You Can Take It With You: Transferability of Proposition 13 Tax Benefits, Residential Mobility, and Willingness to Pay for Housing Amenities

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Real Estate Papers
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Housing demand
transaction costs
household behaviour
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Real Estate
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Ferreira, Fernando V

The endogeneity of prices has long been recognized as the main identification problem in the estimation of marginal willingness to pay (MWTP) for the characteristics of a given product. This issue is particularly important in the housing market, since a number of housing and neighborhood features are unobserved by the econometrician. This paper proposes the use of a well defined type of transaction costs–moving costs generated by property tax laws–to deal with this type of omitted variable bias. California's Proposition 13 property tax law is the source of variation in transaction costs used in the empirical analysis. Beyond its fiscal consequences, Proposition 13 created a lock-in effect on housing choice because of the implicit tax break enjoyed by homeowners living in the same house for a long time. Its importance to homeowners is estimated from a natural experiment created by two amendments that allow households headed by an individual over the age of 55 to transfer the implicit tax benefit to a new home. Indeed, 55-year old homeowners have 25% higher moving rates than those of comparable 54 year olds. These transaction costs from the property tax laws are then incorporated into a household sorting model. The key insight is that because of the property tax laws, different potential buyers may have different user costs for the same house. The exogenous property tax component of this user cost is then used as an instrumental variable. I find that MWTP estimates for housing characteristics are approximately 100% upward biased when the choice model does not account for the price endogeneity.

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Journal of Public Economics
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