March 11 2014
California Leavin: Anywhere but the Golden State
Usually reading a newspaper or magazine luxury real estate section involves ogling the beautiful houses and vacation bungalows in cities and countries far, far away. But reading the Wall Street Journal’s Mansion section for Friday, March 7 was a dose of reality instead, as more than one story touched on the trouble with California. It seems that even if you have money to buy a mansion, you’ll do it anywhere but the Golden State.
Take the top story about “big deals” in Las Vegas. The article explains that after the housing crash that caused Las Vegas’ market to bottom out, there is now an opportunity for buyers to “take advantage” of luxury properties in Sin City. And who is taking advantage? “Californians are the biggest out-of-state buyers,” Nancy Keates reports.
“This home's buyers sold their house in Palm Springs, where they say a space like this would have cost three times as much.”
Turn a few pages and you get to a story about high-end moving companies and who is moving out of California. "The most frustrating thing about L.A. was we were making really good money and could never break into the housing market. We were spending a fortune on rent," says Tara Darby. So she and her partner bought a place in Dallas and as she says they now feel they are “living large.”
Turns out, Darby is among the nearly 50,000 people who left California last year, the U.S. Census reports. And as one California real estate broker says of the out-of-state movers, "it's not that California was affordable to start with—it's just getting even harder," says Ellen Haberle, economist at real-estate brokerage Redfin.
According to Keates tax hikes are what cause most residents to move away. “Many Californians have arrived [elsewhere] in the wake of Proposition 30. Passed at the end of 2012, the measure hiked personal income and sales taxes,” Keates explains.
The tax burden has gotten so bad, in fact, that Hollywood is petitioning the state government for a break just for their industry. “We are now greatly concerned that the state’s status as the epicenter for motion picture production is at risk,” the Film Works petition reads. “If policymakers fail to make our state more competitive, the film industry in California will face the same fate as other industries, including aerospace, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of jobs permanently leaving California for other states.” But if the real estate stories are to be believed, Film Works is behind the times as residents and jobs are already gone.
California’s unemployment figures for the first month of 2014 exemplified the downward trend.
And according to another recent story, movement out of California because of Prop 30 worries the state government in Sacramento, as it should. “In 2011, the top 1 percent of tax returns accounted for 41 percent of the state's personal income tax revenues,” writes Kathleen Pender, “and that was before Proposition 30.” California now has the highest state income tax in the land at 13.3% on income over $1 million. Maybe, finally, the sunbaked brains of California legislators will assimilate the logical notion that do respond to incentives, such as paying lower or no state income taxes somewhere else. Let’s certainly hope so or we’ll be reading more and more about housing sales explosions everywhere but California.