How To Avoid Capital Gains Tax On Real Estate (2024)

As mentioned, there are two primary ways to avoid or defer capital gains taxes when buying a new home, one of which is the 121 home sale exclusion.

The 121 home sale exclusion, also known as the primary residence exclusion, is a tax benefit that allows homeowners to exclude a portion of the capital gains from the sale of their primary residence from their taxable income. This exclusion reduces the tax burden of selling a home.

How Does The 121 Home Sale Exclusion Work?

The 121 home sale exclusion comes with specific restrictions:

  • Eligibility: To be eligible for the exclusion, you must have owned and used the property as your primary residence for at least 2 of the 5 years preceding the sale.
  • Exclusion limits: Under this provision, a taxpayer can exclude up to $250,000 of capital gains on the sale of their primary residence if they’re filing as single or married filing separately. Married couples filing jointly can exclude up to $500,000 of capital gains.
  • Frequency of use: You can use this exclusion once every 2 years. Therefore, if you meet the eligibility criteria and haven't used the exclusion in the last 2 years, you can claim it again for a subsequent home sale.

What Kind Of Homes Are Eligible For The Home Sale Exclusion?

Numerous types of homes are eligible for the home sale exclusion, including:

  • Mobile homes
  • Trailers
  • Houseboats
  • Condominiums
  • Single-family homes
  • Cooperative apartments

Remember, property in a retirement community is eligible if the taxpayer receives equity in the property or a co-op if the taxpayer owns stock proportionate to their unit.

Are There Special Exemptions To The Home Sale Exclusion?

Unique circ*mstances sometimes accompany a home sale. Fortunately, you may still qualify for a tax benefit. Specifically, suppose you don't meet the 2-year ownership and use requirement due to specific unforeseen circ*mstances, such as a job change or health problems. In that case, you may be eligible for a partial exclusion based on the time you lived in the property.

Additionally, say you or your spouse are on qualified official extended duty for the U.S. military, the Foreign Service, or the intelligence community. In this case, you can extend the 5-year period for an additional 10 years, allowing yourself a wider timespan to live in the home. Remember, qualified official extended duty means more than 90 days or an indefinite period of service. In addition, you must be living at a duty station at least 50 miles from your primary residence or living in government housing due to government orders.

How Much Can You Save With The Home Sale Exclusion?

The examples below demonstrate how much a homeowner would pay in capital gains taxes in various situations.

Buying A New Home After Selling Current Residence

Here's an example demonstrating how much a married couple filing jointly would pay if their home sale profits exceeded the exclusion limits. Say you and your spouse purchased your home for $400,000. After owning and living in it for the last 30 years, you sell it for $1,200,000. You spent $100,000 on capital improvements while you lived there, meaning your cost basis is $500,000. Therefore, $1,200,000 − $500,000 = $700,000 of capital gains.

Since the capital gain of $700,000 exceeds the $500,000 exclusion limit for a married couple filing jointly, the portion of the gain above the limit ($200,000) will be subject to capital gains tax. In addition, say you and your spouse make $550,000 in 2024. This income level puts you at the 15% long-term capital gains tax rate for married couples filing jointly. So, $700,000 − $500,000 = $200,000 × 0.15 = $30,000. As a result, you would pay $30,000 in capital gains taxes on the portion of the gain exceeding the $500,000 exclusion limit.

In addition, if you and your spouse decide to use the proceeds from the home sale to buy a new home, you can use a portion or all of the sale proceeds as a down payment on the new property. However, the capital gains taxes you owe from the sale of your previous home will detract from your financial capabilities. Specifically, you will have $30,000 less to buy your next home than if you had received an exclusion for all of your capital gains taxes.

Moving Into A Vacation Home Or Investment Property

Using the example above, say you and your spouse sell your home, exceed the exclusion limit by $200,000, and move into your second home instead of buying a new one. This way, while you would still owe $30,000 in capital gains taxes, you wouldn’t worry about applying the profits from the home sale to a new home purchase. In addition, by making your second home your new primary residence, you can use the exclusion rule again in the future, provided you live in the house long enough.

How To Avoid Capital Gains Tax On Real Estate (2024)

FAQs

How To Avoid Capital Gains Tax On Real Estate? ›

Home sales can be tax free as long as the condition of the sale meets certain criteria: The seller must have owned the home and used it as their principal residence for two out of the last five years (up to the date of closing). The two years do not have to be consecutive to qualify.

What is a simple trick for avoiding capital gains tax on real estate investments? ›

A few options to legally avoid paying capital gains tax on investment property include buying your property with a retirement account, converting the property from an investment property to a primary residence, utilizing tax harvesting, and using Section 1031 of the IRS code for deferring taxes.

Is there a capital gains loophole for real estate? ›

When does capital gains tax not apply? If you have lived in a home as your primary residence for two out of the five years preceding the home's sale, the IRS lets you exempt $250,000 in profit, or $500,000 if married and filing jointly, from capital gains taxes.

What are the two rules of exclusion on capital gains for homeowners? ›

Sale of your principal residence. We conform to the IRS rules and allow you to exclude, up to a certain amount, the gain you make on the sale of your home. You may take an exclusion if you owned and used the home for at least 2 out of 5 years. In addition, you may only have one home at a time.

How do I bypass capital gains? ›

The like-kind (aka "1031") exchange is a popular way to bypass capital gains taxes on investment property sales. With this transaction, you sell an investment property and buy another one of similar value. By doing so, you can defer owing capital gains taxes on the first property.

Are there any loopholes for capital gains tax? ›

Internal Revenue Code section 1031 provides a way to defer the capital gains tax on the profit you make on the sale of a rental property by rolling the proceeds of the sale into a new property.

Do I have to buy another house to avoid capital gains? ›

You can avoid capital gains tax when you sell your primary residence by buying another house and using the 121 home sale exclusion. In addition, the 1031 like-kind exchange allows investors to defer taxes when they reinvest the proceeds from the sale of an investment property into another investment property.

How do house flippers avoid capital gains? ›

How To Avoid Capital Gains Tax On House Flipping (2023)
  1. Establishing An LLC.
  2. Managing The Duration Of Property Ownership.
  3. 121 Exclusion.
  4. Managing The Property Sale Date.
  5. 1031 Exchange (Not Applicable For Quick Sales)
Apr 25, 2024

At what age do you not pay capital gains? ›

Capital Gains Tax for People Over 65. For individuals over 65, capital gains tax applies at 0% for long-term gains on assets held over a year and 15% for short-term gains under a year. Despite age, the IRS determines tax based on asset sale profits, with no special breaks for those 65 and older.

Do you have to pay capital gains after age 70 if you? ›

Whether you're 65 or 95, seniors must pay capital gains tax where it's due. This can be on the sale of real estate or other investments that have increased in value over their original purchase price, which is known as the “tax basis.”

How long after you sell a house do you have to reinvest the money? ›

A: You can defer capital gains taxes by using a tax deferred exchange, which means that you reinvest the windfall from the sale into a replacement property. However, you need to act quickly. If you wait more than 180 days to reinvest, you will have to pay taxes on the proceeds.

Do I have to pay capital gains tax immediately? ›

It is generally paid when your taxes are filed for the given tax year, not immediately upon selling an asset. Working with a financial advisor can help optimize your investment portfolio to minimize capital gains tax.

How can I avoid capital gains tax without a 1031 exchange? ›

Utilizing a Deferred Sales Trust, investors can defer capital gains taxes over time. Deferred Sales Trusts provide an alternative to 1031 exchanges for deferring capital gains taxes on appreciated assets.

How do I calculate capital gains on sale of property? ›

Subtract your basis (what you paid) from the realized amount (how much you sold it for) to determine the difference. If you sold your assets for more than you paid, you have a capital gain.

Can you sell stock and buy a house and not pay capital gains? ›

Do you pay capital gains if you sell stock to buy a house? Typically, you'll have to pay tax on capital gains if you sell stock to buy a house. The amount you pay (if any) depends on a number of factors. For example, holding stocks for more than a year will lower your tax bill.

What is the 2 out of 5 year rule? ›

When selling a primary residence property, capital gains from the sale can be deducted from the seller's owed taxes if the seller has lived in the property themselves for at least 2 of the previous 5 years leading up to the sale. That is the 2-out-of-5-years rule, in short.

Do house flippers pay capital gains? ›

Long-term capital gains taxes are for assets held over a year and are charged at a more favorable rate, ranging from 0% – 20% depending on the bracket. House flippers are mostly going to fall into the camp of short-term capital gains.

What lowers capital gains tax? ›

Long-term investing offers a significant advantage in minimizing capital gains taxes due to the favorable tax treatment for investments for longer durations. When investors hold assets for more than a year before selling, they qualify for long-term capital gains tax rates, typically lower than short-term rates.

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