Q&A: Selling a rental property? Here are the tax consequences

Dear Liz: My siblings and I are considering selling a triplex. It was bequeathed to us by our mother when she died in 2007. There is no mortgage and it is fully occupied. If we sell, my wife and I (both over 50) would get roughly $200,000, and we’d like to minimize the tax impact. We own our home free and clear and have no debt. We’d like to use this windfall to help our son buy a home. We’d also give our daughter a cash gift. We have no interest in buying another investment property using a 1031 exchange. Any suggestions to minimize our tax bill given our circumstances?

Answer: Talk to a tax pro, because selling a rental property is more complicated than selling your personal home.

You’re not eligible for the $250,000-per-person home sale profit exclusion, and in addition to paying capital gains tax you also face a depreciation recapture tax of 25%. (Depreciation is the amount of wear-and-tear you wrote off during your ownership of the property; the IRS requires you to repay that tax break when you sell.)

A big capital gain could affect other areas of your finances, such as Medicare premiums, and the pro can help you plan for that as well.

1031 exchange would allow you to defer taxes on a rental property by buying a similar replacement property.

Another solution would be to hang on to the property, continue to enjoy the rental income and bequeath your portion of it to your children when you die. Your portion will receive a favorable step-up in tax basis so that your heirs won’t owe taxes on the capital gains that occurred during your ownership. They also won’t face the tax on depreciation recapture you would otherwise owe.

But that obviously isn’t a good solution if you no longer want to be a landlord or want the cash instead. In that case, the tax pro can help you properly account for selling costs, legal fees and improvement expenses that could reduce the tax hit and may be able to suggest other ways to manage your tax bill.

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