When we think of our greatest monthly expenses, it's not surprising to see housing top the list. And if you're a homeowner, you're likely to see that number increase as your property ages and its maintenance grows all the more cumbersome. In fact, housing costs are such a huge issue that nearly 40 million Americans reportedly can't afford their homes.
So why do they stay? For those who own property, it generally boils down to not wanting to take a loss by selling at a low. And if you were looking to sell over the past 10 years, you ran the risk of doing just that. Once the housing bubble burst in late 2008, home prices took such a serious across-the-board tumble that many owners were stuck between a rock and a hard place: being underwater on their mortgages, yet struggling to keep up with their rising expenses. Thankfully, however, things have slowly but surely improved over the last decade, which means that if you've been looking to unload your property, now might actually be the best time to do it.
Why sell now?
Maybe the cost of maintaining your home has gotten out of hand, and you're desperate to downsize. Or perhaps your income situation has changed since you first bought your home (say, you've decided to take a break from the workforce and raise kids), and so you're looking for a more affordable alternative. Either way, if you've been barely keeping up with your housing costs for a while, now's a good time to consider getting out -- especially since home values have risen significantly over the past 10 years.
Zillow reports that the median home value in the country hit $200,700 in July of last year, compared to just $196,600 back in April 2007. In some areas, home prices are up nearly 50% from their mid-recession lows. And a large number of homes have grown to actually exceed their previous peak values. What this means is that if you're looking to sell, now might be the time to do it -- especially since we don't know how changes to the tax code will come to affect home prices in the near future.
Tax reform might come to hurt home prices
Though a number of key homeowner tax breaks still exist under the new laws, certain changes might cause housing prices to decline in the not-so-distant future -- particularly in areas where property values are inflated and real estate taxes are substantial. One thing the new tax laws did was lower the threshold for writing off mortgage interest from $1 million in home loan value to $750,000. Now to be clear, these figures refer to the amount of the loan being signed, not the amount of interest being paid in a given year. But what this means is that anyone who signs a mortgage this year that exceeds $750,000 won't get the same tax benefits as someone who signed one last year. And if buyers are less inclined to purchase pricier homes, it could drive values down.
Second, under the old laws, the state and local tax deduction, or SALT deduction, which also covered property taxes, was unlimited. This meant that homeowners in areas with high property taxes could deduct those bills in full. However, the SALT deduction will be limited to just $10,000 annually from here out, which means homes with higher property tax bills may not hold as much appeal.
One additional change to the tax code is that the interest paid on home equity loans is no longer deductible as it once was. Though this shift is unlikely to have the same impact as the aforementioned changes, it's yet one more benefit of homeownership that's gone away.
What all of this means is that if you've been looking to sell your home, you may want to move on that before potential buyers really grasp the consequences of these serious tax changes. Similarly, if you've been struggling to keep up with your housing costs but previously got a huge tax break in the form of, say, a $15,000 property tax deduction, know that you won't be getting the same deal going forward.
Don't keep paying a fortune for your home
As a general rule, we're advised to keep our housing costs to no more than 30% of our take-home pay. If your housing expenses well exceed that figure, then it's time to find a way out, especially since we don't know how the new tax laws will wind up affecting home values. However, since we do know that most home prices have risen, now's when you should consider capitalizing. Otherwise, you'll risk permanently damaging your finances like so many Americans are currently doing.