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  • Writer's picturePeter Serefine

American Dream of Home Ownership: Is it a scam or a myth?

Embarking on the journey of homeownership embodies the quintessential American dream, a pursuit deeply rooted in the ideals of independence and prosperity. As citizens tread the path of acquiring and maintaining a home, they are met with a tapestry of taxes intricately woven into this pursuit. This exploration is anchored in the constitutional originalist perspective, highlighting the imperative of limiting federal government involvement to enumerated powers.

For those seeking to realize the American dream through homeownership, comprehending the nuanced tax implications becomes a crucial aspect of the journey. From the inaugural real estate transfer tax and recording fees to the enduring real estate taxes, citizens navigate a financial landscape intricately linked to the cherished notion of property ownership. This article delves into the layers of these taxes, shedding light on the constitutional principles that govern the delicate equilibrium between government revenue and the cherished ideals underpinning the American dream of homeownership.


Taxes at the Time of Purchase


Real Estate Transfer Tax

As aspiring homeowners set out to realize their American dream, the journey begins with the transactional nuances of real estate transfer taxes. Averaging around 1%, these taxes form a crucial financial component of property transactions. Rooted in the constitutional perspective, which advocates for limited federal powers, these levies are primarily governed by state and local jurisdictions. The 1% benchmark reflects the fiscal commitment entailed in transferring property ownership, fostering an environment where citizens engage responsibly with their constitutional rights.


Recording Fee

Complementing the real estate transfer tax is the recording fee, a vital facet of property transactions that averages around 2%. This fee finances the formal recording of essential documents, cementing the legal foundation of property ownership. From a constitutional standpoint, this fee underscores the significance of individual property rights and the need for a well-maintained public record.


Ongoing Taxes: Real Estate Tax


Real Estate Tax (Property tax)

In the persistent odyssey of property ownership, individuals confront the continuous obligation of real estate levies, a fundamental aspect of local fiscal strategy. With an average rate of 1.1%, these taxes exhibit notable disparities contingent on geographic positioning and municipal determinations, playing a pivotal role in supporting community services and public facilities. Notably, New Jersey imposes a higher rate of 2.47%, whereas Hawaii levies a mere 0.27% of the property's value. The perpetual nature of these levies permits alteration either through municipal reassessment of property value or through an augmentation of the tax rate.

Calculation Based on Average Home Value

The calculation of property taxes, determined by the appraised value of a home, highlights the intimate connection between property worth and tax obligations. State, county, and local authorities impose taxes based on the assessed property value, establishing a consistent flow of tax revenue ostensibly tied to property ownership. Regrettably, this method disproportionately impacts older individuals, potentially putting their homes at risk due to rising tax burdens, particularly when relying on fixed retirement incomes. When citizens transition into retirement with a fixed income, they often lack the discretionary funds to cope with heightened tax obligations, placing homeowners in jeopardy of government seizure of their residences.


Average Tax Calculations


Let's delve into a straightforward computation. Given an average assessed value of $244,900 for tax considerations, a 1% transfer tax and a 2% recording fee result in an additional $7,347 directed to the government on the day of acquiring your envisioned home. This marks the inception of an average 1.1% annual real estate tax, amounting to $2,693.90 per year. Over two decades of homeownership, this accrues to $53,878 in property taxes. When coupled with the initial $7,347, the cumulative sum remitted to the government over twenty years reaches $61,225.


This translates to the government asserting a 25% claim on your home's value after two decades, and failure to meet these obligations could lead to the forfeiture of your property. These calculations are grounded in median values and median tax rates, implying that the actual figures could be more substantial. This situation seems at odds with the essence of the American dream. Traditionally, the government's role is cast in the light of safeguarding property and property rights, not compelling property away from rightful owners. This prompts the question of whether this financial burden aligns with the principles of protection and equity that should characterize the relationship between citizens and their government in the pursuit of the American dream.


Taxes at Death


Inheritance Tax

As the saga of homeownership unfolds for successive generations, the looming prospect of inheritance tax becomes prominent. This tax is applicable to the assets bequeathed to beneficiaries. Heirs and beneficiaries may find themselves obligated to pay inheritance tax, with rates and exemptions diverging from state to state. These levies can be substantial. For instance, a direct descendant heir in Pennsylvania is liable for a 4.5% tax, while a sibling faces a 12% rate, and other heirs encounter a 15% tax. These amounts add up alongside the years of previously paid real estate taxes. The weight of these tax bills frequently compels heirs to sell the property to generate the necessary cash for settling the dues. Once again, this scenario contradicts the aspiration of owning a home and passing it on to the next generation.

Estate Taxes

 Federal Estate taxes, levied on the transfer of an individual's wealth posthumously, introduce an additional dimension to the tax landscape. Typically, this tax is contingent on a specified threshold, underscoring the constitutional principle that excessive governmental interference in estate matters should be restrained. Federal estate tax rates can fluctuate between 18% and 40%. While ostensibly reserved for the affluent, a family farm rich in land may find itself liable for this tax. Many farms, having traversed through generations of family ownership, face the prospect of being lost due to the insurmountable tax burden upon the demise of the family patriarch. Once again, it appears that the federal government is appropriating the very assets it is meant to safeguard.

Moreover, when a family or family farm is compelled to sell due to the unattainable tax burden, this triggers the Capital Gains Tax, which is assessed on the increased value of the property.  These taxes can be as high as 37%. 



Recapitulation of Various Taxes Throughout Homeownership

In the intricate journey of homeownership, citizens grapple with a complex tapestry of taxes intricately woven into the fabric of their American dream. From the inaugural real estate transfer tax and recording fees that signify the beginning of this odyssey to the persistent real estate taxes that bolster communities, each levy plays a role in the broader fiscal framework sustaining property ownership.


However, it is the amalgamation of these taxes, particularly those intersecting with the nexus of homeownership and life's inevitable progression, that brings to the forefront a critical consideration—the delicate equilibrium between individual property rights and the fiscal needs of the state. This dynamic prompts citizens to engage in discerning decision-making, cognizant of the constitutional principles that underlie these financial responsibilities.


Regrettably, as governments at all levels contribute to making the American dream of homeownership less appealing, a poignant question emerges. Despite years of hard work and the dedication of life savings to create the perfect home, if the government can seize it due to a tax burden, does one truly own it? The reality suggests otherwise—we become invested renters in a home that, despite our efforts, remains vulnerable to government claims.

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