Month: June 2017

Allocating Between Land and Building when Acquiring Rental Real Estate

How purchase value is divided up between land and buildings impacts the depreciation tax benefits you get as a real estate owner. Here’s what you need to know.

Depreciation for residential and commercial properties

Apportioning costs between the land and the building for favorable tax treatmentA tax benefit of real estate investing is the tax shelter provided by depreciation. Depreciation is an IRS acknowledgment that assets deteriorate over time. The IRS provides specific depreciable lives for residential and commercial property of 27.5 and 39 years, respectively.  Unlike other expenses, the depreciation deduction is a paper deduction.  You do not have to spend money to be entitled to an annual deduction.

Allocations favorable to taxpayers

When acquiring real estate, a taxpayer is acquiring non-depreciable land and depreciable improvements (excluding raw land, land leases, etc. for this discussion). In transactions that result in a transfer of depreciable property and non-depreciable property such as land and building purchased for a lump sum, the cost must be apportioned between the land and the building (improvements).

Land can never be depreciated. Since land provides no current tax benefit through depreciation deductions, a higher allocation to building is taxpayer-favorable. This results in the common query of how a taxpayer should allocate the purchase price between land and building. The Tax Court has repeatedly ruled that use of the tax assessor’s value to compute a ratio of the value of the land to the building is an acceptable way to allocate the cost.

For example, a taxpayer purchases a property for $1,000,000. The tax assessor’s ratios are 35/65 land to building. Using the tax assessor’s allocation the taxpayer would allocate the purchase price $350,000 and $650,000 to land and building, respectively.

Other acceptable methods used as basis for allocation include a qualified appraisal, insurance coverage on the structure (building), comparable sales of land and site coverage ratio.

Assessor’s allocation vs. taxpayer proposed values

In the recent U.S. Tax Court case, Nielsen v. Commissioner, the court concluded the county assessor’s allocation between land and improvements were more reliable than the taxpayer’s proposed values. Nielsen (the “petitioners”) incorrectly included their entire purchase price as depreciable basis, with no allocation between the improvements and the land.

When the petitioners were challenged they acquiesced and agreed the land should not have been included in their calculation of the depreciable basis. However, the petitioners challenged the accuracy of the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor’s assessment as being inaccurate and inconsistent. Petitioners relied on alternative methods of valuation, which included the land sales method and the insurance method.  The Tax Court ruled the county assessor’s allocation between land and improvement values was more reliable than the taxpayer’s proposed values.

We’ve got your back

In Nielsen vs. Commissioner, the Tax Court chose the assessor’s allocation over those provided by the taxpayers. However, facts and circumstances may not support the assessor’s allocation in all cases. It is important for a taxpayer to have reliable support and documentation to defend an allocation if it should be challenged.

If you have questions about how to allocate value between land and building, we’re here to help. Contact me at [email protected] or 201.655.7411.

Don’t Be Surprised by a Tax Liability on the Sale of Your Residence

Tax liability on the sale of your residenceRegularly, clients contact me to discuss the tax consequences of selling their primary residence. It seems there is a lot of misinformation floating around that I aim to clarify below.

Rollover proceeds from a sale

It is common for sellers who have been in their homes for quite some time to cite the “old” rollover rule. Before May 7, 1997, taxpayers could avoid paying taxes on profits from the sale of their principal residence by using the proceeds to purchase another home within two years. Sellers over age 55 had the option of a once-in-a-lifetime tax exemption of up to $125,000 of profits.

Home sale gain exclusion

Internal Revenue Code Section 121 replaced the old rollover rule and allowed taxpayers to exclude gains from the disposition of their home if certain requirements are met.

In order to qualify for the gain exclusion, a taxpayer must own and occupy the property as a principal residence for two of the five years immediately preceding the sale. If a taxpayer has more than one home, the gain can only be excluded from the sale of their main home. In cases where there are two homes that are lived in, the main home is generally the one that is lived in the most.

If the requirements are met, taxpayers may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of gain from their income ($500,000 on a joint return) and are not obligated to reinvest the proceeds.

Sale of a multi-family home

I was recently able to provide guidance to married taxpayers who sold their property. This particular property was a side-by-side duplex where the taxpayers occupied one side as their principal residence for approximately 10 years and rented the other. The taxpayer was familiar with the $500,000 exclusion and the gross proceeds were slightly below that amount. During sales negotiations, they were incorrectly advised that the proposed sale of their principal residence with a gain under $500,000 would result in no income taxes owed after the sale. Needless to say, there was an unexpected surprise when I discussed the true income tax consequences with them.

Selling a duplex is conceptually akin to selling two separate properties. The side the taxpayers occupied is afforded the same tax treatment as any other principal residence, which includes the Section 121 gain exclusion up to $500,000 for married taxpayers. However, the investment side of the duplex is subject to capital gains tax and depreciation recapture taxes. In this particular instance, there was approximately $30,000 of combined federal and state income taxes owed as a result of the sale.

Under current law, taxpayers can sell their principal residence and exclude $250,000 of taxable gain ($500,000 for those married filing jointly). The requirements to reinvest the proceeds or to roll them into a new property have been inapplicable for some time. Taxpayers are free to use the proceeds from the sale in any manner without tainting the exclusion.

We’ve got your back

If you have additional questions about the income tax consequences of a residential sale, especially when a portion of the property has been rented out, we’re here to help. Contact me at [email protected] or 201.655.7411.

You can also download my free Tax Tip Sheet for more ways to save taxes when buying or selling a residential property.

Are Club Dues a Deductible Business Expense?

Are Country Club dues a tax deductible expense?With the warmer weather and longer days of summer here, many business owners turn to golf and other outdoor activities for their business networking and development activities. A question I am often asked by my clients is whether they can deduct the dues for clubs at which they entertain customers or that otherwise may be relevant to their business.

Dues may or may not be deductible; depending upon the type of club and its purpose.

A business generally can’t deduct dues paid to a club organized for business, pleasure, recreation or other social purposes. This disallowance rule would apply to country clubs, golf clubs, business luncheon clubs, athletic clubs, and even airline and hotel clubs.

What about the cost of business meals held at the club with your customers?

Just because the dues are not deductible you can still deduct 50% of the cost of otherwise allowable business entertainment at a club. For example, if you have dinner with a client at your country club after a substantial and bona fide business discussion, 50% of the cost of the dinner is deductible as a business expense.

The club-dues disallowance rule generally doesn’t affect dues paid to professional organizations including bar associations and medical associations, or civic or public-service-type organizations, such as the Lions, Kiwanis, or Rotary clubs. The dues paid to local business leagues, chambers of commerce and boards of trade also aren’t considered “nondeductible club dues.”

If the principal purpose of the club is to provide entertainment facilities to its members or to conduct entertainment activities for them, most likely no tax deduction for the dues will be allowed.

Finally, keep in mind that even if the general club-dues disallowance rule doesn’t apply, there’s no deduction for dues unless you can show that the amount you pay is an ordinary and necessary business expense.

We’ve got your back

If you have additional questions about entertainment, travel, gift or car expenses, we’re here to help. Contact me at [email protected] or 201.655.7411.