Real Estate and Your Income Taxes

Looking around Charlotte it’s easy to see that the market is appreciating, aka the home values are increasing. With more people moving to Charlotte and interest rates still low, there are more buyers than properties available. If you purchased your home even a year ago it’s worth significantly more in today’s market. This has many people very excited to cash out the equity this market situation has given them. But selling your home without having lived there for two full years has some serious drawbacks that most homeowners and even some real estate professionals DON’T know about.

Those drawbacks are related to your taxes.

Under the current tax guidelines, as long as a homeowner has lived in their home as their primary residence for any 2 of the last 5 years, they can exclude $250,000 or $500,000 worth of gain on the sale of their home depending on if you file as single or married filing joint.

… So, what the heck does that all mean?

Let’s say that you purchased your house in June of 2019 for $250,000 and you don’t make any major upgrades during the time that you own it. Later on you decide to sell you house and you sell it for $325,000. In this example, your gain, or the money you made on the sale, is $75,000. If you lived in the home as your primary residence for at least two years, you report the sale on your taxes but the entire $75,000 is excluded from being taxed. You received $75,000 and you didn’t have to pay any taxes for it. That’s a SERIOUS benefit.

What if you sold the house after living there only one and a half years? The entire 75,000 you made on the sale of the home is taxable by both the federal government and the state government. This would cost you more than $18,750 in state and federal taxes (depending on your tax bracket and other variables of course). Even if you turn around and buy another house, you will be held liable to pay the tax on the gain you received.

It’s important to understand the impact that your real estate transaction can have on your financial situation and also your tax situation for the year. Staying a few extra months in a home could mean big savings for you in the long-haul, and understanding this situation could also keep you from jumping into the next highest tax bracket by realizing taxable income that could’ve been non-taxable with a few small tweaks.

Why Price Isn’t Everything

Charlotte’s real estate market is nutty right now and with very little inventory on the market the chances of a home going into a multiple offers situation is exponentially higher. Especially in price points under 350k, where first time homebuyers are up against investors with deep pockets, all-cash offers, homes on the market only a day (if getting on-market at all) and general real estate debauchery.

Multiple offers. Highest and Best. What does it all really mean for the average homebuyer? Maybe not quite what you think. There’s a lot that goes into a seller selecting an offer from a pile of eager buyers, and it’s not just who offers the highest price (but yes, that’s important too).

Type of Financing

The type of financing that a buyer has can have vast implications when it comes to getting the transaction through to the closing table. FHA and VA loans are guaranteed by the government, but they also require more stringent approval processes. And because they are government-backed these processes can move slower and be more difficult to navigate. Down payment assistance programs can be another caveat within the process. A buyer would be silly not to take free money, but when that money comes with strings and stress for the seller, it might be best foregoing that money with our current market.

Buyer Liquidity aka money in the bank

Buyer liquidity is a natural extension of financing. Certain financing is geared towards helping buyers that don’t have much money to put down on a home. For example, there are VA loans that are 100% financed loans, so the buyer is bringing no money to closing. That’s great for the buyer, but what if the home doesn’t appraise up to the purchase price that’s written on the contract? The lender is only going to lend up to the appraisal price (aka what the home is “worth” in the eyes of the lender) so if the seller knows that the buyers aren’t bringing money for a down payment (or aren’t bringing much) then the likelihood is high that buyers won’t have cash to bring to cover the difference in the appraisal and purchase price. If this can’t get figured out in a timely manner then the buyer will have to terminate the contract.

Which brings us to…

Due Diligence and Earnest Money Deposits

If a buyer needs to terminate a contract the money that they have on the line is their Due Diligence money and potentially their Earnest Money. Whether or not they lose Earnest Money is dependent on when they terminate the contract (during or after the due diligence period) and certain types of financing require the buyer to receive their Earnest Money back if the home does not appraise for the purchase price (I’m talking about FHA and VA loans here).

If any of these termination scenarios were to occur, would the DD and EMD received from the buyer really be enough to compensate for the lost time and the seller having to go back to square one in selling their property? Riskier financing means more DD and EMD is needed to entice the seller to take a chance on the buyer.

Closing Date

Depending on the moving situation that the seller may be in, they may want to move very-very quickly and be done with the sale or they may want to stay in the house a few extra days or weeks to make the move-out process smoother. This can also lead in to the discussion of seller possession after closing. If, for example, the seller needs to sell their home to put money towards a new construction home they’re building they may need to close soon but then they don’t have a place to live until their home is completed and ready for move-in. A closing with seller possession after closing, also known as renting back a house after the sale, may be very-very important to the sellers. There are liability issues with the seller staying in a home they do not own for a period of time, so if this is something you’re interested in doing or offering, make sure you understand what could go wrong.

Buyer and Agent Requests

For the buyer this means other things that are requested as part of the contract. Usually it’s requesting the seller to pay a portion of the buyer’s closing costs, leaving personal property behind like a fridge, washer or dryer, or paying for a one-year home warranty for the buyer.

Requesting closing costs reduces the overall amount of money that the seller receives from the sale, and sellers don’t really like less money. Also, such a request tells the listing agent that the buyer is likely already strapped for cash because they need help paying their closing costs. It’s important to note that closing costs can’t really be financed as part of your loan amount, someone needs to pay them at the closing table. If those expenses are already tough for the buyer to cover are they really going to have money to cover an issue if the home doesn’t appraise? Likely not.

Another thing that goes into decision-making is how the buyer’s agent conducts themselves. I know, it doesn’t sound fair to be judged by someone else’s actions, but if that person is representing you and they aren’t conducting themselves in a professional manner then that’s a problem. If a seller receives two largely identical offers but one has a knowledgeable, communicative, and courteous agent and the other has a trainwreck of an agent, I have to tell the seller because it could impact the buyer’s ability to get things done in a timely and accurate manner, which could cause the buyer to need to terminate the sale.

Seller Preferences. Maybe.

This is where things turn into a grey area. It’s common practice these days for buyers to write personal letters to the sellers explaining why they love the house and why they should choose their offer over any other. Depending on the seller these may work, or they may backfire, so if you’re the buyer be careful! I had a client going through a messy divorce and they got a ton of letters explaining how the buyers saw themselves building their family with their spouse in the home. It was hard to read knowing the circumstances of the seller, who had also planned to grow their family in the home, but life ended up much different than they had expected.

I had another client who got their offer accepted because both the buyer and the seller were veterans. The seller felt so strongly about supporting a fellow veteran that they took a more-difficult VA loan as opposed to a conventional loan.

Seller preferences can get sticky if their preferences could appear to be a violation of fair housing laws. Choices based on the buyer’s race, gender, family status, etc. are highly discouraged by real estate professionals so we’ll try to keep these details out of the discussion if at all possible. When I talk to a seller about selecting an offer and personal details about the buyer are invovled in the submission I forewarn the seller than I will remove photos or information that could violate fair housing. If this is a problem for the seller then we have another issue entirely.