Tax Issues When Selling Or Transferring Real Estate

Michigan has some unique tax provisions which can negatively impact the sale, transfer, and/or purchase of real estate. Being aware of these rules is important when making decisions with regard to selling, purchasing, and gifting real estate in Michigan.
In addition, there are several Federal and Michigan tax provisions to be aware of when selling or transferring real estate.
 
“UNCAPPING’ FOR PROPERTY TAX PURPOSES
 
Under Michigan law, the increase in a property’s value for property tax purposes cannot exceed the rate of inflation. This value, known as the “Taxable Value”, is used for property tax calculation and assessment. After the economic reverie following the Great Recession, it is quite common for real estate in Michigan to have a lower Taxable Value upon which property taxes are determined, as compared to the Assessed Value, which is not limited by the rate of inflation.
 
If property is sold or transferred in Michigan, the purchaser will pay property taxes on the assessed value of the property, as opposed to the taxable value. This sale or transfer permits the municipal taxing authorities to mark-up the value of the property for tax purposes, causing the purchaser to pay much higher property taxes than the seller had been paying. This is known as “uncapping” and it can be quite expensive. On investment and rental real estate, uncapping can factor heavily into the annual carrying cost of the real estate.
 
There are some exceptions to uncapping, many of which are quite complex. The most common exceptions include transfers between husband and wife, transfers from one family generation to the next, corporate real estate involved in a transaction which is a tax-free merger or consolidation, transfers pursuant to a court order, and transfers out of a probate estate to the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries.
 
A transfer out of a living trust to a beneficiary will result in uncapping unless the beneficiary is the person who set up the trust or that person’s spouse.
 
MICHIGAN REAL ESTATE TRANSFER TAXES
 
Michigan has a State Real Estate Transfer Tax and a County Real Estate Transfer Tax. The taxes are levied upon the sale of real estate. Together, these taxes are levied at the rate of $8.60 for every $1,000 of value or sale price or fraction thereof. Therefore, the sale of a home for $300,000 will trigger a tax on the seller of $2,580.
 
There are some exceptions to these taxes as well. One exception that is particularly prevalent is a transfer where no money changes hands. This can occur when real estate is gifted, when it is transferred in satisfaction of a judgment of divorce, and when a spouse transfers the real estate to himself or herself and his or her spouse. Another common exception is transfers made by U.S. Federal agencies as sellers, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Interior.
 
Other exceptions include the entering into of a land contract, a transfer from a parent to a child, transfers to a limited liability company if the ownership percentages in the company are equal to the ownership percentages before the transfer, and a transfer from an owner to a new joint tenant where the owner remains a joint tenant.
 
FEDERAL AND MICHIGAN CAPITAL GAINS AND ORDINARY GAIN TAXES
 
For Federal income tax purposes, gain on the sale of real estate is taxed at either a flat 15% or 20% rate. High income taxpayers pay capital gains tax at the 20% rate.
 
For Michigan tax purposes, gain on the sale of real estate is taxed at the rate of 4.25%. Thus, the combined Federal and Michigan tax rate on gain on the sale of real estate is either 19.25% or 24.25%.
 
There are some exceptions to the imposition of the capital gains taxes. Married taxpayers can exclude up to the first $500,000 in gain on the sale of their principal home. Single taxpayers can exclude up to $250,000 in capital gain.  The principal residence exemption can be used on the principal residence as long as the owner occupies the home for at least two years within the five year time period immediately before you sell it.
 
Other exceptions include “like-kind exchanges” and transfers of real estate to a company owned by the person transferring the real estate.
 
Certain situations give rise to ordinary gain as opposed to capital gain. This includes gain from the sale of business or rental real estate, upon which the depreciation deduction was taken. Gain from the sale of business and rental property will be partially taxed as ordinary gain and not at capital gains rates. This places the rate on the ordinary gain portion as high as 39.6%.
 
ACTION STEP
 
In order to avoid the pitfalls of selling or buying real estate, seek the advice of a qualified attorney. A real estate attorney can often structure the transaction so as to avoid, or at least minimize, the negative impact of the Michigan and Federal tax rules impacting real estate transactions.

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The Firm, deeply rooted in Livingston County, has its origins in 1994 when it was founded by Tim Williams.  After having practiced predominantly in tax law for many years with larger firms, Tim decided to start a new firm that centered around working with people rather than with only highly complex tax issues. The Firm is centered in working with entrepreneurs and individuals with a personal touch.  The goal of the Firm has always been to create a relationship-driven rapport with its clients to establish long-lasting, personal relationships.  From the time it was founded, the Firm has specialized in business law and estate planning and probate practice.  Many of the Firm’s clients rely upon its attorneys for business guidance as well as legal counselling. The Firm has always made it a priority to devote time to giving back to the Livingston County community and its residents by working with and giving to charitable and service organizations.  The firm plans to continue to grow its client base in Livingston County and the surrounding areas.

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