Real estate investors are facing a squeeze play on Capitol Hill, with important tax incentives nearing an end-of-the-year deadline.
Last week the House approved what's known as the Tax Extender Act, a Christmas tree bill filled with nearly 50 tax program extensions beyond their December 31st scheduled expiration date.
Two of the extenders are especially significant for investment real estate: First is the so-called "leasehold improvements" provision, which allows owners of commercial, retail, hotel and office buildings -- large and small -- to use an accelerated 15-year depreciation schedule in writing off renovations and upgrades they make to their real estate.
The House bill extends favorable leasehold writeoffs for another year.
The second key one year extension in the bill involves depreciation writeoffs for developers who clean up so-called "brownfield" sites that have experienced environmental damage from toxic chemicals or pollution.
But the House bill also contains a massive penalty for real estate, a multi-billion dollar tax increase for investors in real estate partnership deals.
The House bill would remove favorable capital gains treatment that now exists for a type of compensation that general partners frequently receive, known as "carried interest," and instead tax it at ordinary income tax rates.
For many investors functioning as general partners, that would mean a crushing tax increase -- more than double their tax rates overnight.
Though strongly opposed by housing, real estate and other financial market groups, the extender bill with the "carried interest" tax change has now gone to the Senate for a vote.
And that's where the deadline squeeze comes in. The Senate already has a jampacked year-end schedule dominated by health care, and is not likely to take up the tax extender bill before December 31st.
As a result, the popular leasehold improvements and brownfields tax programs are likely to expire, effectively go into limbo, as of January 1st.
Real estate industry legislative analysts say the Senate could take up the tax extenders bill as early as January or February, but will probably not accept the House's controversial carried interest changes.
Should investors worried about the expired tax benefits get upset?
Not quite yet, lobbyists tell Real Estate-Realtor Times. If the Senate can quickly cobble together some alternative tax increases to satisfy the House, the extender bill is likely to pass sometime early in the year with a January 1 retroactive date - minus the tax increase for real estate partnerships.
Then again, nothing is certain on Capitol Hill.
So talk to your tax advisor before committing to investment decisions that might be affected by the expiration.