Tag: multiple property owners

How to Ruin a Like-Kind Exchange

How to ruin a 1031 exchangeRecently, I had a taxpayer call me regarding the sale of a rental property. The taxpayer sold the property for approximately $500,000 and there was approximately $100,000 of tax basis remaining after depreciation. The combined federal and state tax exposure was almost $100,000.

The taxpayer indicated he wanted to structure the sale as a like-kind (IRC 1031) exchange as he had already found a replacement property and wanted to defer the income taxes. My first question was, “Did you already close on the sale?” The taxpayer’s response was, “Yes, I received the funds, and deposited the check directly into my bank account.”

It was not fun for me to relay this to the taxpayer, but I had to let him know his receipt of the funds caused a taxable event. I further explained that to structure a 1031 exchange properly, an intermediary was needed to handle the sale and related purchase of the replacement property. Once the taxpayer received the funds, it became a taxable event.

Getting a Like-Kind Exchange Right

To avoid the same error, taxpayers should contact their advisors before completing the sale transaction. I have worked with taxpayers who did not realize a like-kind exchange was available to them, and was able to properly structure the transaction in mere days before the closing of their property.

Following the specified guidelines to completely defer the tax in a like-kind exchange are critical. If you anticipate a sale of real estate and want to defer gain recognition, consult with your tax advisor before closing the sale.

We’ve Got Your Back

Check out my previous blog, Understanding IRC Code Section 1031 and Why You Should Care for more details on properly deferring tax in a like-kind exchange transaction. If you have questions about this type of transaction, give me a call at 201.655.7411 before you close on the sale.

Can Real Estate Professionals Pay No Income Taxes (a la Donald Trump)?

real estate professionals can deduct tax losses resulting from their real estate activities

As a CPA with a substantial real estate practice, I found the recent controversy regarding Donald Trump’s tax losses and the possibility that he paid no federal income tax to be quite interesting.  Although we do not know what part, if any, of the losses arose from Mr. Trump’s real estate activities, it is not unusual or illegal for real estate professionals to deduct tax losses resulting from their real estate activities.

News reports indicate that Donald Trump’s 1995 federal income tax return reflected a tax loss of approximately $916 million dollars, which may have been carried forward to offset income and reduce Trump’s taxes in succeeding years. As this revelation appears to be the source of public outrage, I wanted to explain taxation of rental real estate and how owners and investors may legally benefit from losses.

Trump most likely operates many of his business ventures as “pass-through” entities, such as partnerships and limited liability companies. Pass-through entities pass through all of their earnings, losses and deductions to their owner, for inclusion on their personal income tax returns. In the case of losses, the owner or member can use these losses to offset other income and carry forward any excess to future years. As with all things taxes, there are requirements that must be met (see Passive Loss Limitations in Rental Real Estate).

Owners of rental real estate are not only allowed to deduct for mortgage interest, real estate taxes and other items, but also depreciation. The Internal Revenue Code allows for depreciation of assets used in a trade or business, which include rental real estate. This is an allowance for the wear and tear of the building and astute taxpayers can further benefit from depreciation by accelerating their depreciation deductions (see my blog, The Tax Benefits of Cost Segregation in Real Estate). While many properties are increasing in value, the owners are receiving an income tax benefit in the form of an annual tax deduction for the wear and tear of the building.

If certain requirements are met, a real estate professional, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code (there is no reference to “Mogul” in the Code) can offset other items of income with losses generated by their real estate activities. I have more details on the income tax advantages of being a real estate professional in a previous blog posting, Passive Activity Loss and the Income Tax Puzzle for Real Estate Professionals.

Donald Trump invested in many business ventures during the 1980s and 1990s and real estate may have only been a small part of the substantial loss reflected on his 1995 tax return. Without Mr. Trump’s tax returns, we will never know. As an accountant, I’m more curious about the transactions that gave rise to the loss and the application of the specific tax law provisions permitting deduction of these losses.

What are your thoughts regarding the ability of real estate professionals to offset other items of income with their losses from real estate activities?

How to Defer Taxes on Capital Gains

Here’s how receiving installment payments can help you defer taxes on capital gains.

What Is an Installment Sale?

An installment sale is an agreement under which at least one payment is received after the end of the tax year in which the sale occurs. When a real estate investor sells a property on the installment basis, a down payment is usually received at closing with the balance of the purchase price paid in installments in subsequent years. As the seller, you are not required to report an installment sale using this method. However, installment sale reporting allows you to spread the tax liability over all the years in which the buyer makes installment payments.

installment sales tax benefits in real estateUnder the installment method, each year the portion of the gain received via installment payments is included in the seller’s income. Fundamentally, interest should be charged on an installment sale. If the interest charged is less than the applicable federal rate (“AFR”) or no interest is charged, the seller is considered to have received “imputed” taxable interest equal to the AFR.

Each payment received in an installment sale consists of three components:

  1. Interest income
  2. Return of basis
  3. Gain on the sale

Not All Sales Qualify as Installment Sales

Certain sales do not qualify as installment sales, including:

  • Sale of inventory items
  • Sales made by dealers in the type of property being sold (see my blog, Investor vs. Dealer)
  • Sale of stocks or other investment securities
  • Sales that result in a loss

Combining Installment Sales with Like Kind Exchanges

Like Kind Exchanges (§1031 exchanges) are often combined with seller financing of the relinquished (sold) property. This creates an opportunity for an installment sale transaction in which a promissory note, issued by the buyer for the benefit of the seller, represents a portion of the purchase price.

For example, if the relinquished property value is $1 million, the taxpayer (via a qualified intermediary) might receive $500,000 in cash and a $500,000 promissory note from the seller. The taxpayer/seller would ideally use the $500,000 proceeds in a tax-deferred exchange, while also benefiting from installment sale reporting on the remaining $500,000 note.

An installment sale is an option for taxpayers to spread a tax liability over time and collect interest income. However, it can carry risk for the seller. If the buyer is unable to make timely payments, the seller would be responsible for the costs of foreclosure and repossession.

Your tax professional can help you determine the tax effects of any installment sales arrangements you may have. As always contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions.

Beware of Phantom Income

Real Expenses vs. Phantom Expenses

As a real estate investor, it is essential to know the difference between a real expense and a phantom expense. An investor might think a $1,000 roof repair is a good thing since he or she can deduct it as an expense. What if you never had to make that repair in the first place? You would have $1,000 of taxable income in your pocket. Being taxed isn’t automatically a bad thing, since that means you are making money on the property.

real estate and phantom incomeWhat is a Phantom Expense?

Depreciation is the perfect example of a phantom expense since it allows an owner of real estate to recover the value of the building against rental income. The IRS allows a deduction for the decrease in value of your property over time, irrespective of the fact that most properties never really wear out. Simply put, depreciation allows you to write off the buildings and improvements over a prescribed period of time, providing a “phantom expense” that is used to offset rental income.

Residential real estate and improvements are depreciated over a 27.5 year period. Commercial real estate and improvements are depreciated over 39 years.

Debt Amortization

In addition to a depreciation deduction, the Internal Revenue Code allows for the interest portion of a mortgage payment to be deducted for income tax purposes. The principal portion of a mortgage payment is treated as taxable income or “phantom income“.

During the initial years of a typical mortgage loan, the principal reduction (debt amortization) is normally offset by depreciation deductions and interest expense, decreasing taxable income. In the later years of a typical loan amortization, principal reduction will exceed interest expense and depreciation, thereby increasing taxable income and generating a seemingly disproportionate tax liability (the dreaded phantom income).

Disposition of a Property

A taxpayer may incur phantom income upon disposition of a property. Phantom income is triggered when taxable income exceeds sales proceeds upon the disposition of real estate. Usually, this results from prior deductions based on indebtedness. You may have deducted losses and/or received cash distributions in prior years that were greater than your actual investment made in the property. If you are planning to dispose of a property and believe you are in this situation, there are strategies to minimize the tax impact including IRC 1031 exchanges, which are discussed in my blog Understanding IRC Code Section 1031 and why you should care.

Real estate investors who want to maximize their after tax cash flow need to be cognizant of phantom income and compare their cash flow to taxable income. This analysis should be undertaken regularly as it may impact their investment returns. If you have questions about phantom income and your real estate, contact me at [email protected] or 201.655.7411.

Rental Income: There’s More to It than Just Collecting Rent Checks

 

Payment for the occupancy of real estate is includable in the landlord’s gross income as rents. Generally, rents are reportable by the landlord in the year received or accrued, depending upon whether the landlord uses the cash or accrual method of accounting. What constitutes rent is not always obvious and depends on factors that include the lease and relevant facts and circumstances.

HiResTypes of Rents

  • Amounts paid to cancel a lease – It is fairly common for a landlord to receive payments in consideration for allowing a tenant to terminate their lease before the expiration date. This payment is included in the landlord’s rental income in the year of receipt.
  • Advance rent – Generally, advance rent is immediately taxable to the landlord. The regulations specify that advance rentals must be included in income for the year of receipt regardless of the period covered or the method of accounting employed by the taxpayer.
  • Security deposit – A security deposit that is refundable at the end of the rental period is excluded from income. If a landlord requires a security deposit to be used to pay the last month’s rent under a lease, it is included in gross income in the year of receipt.
  • Expenses paid by a tenant – If a tenant pays expenses on behalf of the landlord, those payments are considered rental income by the landlord.  The tenant is entitled to deduct those expenses.

Improvements by Tenants

If a tenant makes an improvement to the landlord’s property that is a substitute for rent, the value of the improvement is taxable to the landlord as rental income.

Permanent improvements by a tenant usually enhance the value of the landlord’s property. The mere enhancement in value of the property does not, by itself, constitute rental income to the landlord. Court cases have held that a tenant’s payments for improvement costs will not be treated as deductible payments in lieu of rent unless it is demonstrated that both the landlord and tenant intended the payments to be in lieu of rent. If a landlord agrees to receive reduced rents in exchange for a tenant’s improvements, the cost of the improvement is plainly rent.

Net Leases

Under certain lease arrangements, also known as net leases, the tenant or lessee must pay specified expenses of the lessor. For tax purposes, these payments are treated as additional rental income by the lessor and additional rent expense by the lessee. Assuming the landlord would have been entitled to a business deduction if it was paid directly, the landlord is entitled to a business deduction for the amount paid by the lessee.

From experience, most lessors (landlords) recognize income only for the actual rent paid, and the lessees (tenants) generally deduct the net leases expenses paid as expenses other than rent.

Before entering into a lease, it is important for a landlord to consider the provisions included in the lease and their impact on taxable rental income.

Your tax professional can help you determine the tax effects of any rental arrangements you may have. As always contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions.

Investor vs. Dealer

Purchasing real estate assets? This post explains what you need to know about the important distinction between real estate investor and dealer for tax purposes.

A real estate developer is taxed differently than a real estate investor. Real estate investors purchase real estate with the intention of holding properties and gaining financial return. Typically, real estate dealers acquire and sell real estate as part of their everyday business.

career or new opportunity concept, business backgroundA real estate professional who is involved in buying real estate with the intention of selling for a profit in a short time frame, or flipping is usually considered a dealer. Contractors and builders who build houses and commercial structures, and subsequently sell the finished property to customers are also considered dealers.

A question that arises often is whether a real estate developer who purchases properties (sometimes raw land or an outdated property) and makes improvements should be considered an investor or a dealer. Real estate developers are usually treated as dealers by the IRS because they are in the business of buying and selling real estate. However, if the developers work on individual and sporadic long-term projects, they may be able to take a position they should be taxed as investors.

Why does it matter to real estate professionals?

When a real estate investor sells property that has been owned for more than one year, gain on the sale is taxed at the favorable long term capital gains rates, currently 15% or 20% depending upon income (plus the 3.8% net investment income tax, if applicable).

When real estate dealers sell their properties, those properties are considered inventory and any gains are taxed at the dealers’ ordinary income tax rates. Currently, Federal ordinary income tax rates can be as high as 39.6%.

The Internal Revenue Code offers general guidelines regarding activities that reach the level of a trade or business. However, Internal Code does not provide specific guidance regarding real estate activities. Consequently, court cases have been the primary source for defining what level of activity determines a trade or business in real estate development and, therefore, the nature of the income.

The main factor in determining if a taxpayer is a real estate investor or a dealer is his or her intent with respect to the property. The mere fact that an individual holds a piece of property for a short period of time does not automatically cause him or her to be a dealer. Often an individual purchases real estate with the intent of holding it for investment purposes, but sells it earlier due for financial or economic reasons.

Consider the Winthrop Factors

A case often cited when determining dealer vs. investor status is United States v. Winthrop. In determining whether the gain from sales was ordinary or capital in nature the court relied on a series of facts and circumstances in the Winthrop case. These have become commonly referred to as the “Winthrop Factors.”

Subsequent court cases have enumerated the following 9 Winthrop Factors:

  1. The purpose for which the property was initially acquired
  2. The purpose for which the property was subsequently held
  3. The extent of improvements made to the property
  4. The number and frequency of sales over time
  5. The extent to which the property has been disposed of
  6. The nature of the taxpayer’s business, including other activities and assets
  7. The amount of advertising/promotion, either directly or through a third party
  8. The listing of the property for sale through a broker
  9. The purpose of the held property at time of sale; the classification as an investor or dealer is determined on a property-by-property basis.

Talk to your tax professional

With such a wide disparity between the maximum capital gains tax rate of 20% (plus the net investment income tax 3.8%) and the tax rate on ordinary income of 39.6%, it is important to consult your tax advisor regarding newly acquired real estate assets and established investments.

Advantages of the Tenant in Common Arrangement

Tenant-in-common ownership, sometimes called tenancy-in-common, is a method of holding title to property involving multiple owners. When a tenancy-in-common arrangement is created, each individual owner, called a “co-tenant” or “co-owner,” owns an undivided interest in the property.

Typical Tenant-in-Common Interest

tenant in common investment
Typical tenant-in-common agreements involve many individuals who each own a fractional interest in a property.

A typical tenant-in-common (“TIC”) interest involves a number of parties, generally unknown to each other, who each own an undivided tenancy-in-common interest in real property.

There can be any number of co-owners. Ownership of a TIC allows the investor to own a fractional interest in a property that is typically investment-grade and professionally managed.

Why Tenant-in-Common?

One advantage of TIC investment is the potential for tax-free exchange treatment. In 2002, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2002-22, which states that a taxpayer can use a TIC investment, if properly structured, as either relinquished property or replacement property in a qualifying like-kind exchange.
(I covered like-kind exchanges in my previous post, “Understanding IRC Code Section 1031 and Why You Should Care.”)

The relationship among TIC owners is generally controlled by a tenancy-in-common agreement (“TIC Agreement”). Decisions to sell, borrow, or lease a property, or hire property management, are typically controlled by the TIC Agreement.

Additional Advantages

There are other benefits to TIC ownership, including professional property management, diversification, appreciation, and predictable cash flow.  Investors may counter that they can receive these benefits in a partnership structure; however, a partnership interest is considered personal property and cannot be exchanged. (The Internal Revenue Code specifically prohibits the exchange of partnership interests.) However, an LLC or partnership can do a 1031 exchange on the entity level.  This means the partnership relinquishes the property and the partnership purchases a replacement property.

If you are buying a property with another person or persons, KRS CPAs can help you set up a tenancy in common. Give us a call at 201-655-7411 or email [email protected].