at least in the shape likely to emerge from Congress this summer -- won't cripple American real estate, despite the industry's cries of pain on Capitol Hill.
To the contrary: The 1986 legislation likely will make real estate even more profitable, more attractive to acquire and own, provided you understand how to invest in the absence of heavy federal tax incentives.
That's the surprise consensus that emerged here last week at a blue-ribbon gathering of many of the nation's largest developers, financiers and owners of residential and commercial properties. The deep-pockets participants didn't endorse tax reform by a long shot. But they agreed it would be a net plus for themselves -- though not necessarily their customers -- during the next several years.
Neil Bluhm, head of JMB Realty, a company that owns $12 billion worth of prime apartment buildings and shopping centers, put it this way: For all its negative short-term provisions, the tax bill now before the Senate will accomplish five things that can only push the value of good real estate higher.It will put a damper on new construction of virtually everything but single-family homes. As a result, the glut of "see-through" office buildings and bond-financed apartment projects will begin to disappear. Tax-shelter-oriented competitors in real estate also will disappear. That will allow properties to be bought and sold on the basis of traditional economic returns, not for tax-subsidy quick fixes. The nation's largest single pool of pension fund dollars will be more open to real estate after tax reform than before. With economic sanity returning to residential real estate, corporate and public pension funds will be far more willing to pump larger amounts of cash in that direction. Rents will rise sharply under tax reform, especially for apartment residents. As the supply of newly constructed units decreases, demand will force rents up. So will the loss of current tax-write-off benefits. Owners will have no choice but to pass their higher after-tax operating costs onto their customers. Higher rents mean higher resale values. The owners of solid, well-positioned properties will be richer after tax reform than they would have been without it.
All of this, however, may bring on another cycle of federal tax tinkering early in the 1990s, Bluhm predicted.
"In four or five years, when there isn't enough building, rents are too high and we're making even more money than today , people on Capitol Hill are going to scream that we need some new incentives" because nobody can pay $2,000 a month for an apartment, he said.
"But we'll be enjoying the cash-flow increases while Congress is licking its wounds," Bluhm said.
The head of a major West Coast real estate investment firm was even more upbeat about the impact of tax reform. Richard G. Wollack, president of Consolidated Capital Cos., called the coming year the most propitious time for purchase of real estate since the mid-1970s.
Tax reform will intensify the shakeout already under way among promoters of real estate tax shelters and developers stuck with see-through projects, Wollack predicted. Their distress, along with low interest rates and a surging economy, will open the door for sharp-eyed acquisitions at bargain-basement prices. This year and next will be the decade's prime years for "bottom fishing" -- angling for real estate priced far below its economic potential because of tax changes or overbuilding.
How will the ordinary home buyer and small-scale investor fare in all this?
Quite well, several top executives noted, especially if they follow the rules of the "pre-tax-subsidy decade" of the 1950s. Single-family housing will be more affordable relative to renting than at any time in recent history. Rents will be higher. Mortgage rates may stabilize or decline. And heavy production of new houses and condominiums aimed at the first-time buyer will attract a rising percentage of consumers into ownership.
Who's afraid of tax reform? Not necessarily the people it's meant to scare.