Sunday, September 11, 2011

Can a tax cut breathe life into the Spanish property market?

An emergency meeting of Spanish government ministers announced a cut in the rate of IVA (Spanish VAT) on new build houses from 8% to 4%. The tax had only been raised from 7% thirteen months ago. The abrupt change of policy is aimed at reviving the housing market.

Something certainly needs to be done if Spain is to start to grow its economy. Before the crash the construction sector accounted for more than 15% of economic output; now it seems to be dead on its feet. Recent figures showed Spanish construction activity fell 43% in the year to June, a steeper fall than anywhere else in Europe. Will the tax cut help?

The idea is that this will help banks and property developers offload a lot of the new build properties that have lain empty since the housing crash hit hard in 2008. Estimates vary but their could be up to a million empty and unsold units weighing down on the whole market. New building will remain depressed until the backlog is at least partly cleared.

4% is a chunky reduction - around €5-8,000 off the purchase price for an average property. The reduction is temporary - just until the end of the current year - which may have the effect of bringing forward some activity and creating some momentum.

But there are doubts - transfer tax on existing home sales remains at 7-8% (depending on the area). Furthermore house prices still appear high in relation to incomes; "stratospherically" so according to one economist who produced a graph showing that average prices are more than 6 times annual average incomes in Spain; much higher than the UK and US: Spanish house prices still high

Banks don't have much of an incentive to shift properties while they hold them on their books at cost; selling them at current market prices would crystalise their losses and actually make their balance sheets look worse.

The tax cut may be helpful to those with property deals in the pipeline but don't expect it to trigger a wider revival in the Spanish property market.

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