In less than two months, hundreds of Realtors from across the commonwealth will gather under the gold dome of the Massachusetts State House to advocate for the principals we have held for nearly 100 years: housing access, affordability, and fairness. Our members will attend a keynote address and meet with legislative leaders to discuss the most pressing issues in the real estate industry today.

As the state continues to face an unprecedented crisis in housing availability and affordability, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors (MAR) will press state leaders for innovative and thoughtful solutions like offering savings accounts for first-time homebuyers, ensuring all licensees know how fair housing laws work, and – most importantly, amending burdensome and exclusionary zoning laws that ultimately decrease housing inventory in municipalities across the state.

This year’s Realtor Day on Beacon Hill – now in its 39th year – takes place at a time when the state’s real estate market continues to garner headlines. Massachusetts has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, ranking No. 5 among states with the highest average home prices, according to a recent study in Forbes Home. CNN recently reported that Massachusetts was fourth in a ranking of states by the household income ($162,471) required to buy the median-priced home. The demand for housing far outpaces the supply – according to the Healey administration, the state needs at least 200,000 new homes by 2030 to accommodate growth.

Despite these headlines, there are positive developments on the legislative front, starting with the new housing bond bill, Gov. Maura Healey’s Affordable Homes Act, which contains $4.1 billion in bonding authorizations for housing. Yet the bill also includes a provision that we strongly oppose and are advocating against – a tax proposal known as “transfer taxes” that imposes a sales tax on homes.

Transfer Taxes Increase Costs, Stifle Diversity

Simply put, transfer taxes are a tax on housing transactions. In a strong housing market, the taxes are passed along to the buyers, negatively affecting first time homebuyers, young families and minorities. In a down market, sellers lose equity in their properties.

In either case, buyers and sellers may decide to delay housing transactions to avoid these costs. As a result, transfer taxes further reduce housing inventory. Just consider this statistic: Every $1,000 in increased costs prices out 1,727 people in the Massachusetts housing market, according to estimates by the National Association of Home Builders.

Municipalities have long used exclusionary zoning tactics to increase costs and impede housing development. Transfer taxes will become one more way to impede the development of new housing by decreasing margins on new housing and making it more difficult to secure funding for new projects.

The state already has the tools in place to increase affordability without implementing transfer taxes. Ample state funding resources are already available to subsidize development, including from the Community Preservation Act that helps communities preserve open space, create affordable housing and expand housing opportunities. And we support the establishment of another new program that addresses cost and access called the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account.

A Tax-Free Incentive to Save

Perhaps no group is more affected by the state’s housing crisis than first-time homebuyers. Not only are they facing record-high pricing (Massachusetts is 47th in the nation in affordability), but these prospective homebuyers are often weighed down with significant student loan debt. Many have young families to provide for and the prohibitive costs make homeownership out of reach, preventing an entire generation of state residents from achieving the American dream.

Pending legislation, H.2727/S.1787, seeks to establish a tax-free savings account for first-time homebuyers (defined as not having owned or purchased a single-family residence over the past three years) that will allow for deposits up to $5,000 annually, which can also be claimed as a tax deduction for up to 15 years (with a $50,000 maximum deduction).

Owning a home benefits the individual homeowner, but also the greater community, from the local economy (new homebuyers generate nearly $200,00 in revenue) to the very fabric of civic well-being and stability. The Massachusetts Association of Realtors fully supports this initiative as a win-win for first-time homebuyers and at limited cost to the state.

Fair Housing Education for Agents and Brokers

Underpinning our core values of access, affordability and fairness are state and federal fair housing laws. The state of Massachusetts was a pioneer in anti-discrimination laws, establishing the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 1950 as these very laws were being developed at the federal level. It is incumbent upon all real estate professionals to thoroughly understand and uphold these important laws to prevent housing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, disability and other protected classes.

The bill, H.265/S.166, requires all real estate agent licensees to take mandatory fair housing training as part of their licensing process, and encourages new licensees to take continuing education courses earlier in their first renewal cycle. We hope all licensees, whether part of our membership or not, will adhere to these standards for fairness and access.

Our voices must be heard at Realtor Day on Beacon Hill on June 10, as part of our comprehensive strategy to increase housing production, address housing costs, and ensure our industry meets the highest standards for excellence in real estate practice. The timing could not be more critical; we need to support and encourage state legislators to pursue proactive housing policies that will continue to make Massachusetts one of the best places to live and work.

Amy Wallick is the 2024 president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and a Realtor with Lamacchia Realty in Beverly.

MAR to Push for Transfer Tax Alternatives on Beacon Hill

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min