A home for sale in San Diego. Photo by Alexander Nguyen

By Mark Powell

California’s famous Proposition 13 was designed to stabilize property taxes in an effort to make housing affordable, especially for seniors living on fixed incomes. Unfortunately, the same law could now be responsible for driving up property values and preventing seniors from moving.

Many senior homeowners are holding onto their property, not because they are in love with their homes, but because they love their low property tax and moving might increase it. They feel locked into their properties, so they stay put—and for that reason many houses remain off the market, which creates a housing inventory shortage.

One of the reasons homes are so expensive in San Diego is simply a supply and demand problem. When the real estate inventory is low, real estate prices generally go up; and when the number of available properties increases, prices usually drop. The real estate inventory in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego is extremely low because they are not building enough new homes to keep up with the demand. Therefore, prices will most likely increase unless we devise ways to loosen up existing housing.

There is no one answer to San Diego’s housing shortage, and that is why we need to provide multiple solutions. Making the property tax base portable for homeowners aged 55 years or older is a good start. While some may feel that this initiative only benefits older homeowners, it would actually help first-time home buyers as well as move-up buyers who are struggling with San Diego’s limited housing inventory and high prices.

Mark Powell

An estimated 75 percent of Southern Californians can’t afford to buy a home, and California needs to double the number of homes built each year to keep prices from rising faster than the national average. A slight change to Proposition 13 could help increase the number of homes for sale in California, if the initiative gets enough signatures to make it on the ballot in 2018.

Existing law allows for the one-time transfer of a homeowner’s property tax base to a replacement property of equal or lesser value after the age of 55, provided that the replacement property is located within the same county. The new statewide initiative backed by the California Association of Realtors would allow homeowners who are over 55 years to transfer their property tax base multiple times and to any county in California. Further, the homeowner would no longer be restricted to a replacement property of equal or lesser value.

Simply explained, a homeowner who purchased a home in 1987 for $200,000, sold it this year for $500,000, and then purchased a new home for $600,000 would have a tax bill closer to their original 1987 tax rate. When a homeowner is allowed to purchase a home of greater value and still have a property tax bill that is manageable, they may be more likely to sell—and that frees up some housing inventory.

Proposition 13 was voted into law 40 years ago in 1978 as a way to protect ordinary San Diego homeowners and mom-and-pop businesses from tax-hungry bureaucrats, but now it’s time for California to modify some of the provisions in Proposition 13, and ease up unrealistic  regulations to help increase the housing inventory. Let’s hope the voters are able to see the benefits of the property tax portability ballot initiative.

Mark Powell serves on the board of directors for the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors, and represents District 1 on the San Diego County Board of Education.

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