Housing capital-gains taxation and homeowner mobility: Evidence from the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997
We provide new evidence on the impact of housing capital-gains taxation on homeowner behavior by examining residential mobility before and after the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 (TRA97), which generated the most sweeping reform of capital-gains taxation in the last two decades. In addition to lowering marginal tax rates on long-term capital gains for all assets, TRA97 also eliminated any differential treatment of housing gains above and below age 55, allowing all homeowners to qualify for capital-gains exclusions. Utilizing data drawn from the Current Population Survey (CPS) on either side of the law change (1996 and 1998) on homeowners just above (56-58 year olds) and below (52-54 year olds) the age-55 threshold and a reduced-form, difference-in-difference empirical approach, our estimates suggest that the repeal of the differential capital-gains tax treatment by age embodied in TRA97 had an economically important and statistically significant impact on the residential mobility of under-55 homeowners. Across a variety of specifications, the repeal raised the mobility rate by around 1-1.4 percentage points, which, for a mean mobility rate of 4 percentage points, represented an increase in the mobility rate of homeowners in their early 50s by 22-31%. Furthermore, the bulk of this effect was concentrated among highly mobile homeowners who a priori were more likely to have wanted to trade down (e.g., divorced, empty nesters), those facing higher capital gains tax rates, and those living in states that had experienced higher rates of nominal appreciation.
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