Q&A: Capital gains on house sale

Dear Liz: I am one of those seniors who purchased their house in the 1970s. I would like to move but I’m reluctant because of the huge capital gain tax that I would have to pay. The exemption amount has not been raised since 1997 when it was enacted. In comparison, the estate tax exemption has risen from $600,000 in 1997 to more than $11 million currently. Wouldn’t raising the capital gain exemption stimulate the real estate market as more people would put their homes on the market and give more first-time buyers a chance at homeownership?

Answer: Perhaps, but you shouldn’t let tax law be the sole determinant of what you do or don’t do. Minimizing taxes can be a factor in your decisions but shouldn’t be the only one.

Also, keep in mind that the median home price in the U.S. is currently $226,300, according to real estate site Zillow. Most homeowners haven’t seen and probably won’t see enough appreciation to use a single $250,000 exemption, let alone the $500,000 available to couples.

So you may have a problem, but it’s an enviable problem. Even if you pay taxes at top rates, you’ll still have a substantial sum left over. And you may be able to spread out the tax bill using an installment agreement, in which the buyer pays you over time. You’ll want a tax pro’s help if you go that route, but you should consult one in any case to make sure you’re taking advantage of every other legal opportunity to reduce what you owe.

Related Posts