A Quick Guide to Real Estate and Taxes

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The following post is a guest post from Anjali Jariwala, Founder of FIT Advisors. I began receiving a good number of questions about the tax implications of some of the different types of real estate investments I was making. Instead of fumbling with it myself, I invited an expert in the field of finances and tax to help me with it. Some of it is quite technical but I told her I’m a fan of numbers. Enjoy!)

Are you thinking about adding real estate to your portfolio but do not know where to begin or what the tax implications are?  This article will go through the different types of investments available – direct ownership, REITs and crowdfunding/syndications – and what impact it may have on your tax situation.  Let’s get started – adding real estate to your portfolio is a great way to add diversification and potentially create another income stream in your working years and retirement.

Direct Ownership
 

Many physicians purchase condos/homes/apartments utilizing a doctor loan and after their training turn it into a rental property.  Once real estate is converted to rental use it is classified as passive income for tax purposes.

What is passive income?  It is income that is not generated from your day job.  Any net gain at the end of the year is taxed at ordinary income tax rates.  The additional downside: if the rental property generates a loss, you are not able to offset passive losses with ordinary income i.e., wages.  The passive losses can only be used to offset passive income.

Nonetheless, there is still benefit to capturing the losses on a tax return.  When you sell a primary residence, up to $500,000 of capital gain for a married couple ($250,000 for a single person) may be excluded.  Unfortunately, rental properties are not awarded this gain exclusion.  Instead, any losses that the property generates over the years can be accumulated and offset with the gain upon disposition.

A planning opportunity may be available by converting a primary residence into rental real estate.  For example, Mary purchases a condo in 2010 and in 2013 decides to upgrade into a single family home.  She rents out the condo to earn some money.  Due to recent developments in the area, the condo is now worth much more and she sells it for a gain of $100,000.  Since Mary lived in the home for 2 out of the past 5 years, the entire gain is excluded from income.  The 2 year rule can occur anytime during the 5 year period and does not have to be consecutive.  Keep in mind though that if you do the opposite and convert rental property to a primary residence, the rules are more complex and the gain exclusion tends to be limited.

It is helpful to have an understanding of the bigger tax items – basis and depreciationBasis is the cost or purchase price of the property minus the value of the land (note: you cannot depreciate land).  The depreciation deduction you can take on residential real estate per year is the basis (cost less land) divided by 27.5.  Depreciation is a great tax deduction you can take every year but will affect your gain or loss when you sell the property.

The next question is how much tax will you pay when you sell the property?  In general, selling a rental property generates capital gains.  That’s easy, so the entire amount of gain is taxed at 15% right?  Close but not quite. The amount you took in depreciation deductions is taxed at 25%.

Make sure to do some planning before disposing of any rental property because your adjusted gross income may exceed certain thresholds that would trigger a tax hike.

REITs

Another way to obtain real estate exposure in your portfolio is through the purchase of Real Estate Investment Trusts or REITs.  A REIT is a company that owns or finances income- producing real estate.  REITs are usually structured as a mutual fund so you can purchase REITs on major stock exchanges and offer several benefits such as real estate exposure, diversification, low correlation with financial assets, and potentially higher income than regular equities.

The IRS requires REITs to pay out at least 90% of its income to shareholders.  Thus, REITs tend to be higher yield since a large fraction of the earnings come out as dividends, which may be beneficial for certain income oriented investors.  The flipside is the tax cost for investing in REITs since income must be distributed and as a holder the taxes flow through to you.

REITs provide an easy way to get real estate exposure in your portfolio but it is crucial that you avoid asset class overlap.  Since many stock and index funds include REIT companies, having a separate allocation to REITs in a portfolio may create double counting.  Certain fund managers strip out REIT companies from their equity investments to avoid this issue.  One example is Dimensional Fund Advisors.  For those who want real estate exposure without the hassle of being a landlord, purchasing REITs may be the way to go.

Crowdfunding / Syndications

One of the latest trends is crowdfunding / syndications where money is pooled together to directly invest in various real estate properties.  You do not get quite the variety and diversification you would in a REIT but it provides an opportunity to invest a smaller amount of money than purchasing a property directly.  Usually, you are a limited partner in a partnership.  Since you are not materially involved in the day to day activities, the income generated is passive income.

After the end of the year you receive a K-1, which reports your share of income and expenses from the partnership.  These income and expense items are reported on your individual tax return as a passive activity.  Similar to a rental property, passive losses can be accumulated and used in the year in which the property is sold to offset any gains.

If the property in the syndication was held for at least a year, the gain will be treated as long term capital gain subject to 15%/20% capital gains rate.  Any depreciation taken on the property is subject to recapture and taxed at 25%.  The issuance of a K-1 usually results in a taxpayer needing to extend their individual tax return as most K-1s are not sent out until after the regular due date April 15.

Crowdfunding allows you the opportunity to potentially invest in more properties without the cash outlay of owning it all on your own.

What Should You Invest In?

  • If you want real estate exposure with the least amount of time and effort, REITs are the way to go since they are liquid investments that easily trade on major stock exchanges.  The underlying expense ratio on REITs tend to be higher than index funds and may result in a higher tax cost.
  • If the thought of owning a property, managing it and being a landlord sounds enticing, then consider purchasing a rental property.
  • Want the best of both worlds?  A syndication is a good hybrid approach – money is pooled together to provide more investment opportunities.  There is no right or wrong approach to real estate investing – pick the type that works well for you.

 

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