In Washington State, the Legislature has a “short session” in the even years. These 60-day short sessions are meant mainly to tweak the two-year budget that was passed the year before and pass legislation that did not pass the year before.
Heading into the year, we had clear priorities established by our members: 1) Stop bills that make real property and the real property transaction more expensive and 2) address and find ways to create more housing inventory! The Washington REALTORS® Government Affairs team, guided by our Legislative Steering Committee, hit the ground running in January on both fronts. Ultimately, we ended the session with mostly good news on one issue and small steps forward on the second with more work still remaining.
During the 2021 Legislative session, REALTORS® successfully worked to get the transfer of all real property exempted from the State’s new Capital Gains Tax. Prior sessions saw real estate brokerage services exempt from a B&O Tax exemption and a reduction in the Real Estate Excise Tax paid by 90% of all residential sellers... this is all money that goes back into your pockets (or your clients’ pockets).
The 2022 Legislature, flush with revenue from a surprisingly steady economy through Covid with around $8 Billion in Federal Money, didn’t really look to raise taxes or fees around real estate or the real estate transaction. On that front it appears that status quo will remain for 2022... and that’s good news!
Despite the fact that we are in a housing inventory crisis, and the session started with the Speaker of the House acknowledging on the House Floor that we are 250,000 housing units short in Washington, we achieved a handful of incremental wins. There were wins around expanding exemptions to SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) and protections for development regulations that increase housing capacity and affordability. There were wins around helping potential first-time buyers in buildings undergoing a condominium conversion, and there were some smaller wins in making Urban Growth Areas more responsive to local needs. Unfortunately, bills that would have allowed developers to build duplexes and triplexes in areas close to transit, and a bill that would incentivize local governments to build more housing were debated on but ultimately did not have enough time to get over the finish line.
Real wins were achieved this session in bills that were stopped. WR lobbied against a bill that would remove both the “don’t know” checkbox from Form 17 and would remove the actual knowledge standard that sellers are held to. Had that bill passed, sellers would have faced untold new liability for any defect that their home had in the lifetime of the property. Other bills we helped defeat include bills that would have prohibited any new natural gas hookups, make some new construction projects pay for increasing the ecology of the land that was being built on, and a bill that would have allowed outside groups to overturn a comprehensive plan (i.e., the housing plan for a City or County) based on whether or not that plan did enough to reduce vehicle miles traveled or did enough to meet individual targets from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Like most short sessions there were wins, there were losses, and we are left with more work to be done. There is no doubt that housing inventory will continue to be a priority of Washington REALTORS® in the 2023 Legislative session — the crisis is not abating any time soon. We will continue addressing this issue and working with Legislators to create more movement on this front.
Washington REALTORS® Government Affairs Director.