Working at Home: Who Claims the Home Office Deduction?

April 10, 2014

Often cited as a “red flag” for audits, the home office deduction is in fact a legitimate business deduction with particular importance for certain careers and small business owners. Moreover – from the housing economics perspective – IRS data concerning the deduction, along with Census data reporting who works at home, can shed light on an important and growing role for homes: workplaces for business owners and telecommuters.

There’s no doubt that the practice of working at home is on the rise. According to data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, in 1997 7% of workers (9.2 million individuals) reported working at home at least one day a week. By 2010, that total had grown to 9.4% (13.4 million), an increase of more than four million or 35%.

WorkAtHomeMap1

The geographic distribution of those workers who primarily work at home (most days) shows interesting geographic clustering. Using data from the 2012 Census Bureau American Community Survey, the map above charts the share of the workforce (age 16 and over) who report working at home. The highest shares are found in the West, the Northwest, the Upper Midwest and New England. The state of Vermont has the highest share (7.1%), followed by Montana (6.5%), Colorado (6.5%), and Oregon (6.3%). Louisiana has the lowest share at 2.3%.

The reasons behind this geographic distribution are not immediately clear. Potential explanations include the geographic distribution of jobs that are more likely to include or allow at-home employment, weather, age/education differences in the workforce, and less quantifiable differences in workplace culture across states. Regardless, the growth of working-at-home represents a business opportunity for both remodelers and builders to help accommodate homes for this growing purpose.

The most recent industry-specific IRS data available (2010) for the home office deduction for independent contractors and sole proprietorships (Form 8829) (not telecommuters) provides a sense of who is using space in their home for a dedicated office.

home office deduction

Not surprising, workers in industries that involve more individual independence or technology tend toward greater use of the deduction. For example, educators, the information technology sector, professional services (lawyers, accountants, architects, etc.), and those in the arts and entertainment sectors are all more likely to claim the home office deduction. The real estate sector is in the middle category, with many Realtors reporting home office expenses. Home office deductions are less common in the construction sector, although many small construction firms do have home office expenses.

Specific sectors with high levels of home office deduction use include textile producers, electronics producers, nonstore based retailers, publishers, video/audio producers, broadcasters, internet based workers, certain financial workers, real estate brokers, appliance and video rental services, CPAs, architects, engineers, drafters, building inspectors, designers, science and business consultants, advertisers, marketers, business administrators, educators, doctors, social workers, actors, and religious and professional organization workers.

Overall, according to IRS data for tax year 2011 $9.8 billion in home office expenses (insurance, rent, repairs and utilities) were claimed on IRS Form 8829. The deduction is split into two classes: direct expenses related to the actual officer and indirect expenses that apply to the home as whole and are only partially deductible. Approximately 6 out of every 7 dollars claimed as a deduction originate from this indirect class. An additional $1.3 billion in home office related depreciation deductions was claimed in 2011.

Taxpayers who are likely to claim the deduction, including small business owners (builders and remodelers) and Realtors, should be aware of the rules. The IRS has a good summary page on the deduction. More details can be found in IRS Publication 587, which includes the following useful flowchart regarding qualifying.

IRS Figure A_Pub587

From a tax law perspective, two key changes are worth noting. First, in 2013 the IRS provided a simplified method for claiming the deduction, which can save taxpayers time in filing the required form. Under this approach, taxpayers may claim a $5 per square foot of home office space (up to a maximum of 300 square feet), other expenses such as mortgage interest and real estate taxes are claimed on Schedule A, and no depreciation deduction (or future recapture) is allowed.

Second, for those who have often heard about strict tests connected to the deduction, do keep in mind tax law changes made in 1997 that went into effect in 1999. Under the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, a residence can qualify as a principal place of business when it is used to conduct administrative or management activities if there is no other fixed business location. This change clarified a lot of uncertainty regarding the deduction for many classes of workers. However, for all taxpayers (homeowners and renters), the office space must be exclusively used for business purposes.

Telecommuting employees are less likely to be able to claim the deduction (they must itemize for example), and should consult IRS Form 2106 for additional detail.


Construction Job Openings Cool at the Start of 2014

April 8, 2014

The number of open, unfilled construction sector jobs declined at the start of 2014, according to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). While the February open rate is the fifth highest since the end of the recession, the count of open construction jobs fell during a period when unseasonably cold weather took a toll on numerous parts of the economy.

For the construction sector, monthly gross hiring declined slightly, falling on a seasonally adjusted basis from 281,000 to 273,000 from January to February. Over the same period, the hiring rate, as measured on a 3-month moving average basis, fell from 4.7% to 4.5%.

JOLTS_Feb 2014 data

Measured as a three-month moving average, the construction openings rate (the blue line above) has declined since December, inclusive of a significant downward revision for the preliminary January data. As of February 2014, the three-month moving average stood at 2%, a rate higher than any data reporting prior to October 2013 but lower than the December 2013 peak of 2.33%.

Two other changes in the construction sector are worth noting. First, the layoff rate for the sector (graphed above as a 12-month moving average) has continued to fall. Second, the sector hiring rate has fallen noticeably since the fall of 2013. The trend lines over the last two years – a falling hiring rate, an increasing opening rate, and a declining layoff rate – are consistent with some construction firms having trouble contracting with workers for specific projects. However, future employment reports will indicate whether recent hiring weakness is mostly due to weather effects or reflects new baselines for construction activity.

Monthly employment data for March 2014 (the employment count data from the BLS establishment survey are published one month ahead of the JOLTS data) indicate that total employment in home building stands at 2.242 million, broken down as 650,000 builders and 1.592 million residential specialty trade contractors.

res construction employment

According to the BLS data, over the last year the home building sector has added 103,000 jobs. Since the point of peak decline of home building employment, when total job losses for the industry stood at 1.466 million, 257,500 positions have been added to the residential construction sector. As of March, over the last six months the home building and remodeling industry has added on average more than 10,000 jobs per month.

For the economy as a whole, the February JOLTS data indicate that the hiring rate was constant at 3.3% of total employment. The hiring rate has been in the 3.1% to 3.4% range since January 2011. The current overall job openings rate (2.9%) has been in the 2.7% to 2.9% range since the start of 2013.


Metropolitan Markets Improve Slightly

April 7, 2014

The April NAHB/First American Leading Market Index rose one point to .88 from .87 in March. The index measures how close individual markets and the US market are relative to their last normal market activity. A total of 153 markets or about half of all markets were at or above the national index and 59 markets’ indexes were at or above one, meaning those markets had met or exceeded the last period of normal market activity.

The index measures single-family permits, home prices and employment in the past 12 months and divides that by the last normal annual level. For permits and prices, the last normal period is 2000-2003 and for employment 2007.

The index has been moving steadily upward for two years from a low of .78 in April 2012. At the same time, the number of markets at or above their last normal level of activity increased from 34, with 19 in energy producing states, to 59, with 30 in energy producing states (Texas, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming). The slight broadening into states with other economic bases is consistent with broader economic growth in the US.

Most markets (308 or 88%) have seen a recovery back to normal in home prices but employment lags,; 40 markets or 11% are back or above normal employment levels. Housing is even further behind; only 24 markets or 7% are back to or above normal levels of single-family permit issuance.

LMI April


Residential Construction Employment Up 9,100 in March

April 4, 2014

Solid job growth for home builders and remodelers was recorded in March, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The residential construction industry added 9,100 jobs for the month on a seasonally adjusted basis, 3,100 working for builders and 6,000 residential specialty trade contractors.

res constr employment

 

Total industry employment now stands at 2.242 million, broken down as approximately 650,000 builders and 1.592 million residential contractors. For 2014, the residential building industry has been averaging 10,000 jobs created per month. Over the last year, 103,000 jobs were created, and the home building workforce has gained 257,500 jobs since the post-recession low point set in January 2011.

home building employment share

Over the last year and a half, the share of jobs being created by the sector has outpaced the share of industry employment. For example, in March 2014, industry employment represented 1.63% of total nonfarm jobs. However, residential building was responsible for 4.74% of total jobs created. Home building typically provides an outsized boost to economic growth and job creation as a recession ends. In the last year or two, home building has finally assumed this typical economic role.

Overall, the establishment survey from the BLS indicated that 192,000 jobs were created on a seasonally adjusted basis in March. This was slightly below expectations, but on net a positive indicator for the economy. Previous months reporting was also revised up by 37,000 jobs.

The March data is also consistent with the claim that unseasonably cold weather in much of the U.S. held back economic growth during the end of 2013 and the start of the new year.

The separate household survey reported that the unemployment rate held steady in March at 6.7%. In a positive sign for household formations and housing demand, the labor force participation rate increased 0.2 percentage points to 63.2%. The size of the labor force increased by 503,000 in March.

 


Eye on the Economy: Existing Home Sales Down, New Home Sales Flat

April 2, 2014

In many parts of the country, spring began with winter-like conditions persisting. Without a doubt, unseasonably cold temperatures reduced economic activity during the first quarter of 2014, including home sales and construction. However, housing demand also weakened due to recent changes on the demand side of the market. Such changes can be seen in the contrasting data concerning new and existing home sales.

EOE gaph_Apr 2

New home sales remained effectively flat for the first two months of the year. According to the Census Bureau and HUD, new home sales declined 3.3% in February, yet the January-February average sales pace was approximately the same as the fourth-quarter 2013 seasonally adjusted annual rate of 447,000. New home inventories are rising in anticipation of a better spring, up 3,000 homes in February compared to December.

In contrast to new homes, existing home sales experienced a significant decline in recent months. Since July 2013, the pace of new home sales increased 18%, while existing single-family home sales declined 15%. February existing home sales, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), were down 0.4% for the month and off 7.1% from a year ago.

Aside from weather factors, part of the recent decline is due to a slackening of volume in distressed sales, which are off from 25% of the market a year ago to 16% in February. All-cash sales continue to play a dominant role in the existing home market (35% of transactions), while the first-time home buyer share rose from 26% in January to 28% in February.

This weakness in existing home sales can be expected to continue. The NAR Pending Home Sales Index — a useful indicator of future sales volume — decreased 0.8% in February, marking eight straight months of decline.

Despite these declines, home prices are rising, albeit at a slowing rate. For example, January’s Case-Shiller 20-city index showed a 0.8% monthly increase, marking the 23rd monthly increase. Consumer confidence indicators continue to show high levels of interest in purchasing a new home, although overall levels of sentiment have been mixed due in part to recent weather impacts.

The softness in recent housing data also appeared in construction spending data from the Census Bureau. Total private residential construction spending declined in February after three consecutive months of increase. The reading was down 0.8% from January, but still 13.5% higher than a year ago. Month-over-month single-family spending decreased by 1.1%, while the home improvement category decreased by 1.3%. Multifamily construction rebounded from a drop in January with a strong month-over-month increase of 2.6%.

In analysis news, NAHB continued its review of home buyer preferences, with new survey data indicating ethnic differences in preferences for items like kitchens and bathrooms. And NAHB economists used American Community Survey data to track the top metro areas by single-family housing market share and lowest home owner vacancy rates.

In tax analysis, NAHB reported that property taxes continue to be the primary revenue source for state and local governments. And new IRS data shows that the volume of remodeling activity generated by the 25C tax credit experienced a significant drop after 2010 policy changes.


Pending Sales Down

March 27, 2014

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on signed contracts, decreased 0.8% in February to 93.9 from a downwardly revised January level of 94.7. The PHSI now has declined eight straight months, and is at the lowest level since the 92.2 reported in October 2011. The February 2014 PHSI reported by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) was 10.5% lower than the same period a year ago.
Pending Home Sales February 2014

 

The February PHSI increased in the Midwest and West by 2.8% and 2.3% respectively, and fell in the Northeast and South by 2.4% and 4.0% respectively. All regions fell year-over-year, ranging from 7.4% in the Northeast to 16.5% in the West.

Two days ago Census reported a 3.3% decrease in February new home sales. For the second consecutive month, the unusually severe winter has slowed the housing market. However, the growth in household formations and strong pent-up demand will move the market forward later this year. The downward slide in the PHSI indicates existing home sales will remain flat over the next two months.


Energy Tax Credits: Large Impacts After 2010 Rule Changes

March 21, 2014

In 2005, Congress established a number of energy-efficiency tax incentives related to housing. These policies include the tax code section 45L credit for the construction of energy-efficient homes, the 25C credit for retrofitting existing homes, and the 25D credit for the installation of power production property in new and existing homes.

Using earlier IRS data for tax year 2009, we previously examined who benefitted from the 25C and 25D credits, as well as how homeowners used the credits. Last year, we examined the 2010 data for these credits.

With the publication of the tax year 2011 IRS data for 25C and 25D, significant reductions in use are clearly seen due to the rule changes that occurred at the end of 2010.

For example, from 2009 through the end of 2010, the 25C credit for existing homes was available as a 30% credit and $1,500 limit. After the extension of the “tax extenders” legislation at the end of 2010, those rules were pared back and retained when the credit was extended again as part of the Fiscal Cliff deal. Among those rule changes, the credit was reduced to a 10% rate and a $500 lifetime cap was imposed. It is worth noting that this version of the credit, along with many other tax extenders, expired at the end of 2013.

25C_2011

The 2011 IRS data show significant declines in 25C use as a result of the 2010 changes. The largest impact came from energy-efficient windows, for which the total dollar volume of installed qualified property fell from about $7.8 billion to approximately $1.4 billion. Qualified furnace installations declined by more than $5 billion, reaching a 2011 total of about $180 million.

Tax credit qualified insulation installations fell by more than $1.5 billion but was the largest category in 2011 at a total of $1.87 billion. Roofing retrofits were second with a tally of $1.4 billion.

In total, more than $6 billion of qualified improvements were made in 2011 in connection with the 25C credit. These expenditures resulted in more than $750 million in tax credits for just shy of 3.5 million homeowners.

25D_2011

 

In contrast, tax credit use under section 25D of the code expanded in 2011 from 2010 levels. The 25D credit is for installation of qualified power production property in both new and existing homes. The credit is equal to 30% of expenditures, including certain labor costs and is claimed by the homeowner. Unlike the 25C credit, the 25D program remains in law and is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2016.

The most popular 25D investment in 2011 was the installation of residential solar panels. 25D qualified solar electric property investments totaled almost $1.5 billion in 2011 for more than 100,000 taxpayers. It is worth noting that these solar installations reflect credits claimed for electrical system integrated panels that provide power for the home, as well as panels used to power stand-alone property like attic fans.

The second largest category was geothermal heat pumps, with $1.2 billion of installations claimed by more than 70,000 homeowners. The geothermal category experienced the largest growth in 2011 in terms of tax credit claims, up almost $300 million in total installations over 2010 totals.

In total, for 2011 there were $3.03 billion of qualified power production investments yielding about $921 million in 25D credits.

Given the rising popularity of items like solar panels, builders are well advised to examine the 25D program for prospective homeowners. The 25D credit can be awarded in new construction by providing the eventual homeowner an itemized breakout of material and labor costs associated with qualified property installation, so that the homeowner can claim the credit on their income tax return. An IRS Q&A on 25D and 25C can be found here.


Existing Sales Flat

March 20, 2014

Existing home sales decreased 0.4% in February, and fell 7.1% from the same period a year ago. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported February 2014 total existing home sales at a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.60 million units combined for single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, down from 4.62 million units in January.

Existing Home Sales February 2014

The West and South increased by 5.9% and 1.5% respectively from January, while the Midwest and Northeast decreased 3.8% and 11.3% respectively. Year-over-year, all regions decreased, ranging from a slight 0.5% in the South to 12.7% in the Northeast. Seasonally adjusted condominium and co-op sales fell 1.8% in February, and were down 8.2% from the same period a year ago.

First-time buyers comprised 28% of February 2014 sales, up from 26% in January, but down from 30% last February. The January first-time buyer share of 26% was the lowest since NAR began reporting that share monthly in October 2008. The historical average first-time buyer share is about 40%. Tight lending conditions continue to buffet first-time buyers, and NAR points to high levels of student debt as an important factor.

Total housing inventory increased 6.4% in February to 2.0 million existing homes. At the current sales rate, the February 2014 inventory represents a 5.2-month supply compared to a 4.9-month supply in January, and a 4.6-month supply of homes a year ago. On a positive note, NAR also reported that the February median time on market for all homes was 62 days, down from 67 days in January and 74 days during the same month a year ago. NAR reported that 34% of homes sold in February were on the market less than a month, compared to 31% of all homes sold in January.

As the market heals, the share of distressed sales increased for a second consecutive month to 16% in February from 15% in January, but was down from 25% a year ago. Distressed sales are defined as foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts. All cash sales were 35% of February transactions, up from 33% in January and 32% the same period a year ago. Individual investors purchased a 21% share in February, down from 20% in January and 22% a year ago. Some 73% of February investors paid cash, up from 70% last month.

The median sales price for existing homes of all types increased to $189,000 in February from a downwardly revised $187,900 in January, but was up 9.1% from a year ago. The median condominium/co-op price was $187,900 in February, down from a revised $187,900 in January, but up 9.8% from February 2013.

The December Pending Home Sales Index fell sharply by 8.7% in December, and then ticked up a tiny 0.1% in January. With much of the decrease attributed to weather, it was expected that January and February existing home sales would also fall sharply. Despite the increase in the February investor share, the 2013 run up of existing home prices will eventually make these homes less appealing for investors, and a future withdrawal of that demand will further depress existing sales. While existing home sales are down year-over-year, new home sales continue to post year-over-year gains (tempered by recent weather impacts) as investor activity cools. January 2014 new home sales hit a seasonally adjusted rate of 468,000 which was up from 458,000 during the same month a year ago.

Last month NAR reported that higher flood insurance rates presented a new headwind for just under a tenth of the market, and that 40,000 home sales were either cancelled or delayed because of higher flood insurance rates. NAHB applauds the Senate for joining the House by passing H.R. 3370, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which will moderate the immediate impact of flood insurance premiums on home owners.


Eye on the Economy: February Construction Holds Steady

March 19, 2014

As the unusually cold winter continued in many parts of the country, March builder confidence remained steady. The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index came in at a level of 47, one point lower from February’s 46. Ongoing weather challenges and increasing concern among builders about supply chain issues have held builder confidence down in recent months.

Census reported housing construction starts were virtually unchanged from slightly upwardly revised January figures. Total housing starts were 907,000 on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis, nearly identical to 909,000 in January. Single-family starts were 583,000, up 2,000 from January.

Regionally, single-family starts remained well below 2013 totals in the Northeast and Midwest, while above last year’s in the South and West. The regional differences match the location of the worst below-average temperatures and above-average snow falls and support the explanation of a weather effect rather than a shift in the housing market.

The pace of multifamily starts came in at a 324,000 annualized rate in February, down 4,000 from January but above the one-year average of 313,000. Other multifamily market data indicate that this sector continues to have room to grow. According to Consumer Price Index data, real, inflation adjusted rents have increased 1.2% from last year. And three-month apartment absorption rates for for-sale and for-lease unit rates remain near post-recession highs.

Local conditions remain positive for housing across the country. The March NAHB/First American Leading Markets (LMI) Index remained unchanged in March at .87 from February, but the number of markets considered at or above their last normal periods increased from 58 to 59 from February to March and from 47 to 59 year over year. In addition, the number of markets doing better than the national market rose from 147 to 152 month over month.

The LMI measures proximity to a normal market by comparing the last 12 months of activity in three indicators (single-family permits, home prices and employment levels). The gradual, persistent increase in the number of markets improving is further indication of the slow but steady process of resolving the economic and housing problems that developed during the Great Recession.

NAHB survey data suggest that in addition to the weather, lots, labor and building material costs remain top industry challenges. For example, recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate that there were 156,000 unfilled construction sector positions in January of 2014, the second highest count since May 2008. Overall employment growth remains lackluster, with the economy creating only 175,000 jobs in February after disappointing reports in January and December. And recent Producer Price Index data show that in February softwood lumber prices rose 2.2%, OSB prices declined 0.7%, and gypsum prices rose 4.1%.

In housing market analysis news, NAHB recently published information regarding housing preference among various ethnic groups. The study examines breakdowns of preferred housing items among these groups, as well demographic and income differences.

In addition, NAHB economists also examined local variations of homeownership rates and counts of owner-occupied homes. This review used data from the 2012 American Community Survey.

Finally, with respect to housing policy, NAHB’s Economics group published three summaries of key advocacy efforts underway on behalf of the home building sector: worker shortages, housing finance reform, and the prospect for comprehensive tax reform. Each one analyzes the data and draws economic conclusions in connection with ongoing efforts by NAHB and its membership.


Housing Construction Holds Steady

March 18, 2014

The unusual weather that kept builders out of the field continued into February and kept starts below their expected levels.

February housing starts were virtually unchanged from slightly upward revised January figures for both total starts as well as single-family and multifamily. Total housing starts were 907,000 on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis, nearly identical to 909,000 in January, which was revised upward from 880,000. Single-family starts were 583,000, up 2,000 from January and multifamily came in at 324,000, down 4,000 from January.

Regionally, single-family starts remained well below 2013 totals in the Northeast and Midwest while above last year in the South and West. The regional differences match the location of the worst below-average temperatures and above-average snow falls and support the explanation of a weather effect rather than a shift in the housing market.

Less weather-dependent permits were up almost 8% to 1,018,000, the fourth month over one million in the past year and second only to October 2013 since June 2008. Single-family permits were down almost 2 percent to an annual level of 588,000, due to a 13,000 drop in the West. Multifamily permits, on the other hand, rose 24 percent to 430,000, their highest level since May 2007.

Single-family completions continued to follow a general increasing trend rising to 631,000, the highest since December 2008 as builders continue to restock their depleted inventory in preparation for the spring selling season. Limited buildable lot and skilled labor supply have caused builders to slow production in some markets and lengthen their construction time in order to meet demand.

Housing Starts Feb 2014


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