Towerpoint Wealth No Comments

The *Unreal* Real Estate Market of 2020

For a myriad of reasons, 2020 has been both a surreal and unreal year, and the growth in the value of residential real estate is illustrative of that. According to USA Today and the National Association of Realtors (NAR), despite the hard economic times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, home prices rose in the first quarter of 2020 in 96% of U.S. metro markets. A few of the local Sacramento-area agents we work with have commented that “this [real estate] market is even hotter and crazier than it was at its peak in 2006.

The environment 14 years ago was very different – during the U.S. housing bubble, real estate prices were artificially inflated due to speculative fervor, lax lending standards, and arguably negligent regulations. But when we fast forward to 2020, we find four reasons for this red hot market:

Historically LOW interest rates. Money is extremely “cheap” right now, as interest rates on mortgages continue to hit record lows.

Cheap money is analogous to low interest rates, meaning it doesn’t “cost” much to borrow. Mortgage rate cuts have given house hunters ~ 25% more buying power in less than two years, and that does not appear to be ending soon. The less it costs to borrow, the more a buyer may be inclined to do so when buying a home. Alternatively, the less it costs to borrow, the lower the homebuyer’s monthly mortgage payment. Adding this all up provides major stimulus to and demand for buying real estate.

Urban exodus. Just a few years ago, demand for city living was high, and people were piling into major metropolitan areas throughout the United States; now, the opposite is happening, and they are filing out in favor of suburban life.

Rent decreases are accelerating, as seven of the top ten priciest rental markets saw apartment prices drop 5% over the same time last year. Cultural and social opportunities that often draw people to metropolitan areas have largely shut down due to coronavirus. The perceived health concerns associated with public transportation and dense city living, high city taxes, the safety concerns and stress caused by demonstrations devolving into riots and other increases in crime, the desire for more space, and the ability to work remotely have all created a huge outflux from the cities, and concurrently, an influx of cash that has pushed up real estate prices in the ‘burbs.

Telecommuting / virtual working. Before COVID-19, only about 5% of workers did their jobs remotely. That figure has jumped to nearly half. Google, Twitter, and Facebook have led Silicon Valley in announcing plans to let, or even require, employees to work from home, at least for the next year, if not indefinitely. New York-based financial giants J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley have offered their employees a similar option. Telecommuting is no longer a trend, it is a full-blown movement. And that has allowed, or better put, freed people to live where they desire, and not feel geographically-tethered to their job location.

Inventory shortage. There is an imbalance. There are more buyers than sellers. Postponed purchases from March and April due to home-buying restrictions have created intense demand. Families are looking to upgrade, and, understanding we are all spending more time in our homes that before, people simply want more space. There was a nationwide industry shortage even before the pandemic hit, and the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the problem. U.S. home values grew to $256,663 in August, an 0.7% increase from July, the largest increase since 2013, and inventory is 29.4% lower than a year ago! Builders are racing to catch up with demand, and rising prices should encourage more potential sellers to come off of the sidelines and list. But until those things occur, the shortage of inventory will continue to tilt the housing market in favor of sellers. Economics 101: When demand outstrips supply, prices go up.

How long this lasts remains to be seen. At Towerpoint Wealth, we believe that things will only begin to change in the real estate market when the uncertainty surrounding the job market, economy, and COVID-19 epidemic begin to subside.

What’s Happening at TPW?

The TPW crew enjoyed a “robust” teambuilding potluck earlier this week, highlighted by grass fed tri-tip marinated in “The Sauce for All Seasons,” Pearson’s Premium!

Our Partner, Wealth Manager, Jonathan LaTurner, our Director of Research and Analytics, Nathan Billigmeier, our new Wealth Advisor, Matt Regan, and our Director of Tax and Financial Planning, Steve Pitchford, enjoyed an early morning TPW team-building golf outing at William Land Golf Course!

TPW Service Highlight – Roth IRA conversions

While 2020 will rightfully be remembered for the challenging and unprecedented COVID-19 battle we have all been impacted by, at Towerpoint Wealth, we have continued to proactively work with clients to identify economic opportunities presented by the coronavirus crisis. Specifically, we have identified a “silver economic lining” tax planning strategy this year, one that is designed to take advantage of today’s low income tax rates, which we feel are temporary, while at the same time leave our clients better positioned for tomorrow’s higher income tax rates, which we feel are inevitable.

Below you will find 2020: The Perfect Year for a Roth Conversion, our newly-published white paper that discusses what a “Roth conversion” is, who may benefit from a Roth conversion, why 2020 is a potentially great year to do a Roth conversion, and how to utilize important tax planning tools to evaluate this opportunity.

Graph of the Week

While we obviously need to continue to remain disciplined, and understanding there is still more work to be done, the United States COVID-19 hospitalization numbers below, from Bespoke Investment Group, are encouraging. Less than one person per 10,000 population (or less than 100 people per 1MM population) is currently hospitalized with coronavirus.

As always, we sincerely value our relationships and partnerships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth. We encourage you to reach out to us at any time (916-405-9140, info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place, and we are here to help you properly plan for and make sense of it.

– Nathan, Raquel, Steve, Joseph, Lori, Jonathan, and Matt

Towerpoint Wealth Team : Sacramento Financial Advisor
Steve Pitchford No Comments

2020: The Perfect Year for a Roth Conversion

While 2020 will rightfully be remembered for the challenging and unprecedented COVID-19 battle we have all been impacted by, at Towerpoint Wealth we have continued to proactively work with clients to identify economic opportunities presented by the coronavirus crisis. Specifically, we have identified a “silver economic lining” tax planning strategy this year, one that is designed to take advantage of today’s low income tax rates, which we feel are temporary, while at the same time leave our clients better positioned for tomorrow’s higher income tax rates, which we feel are inevitable. This white paper will discuss what a “Roth IRA conversion” is, who may benefit from a Roth conversion, why 2020 is a potentially great year to do a Roth conversion, and how to utilize important tax planning tools to evaluate this opportunity.

Roth IRA Conversion

A Roth conversion is a retirement and tax planning strategy whereby a taxpayer “converts” some, or all, of their “regular” pre-tax retirement assets into tax-free Roth retirement assets. It is important to note that ordinary income taxes are owed on the tax-deferred contributions and earnings that are converted.

While the most common Roth conversion strategy is a pre-tax IRA to a Roth IRA, two other popular methods exist:

  1. Convert pre-tax employer-sponsored retirement plan assets (401k, 403b, 457, etc.) to Roth IRA assets (if the taxpayer has separated from service from the employer).
  2. Convert pre-tax 401k assets to Roth 401k assets (if the employer retirement plan allows for an in-plan conversion).

A Roth conversion, when utilized properly, is a powerful tax planning strategy for the following reasons:

• It maximizes the tax-free growth within a taxpayer’s investment portfolio.
• As distributions from Roth retirement accounts are tax-free, a Roth conversion provides a hedge against possible future tax rate increases.
• As Roth IRAs do not have required minimum distributions (RMDs), it reduces taxable RMDs on pre-tax retirement assets that a taxpayer is annually subject to after reaching the age of 72.
• It leaves a greater tax-free financial legacy to heirs.

However, even understanding these benefits, a Roth conversion may not always be in a taxpayer’s best long-term economic interests if:

• The current tax cost of the conversion is prohibitively high. A Roth conversion, in its simplest sense, is a trade-off between paying taxes now vs. paying taxes later. For the strategy to be impactful, the current tax cost of the conversion should not be so expensive that it outweighs the benefit of any expected future tax-free investment growth.
• The taxpayer is making regular and material withdrawals from their pre-tax IRA.
• The taxpayer does not have the cash to pay the tax due on conversion.

Towerpoint Tip:

We recommend converting shares of investment positions rather than selling investments in the IRA and then converting cash proceeds. This ensures that the taxpayer continues to have market exposure during the conversion process, and also saves on the transaction fees that may be levied when selling an investment position.

2020 – A Perfect Year for Roth Conversions?

There are three reasons why we believe 2020 is a great year for Roth conversions:

  1. While no one has enjoyed this year’s market volatility, material intra-year market pullbacks, such as the one we experienced in March, provide a unique opportunity to convert pre-tax investments to Roth IRA at a time when their value is, we believe, temporarily depressed.
    Performing a Roth conversion with these temporarily depressed assets “locks in” the income taxes owed at their lower value upon conversion. While we are humble in recognizing we do not have a crystal ball, we strongly believe that crisis events are temporary, and given time, these assets will recover in value. Thus, this tax strategy results in paying a lower tax price when converting investments to a tax-free Roth IRA.
  2. Understanding the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming Presidential election, and given the government’s need to raise funds to offset its massive 2020 stimulus packages, there is certainly no guarantee that income tax rates will stay this low in future years.
  3. Given that the CARES Act eliminated RMDs for 2020, this is a uniquely low tax year for those taxpayers who are ordinarily subject to RMDs, allowing them to convert a greater amount of assets while remaining in low income tax brackets.

Towerpoint Tip:

At Towerpoint Wealth, pairing a Roth conversion with the “frontloading” of a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) has been a powerful tax planning strategy, allowing our clients to convert more to tax-free Roth assets at lower tax rates, while also allowing taxpayers who would not ordinarily itemize deductions to “hurdle” the standard deduction – this ensures that they receive at least a partial tax deduction for their charitable contributions.

Executing a Roth conversion

When determining the optimal amount to convert to tax-free Roth assets, there is no “one size fits all” approach.
A taxpayer’s unique personal and financial circumstances should drive the conversion discussion. For one taxpayer, recognizing any amount of conversion income may not make tax or economic sense, while for another, particularly those who want their heirs to inherit assets tax-free, converting a sizeable amount (even at a material tax cost) may be attractive.

One window of time in which we look to help clients aggressively execute a Roth conversion is immediately upon retirement, before they begin filing for Social Security benefits. This is often a uniquely low income-tax window of time, where a taxpayer is still young enough to potentially enjoy many future years of tax-free growth that Roth assets allow.

If a Roth conversion is worth evaluating for a client, many CPAs and tax professionals assemble customized tax projections to optimize the decision-making process.

And while Towerpoint Wealth is not a public accounting firm, we regularly utilize BNA Income Tax Planner, a powerful tax projection software, to assemble Roth conversion tax projections for our clients, in order to streamline collaboration with their CPAs and tax professionals. If our client prepares their own tax returns, we work directly with them to evaluate these Roth conversion scenarios.

Towerpoint Tip:

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the IRS eliminated the ability to recharacterize (i.e. undo) a Roth conversion after it has been made. For this reason, we generally recommend waiting until closer to the end of a tax year, when taxable income is clearer, prior to executing a Roth conversion. However, in unique tax years such as 2020, we have been strategically executing Roth conversions throughout the year to ensure we are taking advantage of market volatility and pullbacks, while also looking for an opportunity to “top up” the conversion later in the year.

How Can We Help?

At Towerpoint Wealth, we are a legal fiduciary to you, and embrace the professional obligation we have to work 100% in your best interests. If you would like to discuss whether a Roth conversion may make sense for you, we encourage you to call (916-405-9166) or email (spitchford@towerpointwealth.com), Steve Pitchford, to open an objective dialogue.

Towerpoint Wealth No Comments

President Joseph Eschleman Cited As Expert

Our President, Joseph Eschleman, recently penned a white paper for Towerpoint Wealth that discussed 14 different strategies to consider during the coronavirus crisis. Joseph was cited as an expert by MutualFunds.com for his work and content on the subject, who published his commentary on their website on June 11.