There are many tax benefits available to you on the sale of your principal residence. However, the rules are complex and personal guidance is necessary to take full advantage of these benefits, so that you and your tax advisor can best work together to minimize the tax on the gain. This financial guide discusses the key rules so that you and your tax advisor can best work together to minimize the tax on the gain.
Most taxpayers will not have to pay any tax on the sale of a main home, an exclusion of $250,000 ($500,000 on a joint return) can be taken in most cases. This exclusion replaces the old "rollover" rules and the one-time $125,000 exclusion for taxpayers age 55 and older that applied to sales before May 7, 1997.
Note: If you have a loss from the sale, it is a personal loss. You cannot deduct the loss.
You must report the sale of your main home on your tax return (Schedule D) if you have a taxable gain-that is, where you don't qualify for exclusion, your gain exceeds the exclusion, or you used part of the property in business or for rent.
Usually, the home you live in most of the time is your main home. It can be a houseboat, a mobile home, a cooperative apartment, or a condominium.
To qualify under the new, post-May-6-1997 exclusion rules, you must generally have owned and used the property as your main home for at least two years during the five-year period ending on the date of sale. To qualify under the old rollover rules, both the home you sold and the one you bought to replace it had to qualify as your main home.
You may sell the land on which your main home is located, but not the house itself. In this case, you cannot postpone tax on any gain you have from the sale of the land.
If you have more than one home, only the sale of your main home qualifies for excluding the gain. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is the one you live in most of the time.
Example: You own and live in a house in town. You also own beach property, which you use in the summer months. The town property is your main home; the beach property is not.
Example: You own a house, but you live in another house that you rent. The rented home is your main home.
Tip: Where a second residence has soared in value and you want to sell, some tax advisors have suggested moving to the second residence for the required period to qualify for exclusion on its sale. If this is your situation, professional guidance is suggested.
How To Figure Gain Or Loss
Key information for determining gain or loss are the selling price, the amount realized, and the adjusted basis.
The selling price is the total amount you receive for your home. It includes money, all notes, mortgages or other debts assumed by the buyer as part of the sale, and the fair market value of any other property or any services you receive. From the selling price, you then deduct the selling expenses such as commissions, advertising, legal fees, and loan charges paid by the seller.
The difference is the "amount realized". If the amount realized is more than your home's "adjusted basis," discussed later, the difference is your gain. If the amount realized is less than the adjusted basis, the difference is your loss.
However, it does not include amounts you received for personal property sold with your home. Personal property is property that is not a permanent part of the home, such as furniture, draperies, and lawn equipment.
The following discussion covers how to determine your gain or loss if you trade one home for another, if your home is foreclosed on or repossessed or if you transfer a jointly owned home.
Jointly owned home. If you and your spouse sell your jointly owned home and file a joint return, you figure and report your gain or loss as one taxpayer. If you file separate returns, each of you must figure and report your own gain or loss according to your ownership interest in the home. Your ownership interest is determined by state law.
If you and a joint owner other than your spouse sell your jointly owned home, each of you must figure and report your own gain or loss according to your ownership
interest in the home. Each of you applies the exclusion rules individual basis.
Trading homes. If you trade your old home for another home, treat the trade as a sale and a purchase.
Foreclosure or repossession. If your home was foreclosed on or repossessed, you have a sale that you may have to report on your tax return. The gain or loss from this sale is generally figured the same way as a gain or loss from any sale. But the amount of your gain or loss depends, in part, on whether you were personally
liable for repaying the debt secured by the home.
If you were not personally liable for repaying the debt secured by the home, your selling price includes the full amount of debt canceled by the foreclosure or repossession.
If you were personally liable for repaying the debt secured by the home and the debt is canceled, your selling price includes the amount of the debt canceled by the foreclosure or repossession, up to the home's fair market value.
In addition to any gain or loss, if you were personally liable for the debt you may have ordinary income. If the canceled debt is more than the home's fair market
value, you have ordinary income equal to the difference. However, the income from cancellation of debt is not taxed to you if the cancellation is intended as a gift,
or if you are insolvent or bankrupt.
Example: You owned and lived in a home with an adjusted basis of $41,000. A real estate dealer accepted your old home as a rade-in and allowed you $50,000 toward a new house priced at $80,000 (its fair market value). You are considered to have sold your old home for $50,000 and to have had a gain of $9,000 ($50,000 minus $41,000). If the dealer had allowed you $27,000 and assumed your unpaid mortgage of $23,000 on your old home, $50,000 would still be considered the sales price of the old home (the trade-in allowed plus the mortgage assumed).
Transfer to spouse. If you transfer your home to your spouse, or to your former spouse incident to your divorce, you generally have no gain or loss, even if
you receive cash or other consideration for the home. Therefore, the rules explained in this Guide do not apply.
If you owned your home jointly with your spouse and transfer your interest in the home to your spouse, or to your former spouse incident to your divorce, the same
rule applies. You have no gain or loss.
If you buy or build a new home, its basis will not be affected by your transfer of your old home to your spouse, or to your former spouse incident to divorce. The
basis of the home you transferred will not affect the basis of your new home.
You will need to know your basis in your home as a starting point for determining any gain or loss when you sell it. Your basis in your home is determined by how
you got the home. Your basis is its cost if you bought it or built it. If you acquired it in some other way, its basis is either its fair market value when you received it or the adjusted basis of the person you received it from.
While you owned your home, you may have made adjustments (increases or decreases) to the basis. This adjusted basis is used to figure gain or loss on the sale of
Cost as Basis
The cost of property is the amount you pay for it in cash or other property.
Purchase. If you buy your home, your basis is its cost to you. This includes the purchase price and certain settlement or closing costs. Your cost includes
your down payment and any debt, such as a first or second mortgage or notes you gave the seller in payment for the home.
Seller-paid points. If you bought your home after April 3, 1994, you must reduce the basis of your home by any points the seller paid, whether or not you deducted them. If you bought your home after 1990 but before April 4, 1994, you must reduce your basis by the amount of seller-paid points only if you chose to deduct them as home mortgage interest in the year paid.
Settlement fees or closing costs. When buying your home, you may have to pay settlement fees or closing costs in addition to the contract price of the property. You can include in your basis the settlement fees and closing costs that are for buying the home. You cannot include in your basis the fees and costs that are for getting a mortgage loan. A fee is for buying the home if you would have had to pay it even if you paid cash for the home.
Settlement fees do not include amounts placed in escrow for the future payment of items such as taxes and insurance.
Some of the settlement fees or closing costs that you can include in the basis of your property are:
- Abstract fees (sometimes called abstract of title fees),
- Charges for installing utility services,
- Legal fees (including fees for the title search and preparing the sales contract and deed),
- Recording fees,
- Transfer taxes,
- Owner's title insurance, and
- Any amounts the seller owes that you agree to pay, such as back taxes or interest, recording or mortgage fees, charges for improvements or repairs, and sales commissions.
Some settlement fees and closing costs not included in your basis are:
- Fire insurance premiums.
- Rent for occupancy of the house before closing.
- Charges for utilities or other services relating to occupancy of the house before closing.
- Any item that you deducted as a moving expense (settlement fees and closing costs incurred after 1993 cannot be deducted as moving expenses).
- Fees for refinancing a mortgage.
- Charges connected with getting a mortgage loan, such as mortgage insurance premiums (including VA funding fees), loan assumption fees, cost of a credit report, and fee for an appraisal required by a lender.
Construction. If you contracted to have your house built on land you own, your basis is the cost of the land plus the amount it cost you to complete the house. This amount includes the cost of labor and materials, or the amounts paid to the contractor, and any architect's fees, building permit charges, utility meter
and connection charges, and legal fees directly connected with building your home. Your cost includes your down payment and any debt, such as a first or second mortgage or notes you gave the seller or builder. It also includes certain settlement or closing costs. You may have to reduce the basis by points the seller paid for you. If you built all or part of your house yourself, its basis is the total amount it cost you to complete it. Do not include the value of your own labor, or any other labor you did not pay for, in the cost of the house.
Basis Other Than Cost
If your home was acquired in a transaction other than a traditional purchase, you may have to use a basis other than cost, such as fair market value.
Cooperative apartment. Your basis in the apartment is usually the cost of your stock in the co-op housing corporation, which may include your share of a mortgage on the apartment building.
Condominium. Your basis is generally its cost to you.
Note: Fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts. Sales of similar property, on or about the same date, may be helpful in figuring the fair market value of the property.
Home received as gift. If your home was a gift, its basis to you is the same as the donor's adjusted basis when the gift was made. However, if the donor's
adjusted basis was more than the fair market value of the home when it was given to you, you must use that fair market value as your basis for measuring any loss on its sale.
If you use the donor's adjusted basis to figure a gain and get a loss, and then use the fair market value to figure a loss and get a gain, you have neither a gain nor a loss on the sale or disposition.
If you received your home as a gift and its fair market value was more than the donor's adjusted basis at the time of the gift, you may be able to add to your basis any federal gift tax paid on the gift. If the gift was before 1977, the basis cannot be increased to more than fair market value of the home when it was given to you. On the other hand, if you received your home as a gift after 1976, you would add to your basis the part of the federal gift tax paid that is due to the home's "net increase" in value (value less donor's adjusted basis).
Home received from spouse. You may have received your home from your spouse or from your former spouse incident to your divorce.
- If you received the home after July 18, 1984, you had no gain or loss on the transfer. Your basis in this home is generally the same as your spouse's (or former spouse's) adjusted basis just before you received it. This rule applies even if you received the home in exchange for cash, the release of marital rights, the assumption of liabilities, or other consideration.
- If you owned a home jointly with your spouse and your spouse transferred his or her interest in the home to you, your basis in the half interest received from your spouse is generally the same as your spouse's adjusted basis just before the transfer. This rule also applies if your former spouse transferred his or her interest in the home to you incident to your divorce. Your basis in the half interest you already owned does not change. Your new basis in the home is the total of these two amounts.
- If you received your home before July 19,1984, in exchange for your release of marital rights, your basis in the home is generally its fair market value
at the time you received it.
- Home received as inheritance. If you inherited your home, its basis is its fair market value on the date of the decedent's death or the later alternate
valuation date if that date was used for federal estate tax purposes. If an estate tax return was filed, the value listed there for the property generally is your basis. If a federal estate tax return did not have to be filed, your basis in the home is the same as its appraised value at the date of death for purposes of state inheritance or transmission taxes.
- If you are a surviving spouse and you owned your home jointly, your basis in the home will change. The new basis for the half interest owned by your spouse
will be one-half of the fair market value on the date of death (or alternate valuation date). The basis in your half will remain one-half of the adjusted basis determined previously. Your new basis is the total of these two amounts.
Example: Your jointly owned home had an adjusted basis of $50,000 on the date of your spouse's death, and the fair market value on that date was $100,000. Your new basis in the home is $75,000 ($25,000 for one-half of the adjusted basis plus $50,000 for one-half of the fair market value).
In community property states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin), each spouse is usually considered
to own half of the community property. When either spouse dies, the fair market value of the community property becomes the basis of the entire property, including
the portion belonging to the surviving spouse. For this to apply, at least half of the community interest must be included in the decedent's gross estate, whether
or not the estate must file a return.
Home received in trade. If you acquired your home in a trade for other property, the basis of your home is generally its fair market value at the time of the trade. If you traded one home for another, you have made a sale and purchase. In that case, you may have realized a gain.
Adjusted basis is your basis increased or decreased by certain amounts.
Increases to basis include:
- Special assessments for local improvements.
- Amounts spent after a casualty to restore damaged property.
Decreases to basis include:
- Gain from the sale of your old home before May 7, 1997 on which tax was postponed.
- Insurance payments for casualty losses.
- Deductible casualty losses not covered by insurance.
- Payments received for granting an easement or right-of-way.
- Depreciation allowed or allowable if you used your home for business or rental purposes.
- Residential energy credit (generally allowed from 1977 through 1987) claimed for the cost of energy improvements that you added to the basis of your home.
- Adoption credit you claimed for improvements that you added to the basis of your home.
- Nontaxable payments from an employer's adoption assistance program that you used for improvements you added to the basis of your home.
- First-time home buyer's credit (allowed to certain first-time buyers in the District of Columbia).
- Energy conservation subsidy excluded from your gross income because you received it (directly or indirectly) from a public utility after December 3l,1992, to buy or install any energy conservation measure. An energy conservation measure includes an installation or modification that is primarily designed either to reduce consumption of electricity or natural gas or to improve the management of energy demand for a home.
Improvements. These add to the value of your home, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses. You add the cost of improvements to the basis of your
Example: Putting a recreation room in your unfinished basement, adding another bathroom or bedroom, putting up a fence, putting in new plumbing or wiring, installing a new roof, or paving your driveway are improvements.
Here are some other examples:
- Additions: Bedroom, bathroom, deck, garage, porch, patio
- Lawn and grounds: Landscaping, driveway, walkway, fence, retaining wall, sprinkler system, swimming pool
- Miscellaneous: Storm windows or doors, new roof, central vacuum, wiring upgrades, satellite dish, security system
- Heating and air conditioning: Heating system, central air, furnace, duct work, central humidifier, filtration system
- Plumbing: Septic system, water heater, soft water system, filtration system
- Interior: Built-in appliances, kitchen modernization, flooring, wall-to-wall carpet
- Insulation: attic, walls, floor, pipes, duct work
- Improvements no longer part of home. Your home's adjusted basis does not include the cost of any improvements that are no longer part of the home.
Example: You put wall-to-wall carpeting in your home 15 years ago. Later, you replaced that carpeting with new wall-to-wall carpeting. The cost of the old carpeting you replaced is no longer part of your home's adjusted basis.
Repairs. These maintain the good condition of your home. They do not add to its value or prolong its life, and you do not add their costs to the basis of
Example: Repainting your house inside or outside, fixing your gutters or floors, repairing leaks or plastering, and replacing broken window panes are examples of repairs.
Tip: The entire job is considered an improvement, however, if items that would otherwise be considered repairs are done as part of an extensive remodeling or restoration of your home.
Recordkeeping. You should keep records of your home's purchase price and purchase expenses. Furthermore, you should also save receipts and other records for all improvements, additions, and other items that affect the basis of your home.
Tip: You must keep records for 3 years after the due date for filing your return for the tax year in which you sold, or otherwise disposed of, your home. But if the basis of your old home affects the basis of your new one, such as when you sold your old home before May 7, 1997 and postponed
tax on any gain, you should keep those records forever.
Exclusion For Sales After May 6, 1997
If you sell your main home after May 6, 1997, you may qualify to exclude all or part of any gain from your income. This means that, if you qualify, you will
not have to pay tax on the gain up to the limit described under Amount of Exclusion. To qualify, you must meet the ownership and use tests described later.
Amount of Exclusion
You can exclude the entire gain on the sale of your main home up to:
- $250,000, or
- $500,000, if all of the following apply: (1) you are married and file jointly for the year, (2) either you or your spouse meets the ownership test, (3) both you and your spouse meet the use test, and (4) neither you nor your spouse is excluding gain from the sale of another home in the 2-year period before sale (not counting such sales before May 7, 1997.)
Ownership and Use Tests
You can claim the exclusion if, during the 5-year period ending on the date of sale, you have:
- Owned the home for at least 2 years (the ownership test), and
- Lived in the home as your main home for at least 2 years (the "use" test).
Note: If you owned and used the property as your main home for less than 2 years, you may be able to claim a reduced exclusion.
The two years of ownership and use during the five-year period don't have to be continuous. You meet the tests if you can show that you owned and lived in the property as your main home for either 24 full months or 730 days during the five-year period. Short temporary absences, e.g., for vacations, are counted as periods of use, even if you rent out the property during that time.
Example: From 1994 through August 2007, Anne lived with her parents in a house that her parents owned. On September 29, 2007, she bought this house from her parents. She continued to live there until December 15 of 2007, when she sold it at a gain. Although Anne lived in the property as her main home for more than 2 years, she did not own it for the required 2 years. Therefore, she cannot exclude any part of her gain on the sale, unless she sold the property due to a change in health or place of employment.
Example: Professor Moore bought and moved into a house on January 4, 2005. He lived in it as his main home continuously until October 1, 2006, when he went abroad for a one-year sabbatical. During part of the leave, the house was unoccupied, and during the rest of the time he rented it out. On October 1, 2007, he sold the house. Because his leave was not a short temporary absence, he cannot include the period of leave to meet the 2-year use test.
Ownership and Use Tests Met at Different Times. You can meet the ownership and use tests during different 2-year periods. However, you must meet both tests during the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale.
Example: In 1996, Harry was 60 years old and lived in a rental apartment. When the apartment building went co-op, he bought his apartment on December 1, 1999. Harry then went to live with his daughter on April 14, 2001 because he became ill. On July 10, 2003, he sold his co-op while still living with his daughter. Harry can exclude gain on the sale of his co-op because he met the ownership and use tests. His 5-year period runs from July 11, 1998, to July 10, 2003, the date he sold the co-op. Even though, he only owned the co-op from December 1, 1999 to July 10, 2003--over two years, he lived in the apartment from July 11, 1997 (the beginning of the five-year period) to April 14, 2001 (over two years).
Special Situations. There are a number of special situations that may result in exceptions to the general rules.
Individuals with Disabilities. There is an exception to the 2-out-of-5-year use test if you become physically or mentally unable to care for yourself at any time during the 5-year period. You qualify for this exception to the use test if, during the 5-year period before the sale of your home:
- You become physically or mentally unable to care for yourself, and
- You owned and lived in your home as a main home for a total of at least one year.
Under this exception, you are considered to live in your home during any time that you live in a facility (including a nursing home) that is licensed by a state or political subdivision to care for persons in your condition.
If you meet this exception to the use test, you still have to meet the 2-out-of-5-year ownership test to claim the exclusion.
Gain postponed on sale of previous home. For the ownership and use tests, you may be able to add the time you owned and lived in a previous home to the time you lived in the home on which you wish to exclude gain. You can do this if you postponed all or part of the gain on the sale of the previous home because of buying the home on which you wish to exclude gain.
Tip: Also, if buying the previous home enabled you to postpone all or part of the gain on the sale of a home you owned earlier, you can also include the time you owned and lived in that earlier home.
Previous home destroyed or condemned. For the ownership and use test, you add the time you owned and lived in a previous home that was destroyed or
condemned to the time you owned and lived in the home on which you wish to exclude gain. This rule applies if any part of the basis of the home you sold depended
on the basis of the destroyed or condemned home. Otherwise, you must have owned and lived in the same home for 2 of the 5 years before the sale to qualify for
If you and your spouse file a joint return for the year of sale, you can exclude gain if either spouse meets the ownership and use tests. (But see Amount of
Example: Mary sells her home in June of this year and marries John later in the year. She meets the ownership and use tests, but John does not. Emily can exclude up to $250,000 of gain on a separate or joint return for this year.
Example: Now assume that John also sells a home. He meets the ownership and use tests on his home. Mary and John can each exclude $250,000 of gain.
Death of spouse before sale. If your spouse died before the date of sale, you are considered to have owned and used the property as your main home during
any period of time when your spouse owned and used it as a main home.
Home transferred from spouse. If your home was transferred to you by your spouse (or former spouse if the transfer was incident to divorce), you are considered to have owned it during any period of time when your spouse owned it.
Use of home after divorce. You are considered to have used property as your main home during any period when you owned it and your spouse or former
spouse is allowed to use it under a divorce or separation instrument. Such use is added to your own use before or after divorce.
More Than One Home Sold During The Two-Year Period
You cannot exclude gain on the sale of your home if, during the two-year period ending on the date of the sale, you sold another home at a gain and are excluding
all or part of that gain. If you cannot exclude the gain, you must include it in your income.
However, you can claim a reduced exclusion if you sold the home due to a change in health or place of employment. When counting the number of sales during a
two-year period, do not count sales before May 7, 1997.
Expatriates. You cannot claim the exclusion if section 877(a)(1) applies to you because you have renounced their citizenship and one of the primary
purposes was to avoid U.S. taxes.
Home destroyed or condemned. If your home is destroyed or condemned after May 6, 1997, any gain (e.g., due to insurance proceeds) qualifies for the exclusion.
Home used in business. So long as the business use takes place in the same dwelling unit as your main home, the exclusion is not affected by business
use, with this exception: You cannot exclude the part of your gain that is equal to any depreciation allowed or allowable for the business use of your home after
May 6, 1997. The 2 out of 5 year use-as-the-main-home test is not applied to deny exclusion for gain allocable to business use in the same dwelling unit,
except for allowable depreciation.
Example: You bought a home in 1997 and used it throughout 3/4 as your residence and 1/4 as your home office. On December 30, 2002 you sold it. The gain qualifies for exclusion except that you cannot exclude the part of your gain that is equal to any depreciation allowed or allowable
for the business use of your home after May 6, 1997.
This is the current rule. Under the rule in effect before December 24, 2002, only 3/4 of the gain (disregarding the effect of the depreciation deduction)
would have qualified for exclusion, since only 3/4 of the home met the 2 out of 5 year test for use as your main home. However, IRS now also lets taxpayers
use the current rule described above for sales before December 24, 2002, and claim refunds for tax paid under its old rule.
Reduced exclusion. You are allowed a reduced exclusion in limited cases where you have failed to meet all the exclusion requirements. Reduced exclusion
is allowed where because of a change in health, or place of employment, or unforeseen circumstances (such as a natural disaster or a divorce) you either failed to meet
the ownership and use tests or you sold after having excluded gain on sale of another home after May 6, 1997 and within 2 years of this sale.
The $250,000 (or $500,000) exclusion is reduced according to a formula whose numerator is the number of days of qualified ownership or use (or between sales
of the homes) and the denominator is 730 days (for 2 years). If married filing jointly, duplicate the same calculation for your spouse's ownership and use (or days between sales).
Example: You owned and used your main home for 400 days before selling it at a $150,000 gain following your move to a new job location. Your exclusion is $136,986, that is, 400/730 x $250,000.
Recapture Of Federal Subsidy
If you financed your home under a federally subsidized program, you may have to recapture all or part of the benefit you received from that program when
you sell your home. This recapture is accomplished by your paying more federal income tax in the year of sale. The exclusion does not apply to this recapture tax.
Adjusted basis: This is your basis in the property increased or decreased by certain amounts. See Adjusted Basis, earlier in this Guide, for a list of items that increase or decrease your basis in the property.
Amount realized: This is the selling price of your old home minus your selling expenses.
Basis: Your basis in the property is determined by how you got it. If you bought or built the property, your basis is what it cost you. If you got
the property in some other way, your basis will be determined differently. See Cost As Basis and Basis Other Then Cost earlier in this Guide for more information.
Date of sale: If you received a Form 1099-S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions, the date should be shown in box 1. If you did not receive this form,
the date of sale is the earlier of (a) the date title transferred or (b) the date the economic burdens and benefits of ownership shifted to the buyer. In most cases,
these dates are the same.
Fair market value: Fair market value is the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy
or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts. Sales of similar property, on or about the same date, may be helpful in figuring the fair market value of the property.
Fixing-up expenses: These are costs you pay for decorating or repairing your home to make it easier to sell. You may be able to deduct fixing-up expenses
from the amount realized on the sale of your old home.
Gain: Your gain on the sale of your home is the amount realized minus the adjusted basis of the home you sold.
Improvements: These add to the value of your home, prolong the life of the property, or allow the property to be used for new purposes. The cost of improvements increases your basis in the property.
Main home: This is the home you live in most of the time. It can be a house, houseboat, cooperative apartment, condominium, etc.
Repairs: These maintain your property in good condition. They differ from Improvements in that they do not add much to the value or life of the property and their cost does not increase your basis in the property.
Seller-financed mortgage: This is a mortgage from the buyer of your home. The buyer makes mortgage payments to you.
Selling expenses: Selling expenses include items such as sales commissions, and advertising and legal fees you pay to sell your home. Selling expenses also usually include loan charges you pay on the buyer's behalf as an aid in selling your home, such as loan placement fees or "points."
Settlement fees (or closing costs): These are amounts paid in purchasing your property in addition to the contract price. Some of these amounts are added to
the basis of the property and some are deductible as itemized deductions. Certain amounts are neither deductible nor added to the basis of the property. See Settlement
fees or closing costs under Basis, earlier in this Guide, for more details.