Unlike selling a stock, investment properties can't be unloaded in a few seconds with a click of your mouse. The time between the decision to sell and the actual date of sale is often measured in weeks or months. Selling your own home can be an intimidating process if you don't know where to start, but selling an investment property requires even more work.

The amount of capital and the taxation issues surrounding the realization of that capital are complex when dealing with investment real estate. It is not, however, impossible to accomplish on your own. In this article we'll look at the process of selling an investment property and focus on how to limit taxes on the gains.

Why Sell?
The reasons for selling a rental property vary. Landlords who personally manage their properties may move and want to buy a different investment property near their new residence. Or, a landlord may want to cash in on the appreciation of a rental property rather than accumulating money through rent. It may even be a case of a property that is losing money, either through vacancy or not enough rent to cover the expenses. Regardless of the reason, real estate investors looking to sell will have to deal with taxes. (To read more about rental properties, see Investing In Real Estate and Five Things Every Real Estate Investor Should Know.)

The Tax Man Cometh
The capital gains taxes on a rental property sale are much steeper compared to the straightforward sale of a personal use property. The basic capital gains that you have to pay on the profit from the sale are increased by any depreciation you claimed against the property. This means that if the property lost money and you used the loss against your tax bill in previous years, you will have a larger tax bill when the sale goes through. (To read more about capital gains and taxes on your rental property, see Smart Real Estate Transactions and Tips For The Prospective Landlord.)

Example - Capital Gains Tax and Depreciation

Let\'s say you have a rental property that you bought for $150,000 and it sells for $200,000. Usually, this means that you pay capital gains on $50,000. If you deducted $20,000 in depreciation over the time that you owned the property, however, you owe the difference between the sale price and your purchase price minus depreciation: $200,000 - ($150,000 - $20,000). Instead of owing capital gains on $50,000, you now owe capital gains on $70,000.
Note: This shouldn\'t discourage you from claiming depreciation losses. It is almost always better to realize tax breaks sooner rather than later.

Rolling Over
The Internal Revenue Code Section 1031 allows real estate investors to avoid taxes on their gains by re-investing them in a like-kind property. With the help of a lawyer or a tax advisor, you can set up the sale so that the proceeds are put into an escrow account until you are ready to use them to buy a new property. There is a time limit of 45 days to choose the new property and six months to complete the transaction. If you intend to do a rollover, you should start looking for the new property before you sell the old one.

The 1031 exchange works great if you intend to re-invest in another property. If you merely want to stop being directly involved with property, you can either hire a professional manager for your current property, or sell it and buy a professionally managed property. If your goal is purely to raise capital, however, you will just have to eat the capital gains tax.

Incorporating as a Shield
Incorporating is becoming increasingly popular for real estate investors. By incorporating, investors can lessen their personal liability making the corporation act as a shield between you and the potential that a tenant may sue you. Your house and personal finances cannot be claimed in any kind of court settlement when you incorporate. Corporations also have different tax rules that are quite favorable, especially with the capital gains from selling a property.

For a certain type of real estate investor, incorporation makes sense. If you are employing people to find and manage a wide range of income-producing properties and making significant profits at it, incorporation will lessen your tax bill and then you will see the profits through the share structure of your corporation. For most real estate investors, there are better ways to get the benefits of incorporation without complicating how income is realized.

Incorporation can create a barrier between you and the earnings from your property so that if you depend on that income in any way, you may not be able to access it as easily as you'd like - particularly with large profits such as those from selling a property. It is comparatively easy to incorporate, requiring only some professional advice and paperwork, but getting your properties out of a corporation (for example, to sell them off and retire) is more complex because you are walking the line of intentional tax evasion/fraud unless you sell the corporation instead of the properties that make it up. This is, of course, much harder than selling a house.

In contrast, if you are personally managing two or three properties and have even one or two more that are professionally managed, you may not benefit from incorporation. If the income from your rentals isn't outpacing your expenses for each property by a large margin, you are better to hold them as is and use depreciations and write-downs where you can, or change your real estate holdings into a small business.

In addition to using a small business as an alternative to incorporation, some states allow real estate investors to open a separate limited liability company for each property they own. While this doesn't necessarily lessen the taxes, it does protect your own finances, as well as each individual property, from any litigation that may be carried against one of your properties.

Selling a rental property can be challenging, and it is even harder if you are hoping to avoid a large tax bill on the proceeds. If you are selling in order to invest in a different property, then you can simply do a 1031 rollover and put off the tax bill. If you are selling because you need the capital, you will have to pay some taxes. The best-case scenario, as with stocks, is to put off selling an investment property, especially a rental that is breaking even or better, unless you offsetting credits or losses to take some of the bite out of the capital gains. This way, you will have a chance of reducing your overall tax bill and pocketing more of the cash.

Related Articles
  1. Fundamental Analysis

    Calculating Return on Net Assets

    Return on net assets measures a company’s financial performance.
  2. Home & Auto

    When Are Rent-to-Own Homes a Good Idea?

    Lease now and pay later can work – for a select few.
  3. Home & Auto

    The Pros and Cons of Owner Financing

    Details on the upside and risks of this type of deal for both the owner and the buyer.
  4. Stock Analysis

    Should You Follow Millionaires into This Sector?

    Millionaire investors—and those who follow them—should take another look at the current economic situation before making any more investment decisions.
  5. Professionals

    Don't Let Your Portfolio Be Trump'd by Illiquidity

    A look at Donald Trump's statement of finances and the biggest lesson every investor can learn.
  6. Investing Basics

    Find Income-Generating Properties Online

    Discover the best websites for finding valuable properties that can earn you income.
  7. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: iShares US Real Estate

    Learn about the iShares US Real Estate fund, which holds shares of equity and nonequity real estate investment trusts incorporated in the United States.
  8. Professionals

    The Rich Get Richer: Global Wealth is Rising

    Global wealth is rising and expected to continue. Advisors should know that the wealthy value fee transparency, performance.
  9. Entrepreneurship

    Top 5 Real Estate Crowdfunding Companies

    It’s estimated that crowdfunding investors will be putting $2.5 billion into the U.S. real estate market in 2015. As an investor, crowdfunding opens up investment opportunities that might have ...
  10. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    ETF Analysis: Vanguard Global ex-US Real Estate

    Take an in-depth look at the Vanguard Global ex-U.S. Real Estate ETF, an international property fund tilted toward Asian markets.
  1. Derivative

    A security with a price that is dependent upon or derived from ...
  2. Real Estate Investment Trust - ...

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through ...
  3. Turnkey Property

    A fully renovated home or apartment building that an investor ...
  4. Wealth Management

    A high-level professional service that combines financial/investment ...
  5. Fair Housing Act

    This law (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) forbids ...
  6. Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)

    A UK program that helps smaller, riskier companies to raise capital ...
  1. How are non-qualified variable annuities taxed?

    Non-qualified variable annuities are tax-deferred investment vehicles with a unique tax structure. After-tax money is deposited ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Where do penny stocks trade?

    Generally, penny stocks are traded through the use of the Over the Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) and through pink sheets. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Where can I buy penny stocks?

    Some penny stocks, those using the definition of trading for less than $5 per share, are traded on regular exchanges such ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How are American Depository Receipts (ADRs) priced?

    The price of an American depositary receipt (ADR) is determined by the bank or other financial institution that issues it. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How are American Depository Receipts (ADRs) exchanged?

    American depositary receipts (ADRs) are bought and sold on regular U.S. stock exchanges, either in the over-the-counter market ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the difference between adjusted and regular funds from operations?

    While regular funds from operations measures the cash flow generated by the operations of a real estate investment trust ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!