Kash Mansori on a home purchase tax credit

We’re pleased today to feature a guest contribution to Econbrowser from Kash Mansori, senior economist for Jefferson Wells International.

Will a Home Purchase Tax Credit Help Boost House Prices?

by Kash Mansori

Boosting house prices across the country is the stated goal of the big tax credits to home buyers (some are talking about $15,000) that are being considered as part of the economic stimulus package currently stuck in the Senate. But after thinking through the economics of the situation for a minute, I think it quite likely that such a tax credit might have very little impact on the level of house prices in today’s housing market.

A simple graphical analysis can help us think things through. The following picture shows a downward-sloping demand curve for house purchases (i.e. how many houses people are willing to buy in any particular month at any given price level), and upward-sloping supply curve of houses (i.e. how many houses are being offered on the market every month at any given price level).


The picture above shows the situation at a point in time when the housing market was clearing in an uncomplicated way, supply was meeting demand, and everything was fine. (We should really be imagining a different picture for each regional or city-wide housing market — each of which, as I’ve pointed out many times in the past, should be considered quite distinct… Plus, there’s a pretty complicated dynamic interplay between long-run and short-run supply curves in reality… But this analysis is simple enough that it can give you the general idea.)

Now let’s have some fun, and mess up the clean picture above with a housing crash. In 2007 and 2008 we saw an end to easy credit for potential home buyers, combined with a fall in incomes of potential home buyers, possibly combined with an unquantifiable change in perceptions and attitude and willingness to shell out ridiculous sums of money for mediocre houses. These forces all meant a fall in the demand for houses.

The situation we’ve been living in over the past year or two is depicted in the next picture.


Demand has fallen way back. Prices have fallen somewhat, from P0 to P1, but they haven’t fallen by enough to clear the market. (That would be where S0 meets D1, the new demand curve.) That’s because sellers haven’t fully adjusted their sales prices down to meet current market realities. As a result, only Q1 houses are actually purchased every month, and we have seen a substantial buildup in inventories of unsold houses. (Just take a look at Calculated Risk’s monthly pictures of inventories of unsold houses
for an illustration; while inventories may not be rising much right now, we still have a tremendous overhang.)

Now enter the tax credit. What will that do to the situation? Essentially, it gives each potential homebuyer an extra $15,000 to spend on houses. That doesn’t mean that they will necessarily buy a house that’s $15,000 more expensive than they would have without the tax credit… but it does mean that they would be willing to pay almost $15,000 more for a house that they were already willing to buy. We can depict this as a vertical bump up in the demand for houses of $15,000. The last graph shows the result.


The demand curve shifts up by a bit ($15,000 to be precise) in the vertical direction, to D2. But chances are that this is not going to soak up all of the additional unsold inventory of houses – not unless we think that all it would have taken to prevent inventories of unsold houses from piling up in the first place was for sellers to just drop their asking price by $15,000. Myself, I have a suspicion that in most of the markets that are foundering right now many sellers still need to drop their sales price expectations by $50 thousand, $100 thousand, or more.

If my hunch is correct, then all the house purchase tax credit will do is to modestly increase the number of houses sold each month… with no noticeable impact on house prices.

That doesn’t mean that the tax credit would have no impact. In particular, it may be a boon to some cash-constrained households that want to buy a house right now but can’t borrow enough. And it should help to reduce inventories of unsold houses by a bit. But if you’re hoping that it will make house prices rise, with all of the beneficial economic effects on home equity that such a rise might have… think again.

43 thoughts on “Kash Mansori on a home purchase tax credit

  1. Joseph

    Thanks for the nice, simple analysis. The real question is why would we want to prop up housing prices. It might make sense if there appeared to be a danger of undershooting on the downside, but if prices really do need to decline another $100,000 in many markets, this tax credit just delays getting there.
    Worse, it just re-inflates the bubble temporarily. This is a one time, one year credit. So a year from now these lucky people will be sitting in houses that were over-priced by $15,000 and with declining equity, just like now.

  2. ponyless

    Thank you so much. That was concise, clear and with the provided charts intuitive. Much appreciated.

  3. distant thinker

    Bearing all the above in mind, it would be better for the market if sellers were also given a tax credit for losses incurred when the sell their houses. Prices will adjust down more steeply and quickly; sellers will not wear all the pain; buyers will be encouraged to re-enter the market while prices are cheap; the tax break could have a fixed period – say until June 2010.
    The inventory of what is essentially a consumption good – houses – would clear fairly quickly and life could start to get back to normal.

  4. ferd

    If the $35 billion for house-buying tax credits does little to stimulate the economy or at least to prop up house prices as it seems is intended (however misguidedly), the world market might lose even more faith in the financial acumen of those who are In Charge in America. And that can’t be too good for our ability to sell Treasury bonds.
    But, under normal circumstances, do buyers of houses tend to shell out quite a bit right away for new furnishings?
    If so, and if your graph showing all money going into the buyer’s pocket, then maybe this particular $15K would get spent more readily than if it were sent to non house-buying hands.
    Not that new furnishings can compete with, say, better mass transit as a way to make America more productive and more credit worthy in the future. But new furnishings provide increased welfare for a few buyers, and job stimulus for many others, at least.
    Maybe we want to get home buyers that $15K right now, and don’t force them to borrow for furnishings, or to delay furnishing purchases until a Treasury check arrives this, or next, April.

  5. Anarchus

    I think there’s agreement that if nothing else, the $15,000 credit will increase turnover of the housing stock. In fact, isn’t one way to look at the credit is that it’s a direct government subsidy of the commission that home sellers/buyers pay to realtors?
    Now if that’s true, is it significant that one of the two Senator sponsors of the tax break is Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson? Hmmm, let’s see what he did BEFORE he became a Senator: “Shortly after graduating from the University of Georgia, he opened the first Cobb County office of Northside Realty, a prominent Atlanta-area real estate firm. He became company president in 1979, a post he held for 22 years, during which Northside became the biggest independent real estate company in Georgia.”
    Go ahead, call me a cynic. Make my day.

  6. Walker

    I am not sure that this will change the number of houses sold at all. If I am a buying but I am willing to wait, why would I buy now to save 15k, when waiting would allow me to save 50k? The 15k is only appealing to the people who “have” to buy (whatever that means), and thus would have bought anyway. In this case, the only effect of the 15k is that it encourages the buyer to move to a more expensive house than they would have originally bought. The overall demand remains the same, but the type of inventory being cleared out differs.

  7. Kash Mansori

    ferd: you might be right that home buyers could spend the money on other things – assuming that they would really like to spend more money on home furnishings, etc., and the only thing stopping them is that they can’t get the credit to do so. But wouldn’t an across-the-board tax rebate do the same thing?
    My point is that the main rationale that I’ve seen for the home purchase tax credit is that it will prop up housing prices, and that rationale seems faulty.
    Anarchus: you’re a shameless cynic. (Just fulfilling your request.) Of course, I suppose that makes me a cynic, too…

  8. tj

    I think it is more instructive to talk in terms of percentages. In midwest suburbia, a large fraction of homes are priced in the $150K to $300K range. A $15,000 credit amounts to a 5% to 10% discount off the purchase price. In areas of the country like California, Florida, Arizona, Nevada relatively more homes are priced above $300K so the tax credit would amount to a less than 5% discount off the purchase price. There doesn’t seem to be much incetive here unless you consider poor inner-city areas, or rural areas where many homes are priced below $150,000 and the $15,000 credit represents a much larger fraction of the total price.

  9. Charles

    Kash, I am against a home buying credit too, but for the reason that we could get a lot more bang for the buck by raising wages.
    However, I think that increasing the rate at which excess inventory is worked off is a worthy goal. We want construction workers to get back to work as soon as there is a genuine need for what they build and not have them kept out of work while demand becomes pent-up (and hence prices rise above equilibrium).
    If I were at CBO, I would focus on trying to determine the length of time that it would take for inventory to be worked off with/without the tax credit vs. the cost of the credit.

  10. ron

    It is my understanding that this is a tax credit over two years but one has to have tax liability of 15K in order to take full advantage which means this is a high income credit which will have limited impact.

  11. Chris J

    Even for those who might feel motivated to purchase by the credit may suspect it will be renewed. Recent history (the original $7,500 credit) suggests the deal might even get better if you wait. And, if many people take a wait and see attitude through next fall, the chances that sales will remain low and the credit will be renewed increase.
    As in many other markets, I think government intervention in residential housing muddies the waters. Many different subsidies (4% interest rates, etc) have been leaked. The gov’t may end up like a luxury retailer which slashed prices, and now finds that customers are holding out for even better deals down the road.

  12. skg

    I believe that the proposed tax credit is 10% of the purchase price, so it will not help much with the $1000 homes in Detroit.
    And I have some friends who are making about ~$50k-$60k / year.
    Their total income tax (according to a quick online calculator) is going to be $4000-$5000, before they get any mortgage interest or other itemized deductions. So even though they’re looking at buying a $155k house right now, this break won’t help them more than $10k over 2 years.
    This won’t apply to many people at all.

  13. Charles J Gervasi

    If this entices renters to stop renting and buy a house, it seems like that would push rents down. How much rent a property would bring is one way to work out how much it’s worth. So if the “problem” is having too many houses for sale, this shifts the problem in direction of having too many housing units for rent. No matter how you slice it, there are more housing units than people who need them.

  14. Alec

    These last couple of posts bring up the burning question: does the new version of the credit require the buyers to have a tax liability of $15K? If it does, it is worthless to have this credit because so few will be truly impacted.
    If it does not require tax liabilty of $15k, like the current credit, then it will pump money into the economy as home buyers furnish their new homes, etc.
    There was a study completed around 2003 that showed 60% of the entire US economy was tied to housing in one way or another. This is why it is so important to stop the bleeding of the market.

  15. Kash

    Alec and others: yes, my understanding is that you need to have a tax liability of $15,000 (over two years) to take full advantage of the credit. So yes, it’s benefit will be enjoyed mainly by households with significant income already.

  16. jesse

    So if you give potential buyers an extra $15K to spend on a house, with massive oversupply, maybe they will just buy a larger or higher quality house? All this will do is clear inventory faster and probably have close to ZERO impact on prices. While the average sales price may increase, from the same-property sales (or price per square foot) perspective, prices will still be falling.
    There is just too much unsold inventory for this supply-demand curve theory to mean much.

  17. DickF

    You are actually closer to doing real economic analysis than is Mansori. Unless you get to the real reason that housing is not selling you totally miss the real cause and you will recommend the wrong policy.
    In our current situation people are not buying houses because they are laid-off, or they have seen a reduction in their pay, or they are afraid that they will see a reduction in their pay, or they are paying debt, or they are saving to buy in the future. What ever the reason the reduction is due to a lack of consumer preference not consumer demand and this consumer preference is totally rational.
    So this analysis is superficial at best because it totally misses the reality presented by J.S. Mill that products are traded for products. You must take a step back earlier in the process than these graphs to ask what does the consumer need to buy a house. $15,000 is nothing if he is not a producer himself, if he does not have a job or own a business. Obviously he cannot make a house payment if he is not a producer even if you give him a $15,000 tax break.
    So to divorce the purchase of a house from other production in the economy is folly.
    It is actually simple. There is plenty of demand out there for houses, I imagine everyone who reads this would like to buy another house, so we don’t need more demand (as a matter of fact it could be argued that it was artificially stimulated demand that got us into this mess). The problem is there is a lack of production in the economy to provide the consumer with the resources to purchase the house, production exchanged for production.
    Graphs and econometrics can be very useful tools but they cannot replace economic reality and they will never change basic truths.

  18. Moopheus

    My wife and I would like to buy a house, but don’t feel inclined to buy at a still-inflated price (we live near Boston) because of a government giveaway. A price support basically means that money goes to the seller, and leaves us holding the bag when the support is cancelled. The other actor you didn’t consider is that since price supports favor the seller, how many potential sellers now sitting out the market will put their homes on the market at prices reflecting their desire to grab as much of the credit for themselves as possible? Isn’t there a good chance this will actually cause inventory to increase, and do nothing to help affordability?

  19. wtlf555

    The credit will do two things
    1) speed the reduction existing inventory. What might take 5 years could be burned in 2-3 years
    2) put cash in the pockets of consumers. It’s a pure cash tax credit.
    It will have little if any effect on prices. But whether it increases prices or reduces inventory is a moot point when assessing the efficacy of the policy.
    Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to buy a $700k house for $300k after renting for 2 years. I’m putting the $15k in TIPs and waiting for hyer-inflation when everyone realizes my $15k of freshly printed money is worth cr#$p

  20. don

    Kash –
    I’m just a bit bothered by your analysis. If there are no price controls, the market will be at the intersection of the short-run effective demand and the short-run effective supply. The best explanation I can come up with is that you drew the longer-run supply curve (in the short run, sellers are unwilling to face the music and need time to adjust to the realities of the new housing world), but you gave the intersection of the short-run effective supply and demand. Is that it? But usually, longer-run supply curves are more elastic than shorter run supply curves (owing to the response of construction). Your conclusions may be correct, but they are certainly not well supported by the analysis you present – you left out too much of the story.

  21. MrDuncan

    It looks like you would have to have a tax burden of $7500 or more as you can space the credit out over two years. It is a nonrefundable credit.

  22. M James

    You guys are way too rational. It’s all just a smoke-screen. You see I hate to break it to you, but
    you’re all just slaves. This paltry 15k is a diversion, while the REAL money goes to the banks.
    You and your children will end up sacraficed for James Dimon and Pandit.
    There is ABSOLUTELY no hope here. Summers and Geithener might as well be Cheney and Rumsfeld. The economy WILL collapse.

  23. julia

    i’m sick of the government trying to keep homes unaffordable for the young. why do the young even pay taxes for a gov that goes consistently against our interests? lets at least stop paying FICA! at least till it’s a priority for SS and Medicare to be there for Gen X and younger. the gov makes me sick! whether it’s obama or bush, they just are old people pleasers.

  24. pat

    Hi Julia,
    FICA or not, if you happen to be in a generation that in their most productive years, there are only two of them for every retiree, you will have to share the larger burden of supporting that retiree. It’s a reality you cannot escape. The flip side is that you got very pampered when growing up, not like those old generations who had to share one working adult with another 5 youngsters!

  25. kebko

    I don’t agree with this analysis. If there is a family that has assets of $200,000 & they are going to buy a house worth $250,000, then if you imagine that same family with $215,000 in assets, I don’t think that translates into them now buying a house worth $265,000. In fact, I would hardly expect their home-buying behavior to be much different at all. I certainly don’t see why they would every penny of it into a house.
    This is just a handout that is arbitrarily being given to people who happen to be buying a house. I suppose it might increase the number of transactions in the housing market for the period of time that the rule is in place, but I don’t see much net benefit.

  26. Chris


  27. Carlo Graziani

    Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Our current predicament arose from pretending that the Fed’s asset-inflationary policies were creating wealth, instead of a inflating a real-estate bubble; and the wreckage we see all around us came from the popping of that bubble.

    And the proposed solution is to legislate a tax cut that attempts to pump some air into another real-estate bubble?


  28. Bruce Webb

    Lets at least stop paying FICA! at least till it’s a priority for SS and Medicare to be there for Gen X and younger. the gov makes me sick! whether it’s obama or bush, they just are old people pleasers.

    Julia I am afraid that you like almost everyone under the age of 40 have just bought into the con game of Social Security ‘crisis’.
    Under current projections Social Security will in 2041 only be able to pay 78% of its 2040 level. But that 2040 level is in real terms around 160% of the 2009 level. And as Prof. Rosser pointed out some time ago 78% of 160% = 125%. That is Gen X is still projected to get a check 25% better in real terms than my Mom gets today, meaning that most of the whining about ‘old people pleasers’ is pretty much misplaced.
    Now granted Medicare is a real issue, but Social Security really isn’t. And gets even less so the more you dig into the numbers. Which I pretty much have done for you.
    Social Security Posts on Angry Bear
    More Social Security Posts on Angry Bear
    Even More SS Post: Fall 2008
    January 2008 AB Posts
    Speaking of Angry Bear, I hope Kash can spare a minute to visit his old cave once in a while.

  29. Stap

    In light of the fact that the rebate comes only after the transaction, and therefore can not be used as part of a downpayment, I think this plan can more accurately be called “The Home Depot bailout” AKA “The Durable Goods Retailers Rescue Plan”.
    I very much doubt that the 15K will be applied to the principal in any large amount. more likely, people will use it to fix up the home they just purchased.
    It’s worth noting that appliance manufacturers etc…could use the stimulus.

  30. hads

    Maybe I missed this in the comments so far, but this does nothing for first time or middle income buyers as it stands. Down payment requirements have risen and if the 15,000 were available for that it might make a difference. But as it stands a buyer still has to put $x+15,000 down at closing and then wait to be reimbursed the 15k – depending on what their taxable income is – for 1-2 years when they file their taxes. With most first or middle income buyers it is coming up w/ the dp and closing costs in the first place that is now the detriment.
    This will only benefit those who already are in a position to buy and would buy anyways, thus has very little to no stimulative effect as far as I can see. Also no effect on sales agents etc – it will be the same pool of buyers, not increased at all.

  31. Emily/DenverCO

    I have not, unfortunately, been paying enough attention to this over the last month or so. I was aware of the $7,500 tax credit (aka tax free loan) passed last year that would have to be repaid over 15 years starting 2 years after purchase. According to “KEBKO” above, are you saying that they have passed a bill to change this so that it does NOT have to be repaid at all? So this proposal of $15,000 would not be repaid either?
    I am a potential first-time home buyer. With the economy so low, my husband and I are anxious to buy but won’t be able to buy quite as much as we had hoped, so we will be going for a slightly older home that will require more TLC, so the tax credit would CERTAINLY increase our motivation to buy (aka moving one more house out of the available inventory) because, if no sooner, by early ’10, we would have a decent sized credit to help cover some/the costs of making the house what we need. Even if it doesn’t go to an increased purchase price/power (I won’t spend $15,000 more on the price), it WILL be spread more across the local retail economy (instead of just to the pockets of the seller) as we purchase home goods (carpet, paint, appliances, furniture). This WILL have a greater impact if MANY people across the country are able to do this.
    There’s my 2 cents for ya. If you know with more certainty (than I clearly don’t have) about whether or not any/all of this $7500 (or 15K) credit has to be repaid at all, I would LOVE to hear! Any sites that have more detailed info on this?

  32. smoot

    I think your analysis is missing something: yes, if the 15k isn’t enough to soak up the excess demand, it won’t cause an increase in the market price. But that’s just a matter of time. Given enough time, the price will eventually fall to the new equilibrium, at which point the 15k would cause an increase in the market price.
    So the only issue is one of timing: whether the 15k makes housing prices rise now, or prevents them from falling further later. Which has to do only with how far the market has fallen and how far it has still to fall.
    But isn’t it a positive either way? You can reasonably argue that the market should be allowed to seek its new equilibrium and propping it up artificially is a bad idea. But I don’t think you can argue that a tax credit will have the effect of propping it up, whether prospectively or retrospectively.

  33. John Konop

    First the economist made a major 101 mistake in his or her analysis. Anyone who ever took the course research methods knows you cannot compare a different set of variables and use them in your conclusion.
    The major factor left out is the down payments required to get a loan has gone basically from nothing to about 10% on non jumbo loans. On Jumbo loans it is now around 30 %.
    This bill was actually designed more to help the non jumbo loan market. If the average loan is about 200k now that means a person needs 20k for the down payment. And with a 15k credit they would only need 5k. to buy the home.
    From a credit stand point the person now has 10% in the house. Any study will show you defaults are very low in that category. Your riskiest loans are when they have nothing in the house or upside down.
    As far as helping the rich, I will help you with that math. If a rich person had a 1 million dollar mortgage they would need 300k down for the loan. Any rational person would understand 15k is not a factor on a 300k issue.

  34. Owen


    As I understand it, the major issues to be worked out at this point are the differences between the House and Senate amendments. Both want to remove the requirement to repay the existing $7,500 refundable credit/loan.

    The House amendment would not extend the expiration date of the current credit, but would eliminate repayments for purchases made between January 1 and July 1, 2009, providing the home is not sold within 3 years.

    The Senate amendment would replace the $7,500 first-time buyer credit with a true tax credit applicable to all who buy a principal home during the year following enactment. The maximum would be the lowest of your combined 2009 and 2010 tax liability, 10% of the cost of the house, or $15,000.

    A reasonable compromise might be to reword the bill to include both options, and allow the taxpayer to choose betwwen them.

    You can read more info and commentary at Ben Kevan’s Blog

  35. Sheryl

    I agree with you 100%! Your chart says it all. I think the market values of homes need to drop to the 1999 market values – like what the stock market has already done. Wages, adjusted for inflation, are at about 1999 levels. The bottom line is that wages determine cost of homes. Currently, new construction is about 40% less per square foot than cost per foot for existing homes. Would be interesting if you could redo the above based on 1999 wages adjusted for inflation vs current market values of homes to see by how much current prices of homes are over valued. Sheryl, BS Economics

  36. Sheryl

    John Konop,
    Correction! You do not need any money down to purchase a home if your credt score is 750 or higher for conventional loans (in our area $419,000 or less). You will have to purchase mortgage insurance to cover the 20% down that you do not have. I have just been pre-qualfed on 2/7/09 by 3 lenders Wells Fargo, BAC, Evergreen (i.e. Freddie, Fannie) none require any down payment. In fact, because my credit score is high 840 they are offering to discout the interest rate another 1/4 – 1/2 percent if I borrow from them. I am shopping rates. Sheryl

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