Unlike most major industries, housing escaped relatively unscathed by the $99 billion tax hike enacted by Congress last month.
The measure, in fact, was backed by many of the real estate industy's largest trade associations, including the National Association of Realtors, the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Home Builders, who argued that the measure was essential in the effort to force down interest rates.
During consideration of the bill, the most serious threat to real estate interests was a proposal to take back part of a major tax break approved in 1981, but the proposal never was acted upon.
In 1981, buildings and structures were assigned a highly favorable 15-year depreciation period calculated under a formula approximating what is known as 175 percent declining balance, a system that allows most of the tax breaks to be taken in the initial years.
In a last-minute effort to raise money to meet budget targets, House-Senate conferees privately contemplated a number of alternative methods, including lengthening the depreciation schedule to 20 years or lowering early-year benefits.
These proposals would have raised between $7 billion and more than $13 billion over five years -- costing the industry that amount -- but in the end, the conferees choose other mechanisms to raise revenues.
In other areas, however, the tax bill did affect the real estate industry, in most cases unfavorably, although not entirely. Among the most important provisions, all of which are very complex and most of which take effect at the start of 1983, are:
* A broadened alternative minimum tax on wealthy individuals will make investments in real estate limited partnerships less attractive in certain circumstances.
When calculating minimum tax liabilities, deductions for interest payments on loans for investments cannot exceed investment income. For a number of potential individual investors, this will decrease the tax advantages of becoming a limited partner in an investment in a real estate tax shelter with large, up-front interest deductions.
In a related matter, the compliance section of the tax bill creates a 10 percent penalty for substantial underpayments of income tax. This penalty will be particularly tough on underpayments in connection with tax shelters. It will apply if the taxpayer reasonably believed that his claimed tax reductions were likely to be found incorrect.
* Regulations governing mortgage subsidy bonds to finance owner-occupied residences are liberalized significantly.
The arbitrage limits are raised from 1 percent to 1.125 percent. The value of the residences purchased with mortgages from bonds can be up to 110 percent of the average purchase price of homes in the area, instead of the current limitation of 90 percent. In addition, 10 percent of the proceeds of the bond issue can be used to finance mortgages for persons who already held an interest in their homes.
* The legislation did place a number of restrictions on industrial development bonds, however. These include requirements that multiple lots placed in one bond issue must be used to finance facilities that are located either in two or more states, or are to be used by the same "principal user."
In addition, property put into use after 1982 that has been financed with industrial development bonds will not get the depreciation breaks from the Accelerated Cost Recovery System enacted in 1981, with certain exemptions, including low-income housing, municipal solid-waste-disposal systems and certain pollution-control facilities. Under the law, industrial development bonds cannot be used to finance golf courses, country clubs, massage parlors, racquet sport facilities or race tracks.
* Under the law, corporations will lose certain tax breaks currently available for nonresidential construction. The bill will require corporations to capitalize construction period interest and taxes over 10 years instead of taking immediate, first-year deductions. The legislation did give a one-year postponement to much construction by the hotel, nursing home and hospital industries so long as certain requirements are met, however.
* An across-the-board cutback in corporate tax preferences will result in a partial reduction of capital gains benefits to corportions selling real estate. In certain circumstances, 15 percent of the income that corporations had been able to treat as a capital gain will become ordinary income, taxable at much higher rates.
* The legislation made major changes in the corporate pension law, including restrictions on loans made directly to beneficiaries of pension plans. After August 13, 1983, beneficiaries will only be able to borrow a maximum of half their vested interests in plans, up to a ceiling of $50,000. The loan will also have to be paid off within five years after it is made or the money would be treated as taxable income.
The five year restriction will not, however, apply in the case of loans used by the beneficiary to acquire or substantially rennovate his principal residence. The mortgage loan cannot exceed the value of the property.
The money in pension funds can be used to invest in mortgages, as long as the mortgage does not exceed the fair market value of the property.