Home Ownership Costs: Mello Roos
Other necessary costs of ownership consume a quarter to half the amount borrowers could potentially put toward loan payments.
Repost from OC Housing News 2011-2016
Mello Roos Taxes
In the calculations on this site, I classify Mello Roos as “other taxes and assessments” because Mello Roos fees are paid through your tax bill. To understand how this became a tax you pay, a brief overview of the Community Facilities District Act is in order (What is Mello Roos?.pdf). From Wikipedia:
A Mello-Roos District is an area where a special property tax on real estate, in addition to the normal property tax, is imposed on those real property owners within a Community Facilities District. These districts seek public financing through the sale of bonds for the purpose of financing public improvements and services. These services may include streets, water, sewage and drainage, electricity, infrastructure, schools, parks and police protection to newly developing areas. The tax paid is used to make the payments of principal and interest on the bonds.
Mello-Roos is deductible in some cases but not in others.
That is the textbook version, now I will give you mine. Imagine you are a real estate developer, and you have a parcel of land that would be worth $10,000,000 if it had infrastructure installed; unfortunately, you do not have the money to install this infrastructure and wait for the investment to come back to you in land or home sales.
What if you could take out a 30-year mortgage on your infrastructure improvements and borrow the money? Now you can finance the deal and develop the land, but there is still a problem. How do you get the homeowner to pay off the infrastructure mortgage after they buy the house?
The solution elected officials came up with was to create a special tax district so the repayment of the bonds to fund the infrastructure is bumped up the payment priority list. In short, you can’t avoid paying Mello Roos, or the tax man will be after you, and he has the power of foreclosure, though it is seldom used.
For those of you that are homeowners, the next time you write that check for Mello Roos, realize that you are paying down the loan for the infrastructure around you. You didn’t think the developer absorbed those costs, did you? That would cut into profits.
Realistically, Community Facilities Districts do encourage private development by making marginal projects feasible. It keeps development in the hands of private individuals rather than municipalities developing their own roads, streets and utility systems. To the degree you believe these results are desirable, you should support Mello Roos.
Without the ability to develop marginal projects, supply is always lagging behind. The Community Facilities District Act does encourage development to lead into growing markets and blunt the impact of supply shortages. Despite the additional supply this law puts on the market, it has failed to prevent housing bubbles.
Determining Mello Roos
Property taxes and Mello Roos fees are deducted from a borrower’s available income to service cashflow, and thereby it reduces the amount they can finance. In essence, there is already a 30-year mortgage on the property you must pay off — your portion of the Mello Roos — so the purchaser money mortgage must be paid with left-over funds.
Builders and developers both know the impact of Mello Roos, so builders will pay less for lots with high Mello Roos fees because they know they will have to discount the purchase price of the final product in order to qualify any buyers. Developers want the Mello Roos fees to be as high as possible because the higher the fees, the greater the bond revenue developers receive. Builders want the Mello Roos to be as low as possible to give them competitive advantage. The resulting compromise usually puts Mello Roos at between 0.5% and 0.8% of total value.
The good news with Mello Roos is that the fees are fixed. As house prices go up, the Mello Roos fees become less burdensome to later buyers. If the Mello Roos are set at 0.8% of an initial $200,000 sales price, the same figure represents only 0.4% of a $400,000 resale price. Of course, the reverse is also true.
When the Irvine Company first opened Woodbury and Portola Springs, they were priced to the peak and they had maximum Mello Roos. Now that houses are selling for lower price points, the Mello Roos start to become onerous. If the original sale price of a condo was $400,000, and the Mello Roos were 0.8% of value, if the condo resells for $200,000, the Mello Roos now represent 1.6% of the purchase price. That is a stiff property tax bill by California standards.