Of all the tremendous promises of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign, arguably the biggest was his infrastructure proposal.
And in this circumstance, “biggest” doesn’t just refer to ambition — the plan will cost $1 trillion and involves building out transportation, water, telecommunications and energy infrastructure across the country.
The plan aims to “transform America’s crumbling infrastructure into a golden opportunity for accelerated economic growth and more rapid productivity gains with a deficit-neutral plan targeting substantial new infrastructure investments.”
What are the potential implications for the real estate industry? Here are a few.
The nuts and bolts
The current state of transportation needs some serious work. Trump’s plan quotes the National Association of Manufacturers’ “Build To Win” report, which says that the United States will lose “more than 2.5 million jobs by 2025” if it does not make significant improvements to transportation systems.
The “Build To Win” report also estimated a 10-year funding gap of about $1 trillion, which is approximately the amount of money and time that Trump plans to invest in his plan.
An American Road & Transportation Builders Association analysis concluded that almost 60,000 bridges in the United States are considered “structurally deficient,” and combined, these bridges see 204 million daily crossings. The report also noted that although there has been some improvement in recent years to repair structurally deficient bridges, the pace of improvement is “very slow.”
And the American Transport Research Institute estimated that traffic congestion on highway systems cost the trucking industry almost $50 billion in additional operational costs in 2014.
Trump’s plan would alleviate some of this transportation pain by implementing “a bold, visionary plan for a cost-effective system of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, ports and waterways, and pipelines in the proud tradition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who championed the interstate highway system.”
His infrastructure plan would “incorporate new technologies and innovations into our national transportation system such as state-of-the-art pipelines, advancements in maritime commerce, and the next generation of vehicles.”
And it’s not just about highways or waterways. The Trump plan also includes air travel; it states an intention to “work with Congress to modernize our airports and air traffic control systems, end long wait times, and reform the FAA and TSA, while also ensuring that American travelers are safe from terrorism and other threats.”
What would this mean for real estate? In the short-term, it could mean improved job rates as construction workers are hired all over the country to work on transportation infrastructure. This could, in turn, provide a homeownership boost due to increased financial security and therefore increased ability to qualify for a mortgage loan.
In the longer-term, assuming the plan alleviates operational costs and generates jobs, it could provide a wider economic boost beyond the individuals who are gaining jobs because of the plan.
And if the plan succeeds in eliminating some traffic congestion and streamlining air travel, it could make it possible for employees to choose living spaces further away from their work than they otherwise might.
There has been a lot in the news about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan — and a USA Today investigation found almost 2,000 water systems across the country “where testing has shown excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four years,” including about 350 systems supplying drinking water to schools and day cares.
Trump’s plan would focus on clean water by developing “a long-term water infrastructure plan with city, state and federal leaders to upgrade aging water systems.”
The plan would also “triple funding for state revolving loan fund programs to help states and local governments upgrade critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.”
What would this mean for real estate? Again, in the short-term, tripling funding for loan programs and upgrading existing drinking water and wastewater infrastructure would create jobs and therefore potentially increase the number of potential homebuyers who are qualified for a mortgage loan.
Depending on where the first improvements are made, this could also affect desirability and homeownership in different markets and sub-markets if buyers are concerned about water quality in their neighborhood.
Daren Blomquist, senior vice president of communications at Attom Data Solutions, said that a deep dive the company did on the water crisis in Flint can help shed light on the potential impact of Trump’s plan.
“This plan is talking about a city like Flint, in the rust belt, that has this aging infrastructure,” Blomquist noted.
He added that although sales prices in Flint dropped dramatically after the water crisis came to light — from a median home price of about $30,000 in January 2015 to a median home price in January 2016 of $17,881 — “we saw price bounce back fairly quickly as the problem seemed to be addressed.”
The median home price in Flint has gone up since January, Blomquist said, reaching as high as $37,000 in July.
And there’s an investment piece of the puzzle, too. “We saw a lot of cash buyers who came in to Flint,” Blomquist explained.
“As you flood a market with capital to improve the infrastructure, you are going to see that have a positive impact on real estate, and it could be very dramatic. You’ll probably see a lot of investors speculate and go in and try to buy ahead of time.”
He said that real estate agents in markets where water infrastructure improvements are planned will therefore likely see investors show interest as the plans are announced. “You can go in and buy low and see the property of those values rise as the infrastructure improves.”
Energy and telecommunications
According to a story published in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, “a confluence of new regulations, grass-roots opposition and a drop in energy prices” caused turmoil for projects collectively estimated to be worth about $33 billion.
Regulators rejected some projects; some were withdrawn by developers, and others stalled while navigating “regulatory limbo,” said the WSJ.
The Trump plan would streamline approval for energy infrastructure projects, “including pipelines and coal export facilities,” in order to “better connect” coal and shale energy producers with the markets they serve.
What would this mean for real estate? Jobs would once again be a positive consequence of streamlining approval and decreasing regulation for energy-related projects.
However, longer-term, it’s unclear whether this would be a boon for housing or not.
For example, Oklahoma has experienced a significant increase in earthquakes in recent years, which are commonly attributed to the increase in fracking taking place in the state. (Fracking is a process of extracting oil or gas by injecting high-pressure liquid into subterranean areas.) According to a recent report by Attom Data Solutions, “earthquakes increased 375 percent between the four quarters ending in Q1 2014 and the four quarters ending in Q1 2016,” and that foreclosure activity (including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions) increased 19 percent over the same time period after trending down for almost four consecutive years.
Blomquist explained that the foreclosure rate could also be at least partially due to decreases in the price of oil, which is a big industry in Oklahoma. And the same report noted that home sales volume and prices trended up during the two-year period ending in Q1 2016.
In September, state regulators in Oklahoma shut down 37 fracking operations (the state required the operations to close their disposal wells) as a direct result of earthquakes. Would Trump’s plan change regulations enough to allow those operations to reopen?
There are many unknowns when it comes to energy — and several different types of energy to leverage — so it’s tough to predict exactly how this could influence real estate.
“When you’re talking about clean water, that’s not only an infrastructure improvement, it’s a benefit,” explained Blomquist. “Whereas when you talk about going after oil with fracking — yes, there’s an economic benefit there, potentially, in terms of bringing jobs, but in terms of a quality of life perspective, it’s a little different than water.
“In a lot of the data we look at, the most important thing is jobs for a buyer — but moving up the list is concerns about natural hazard risk and also environmental risk, their health and safety,” said Blomquist. “That is a concern, and so that’s kind of the other side of the coin.”
Little in Trump’s plan directly addresses telecommunications infrastructure; however, if telecommunications were expanded, it could make remote working feasible in areas where it currently isn’t — providing new pools of buyers for real estate where telecommunications infrastructure is improved.
How will we pay for it?
The words “a deficit-neutral plan” indicate that although these infrastructure boosts are going to cost quite a bit of money, Trump does not plan to put the country into debt in order to execute them.
So how will we foot the bill? The plan outlines the following potential sources of revenue/funding:
- “Thousands of new jobs” in construction and other sectors (which are needed to actually implement the infrastructure plan) “will generate new tax revenues.”
- The streamlined approval process will decrease the number and intensity of infrastructure project delays across the country, saving money.
- The plan will “leverage new revenues and work with financing authorities, public-private partnerships, and other prudent funding opportunities.”
- “A deficit-neutral system of infrastructure tax credits” will help attract private investments. (NAM’s “Build To Win” report estimated that $8 billion in infrastructure tax credits would support $226 billion in infrastructure investment over 10 years.)
- Incentive-based contracting will help “ensure projects are on time and on budget.”
- “Link increased investments with positive reforms to infrastructure programs that reduce waste and cut costs.” Through “significant regulatory reform” and “ending needless red-tape,” projects will be completed faster (and, ideally, at a lower cost).
Will it pass? Will it work?
Those are, of course, two very different questions.
A recent Politico story noted that some conservatives are questioning the job-creation value of the infrastructure plan and whether infrastructure is even an appropriate priority for the new administration.
The same story noted that Democrats seem to be onboard with revamping the country’s infrastructure: “On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told fellow Democrats that her party wants to work with Trump ‘to pass a bill very fast,'” noted the story.
If the plan does get bipartisan support and makes it to Trump’s desk for signature, then another question arises: How well is this likely to work?
“Infrastructure investment strengthens our economic platform, makes America more competitive, creates millions of jobs, increases wages for American workers, and reduces the costs of goods and services for American consumers,” states the plan — showcasing its creators’ hopes that changes to infrastructure will benefit the everyday American.
Not everyone agrees, however.
“Instead of promoting expensive infrastructure investment plans that are unlikely to produce their claimed benefits, Congress and President Trump should work to reduce the large misallocation of infrastructure resources and improve the efficiency of existing infrastructure networks,” opined Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in a blog post.
“This would involve prioritizing maintenance over expansions, restoring the users-pay/users-benefit principle, removing regulatory barriers to construction, and adopting road pricing.”