with my colleagues to ensure that the [Trust Fund] receives annual commitments so that it is not dependent on yearly fluctuations in recordation tax revenues,” Grosso said in a statement.

Mayor Bowser’s budget proposal last year included $100 million for the Trust Fund in fiscal year 2016, according to the website of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development. The Trust Fund is administered by the DC Department of Housing and Community Development with support from the Coalition.

The Trust Fund “enables non-profit housing providers, mission-driven for-profit developers and renters wishing to exercise their Tenant Opportunity to Purchase rights to improve and develop affordable housing in all eight wards,” according to the Coalition’s website.

Since its inception in 2002, The Trust Fund has produced or preserved more than 8,000 affordable homes with upward of 2,000 more in the pipeline, according to the Coalition’s website. In addition the Trust Fund has created an estimated 10,000 short-term and permanent jobs and has helped more than 18,000 DC residents.

The District's homebuying taxes significantly higher than Maryland or Virginia, about 50% higher on average

Current DC transfer and recordation taxes are on average 50% higher than neighboring Maryland and Virginia, Grosso said in a statement, which was the impetus for introducing a bill that would lower the tax burden for homebuyers purchasing for the first time in the District.

Transfer tax rates for District properties vary depending on the purchase price, from 1.1% for purchases $399,999 and below to 1.45% for purchases of $400,000 or more. The tax payment is traditionally paid by both the buyer and seller.

The DC tax abatement program offers relief for some, but homebuyers must satisfy income, purchase price and other restrictions and provide documentation to qualify.

Tax abatement waives the recordation tax obligation for low- to moderate-income first-time homebuyers while also crediting the seller’s portion of the tax to the homebuyer, resulting in a 2.2% swing in favor of the homebuyer. In addition, a qualifying homebuyer is exempt from paying property taxes for the first five years of ownership, but again some restrictions apply.

“If policymakers are concerned that the current deed tax assistance programs are inadequate, the District should look to modify existing programs while keeping a focus on low- and moderate-income families, rather than adopt another tax break that has no income targeting,” Zippel, the housing policy associate, said in her testimony.

We will continue to monitor the story, and readers can also follow along on the Council's website.

Timely recordings for DC properties thanks to e-recording

Once a deed is signed, sealed and delivered, the transfer from seller to the buyer has taken place. It is not legally necessary or required for the document to be recorded.  

However, in order to protect the buyer’s interest in the property, Federal Title & Escrow Company records the deed with the Land Records office, providing constructive notice that the property has transferred.  

By recording the deed, another party is prevented from recording a document (such as a lien, judgment or even another deed) that could cloud the chain of title. It also provides notice of who is the owner of the property. 

Back in 2011, Federal Title started using DC’s e-recording process. The results have been outstanding. Previously, a recording had to be physically delivered to the DC Recorder of Deeds.  These manual recordings were often met with recording delays, as the recording process required the coordination of efforts among the Recorder (i.e. the person standing in line for hours at the Recorder of Deeds to obtain the Clerk’s recording receipt) the courier/mailing service, the settlement company and the Recorder of Deed office.  

The manual recording process provided only a Recorder’s receipt at the time of recording, and the recorded Instrument was mailed to the settlement company within six months of the actual recording date.  

Now with electronic recording, the recording process in DC is completed within hours of the settlement, as the process involves only the settlement company and the Recorder of Deeds!  

The best part is, the client is provided not just with a Recorder’s receipt to evidence that the document has been recorded, but also with the fully recorded document upon the completion of the recording process.

What does this mean to clients?  

It means that a deed is on record the same day of your closing, typically within hours. This greatly reduces the risk of fraud, conflicting recordings or lost documents.  

The DC Recorder of Deeds office has been at the forefront of the industry and deserves considerable praise for establishing a method to record that has been easy to use and helps protect the interests of all parties.  

Not all title companies are using e-recording, but Federal Title recognized early on the benefits of adopting e-recordings and our clients are benefitting by knowing that their documents are recorded in the District of Columbia within hours of the closing – just another example of how Federal Title embraces technology to improve closings. 

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  • What's title insurance?

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