Selling your home can be an exciting and challenging experience, particularly if you’re attempting to simultaneously sell one house and purchase another.
Imagine making $250,000 and not having to pay taxes on it. That’s the generous tax break –the home sale exclusion — homeowners are entitled to when they sell their primary residence for a gain after having lived in the home for at least two of the five years immediately preceding the sale. Couples can shelter $500,000.
If you’re certain that you’re not required to pay taxes on the sale of your home because you meet the exclusion eligibility requirements, then you aren’t required to report the sale of your home on your federal tax return.
Do You Qualify for Home Sale Exclusion?
Here’s the most important thing you need to know though: To qualify for the $250,000/$500,000 home sale exclusion, you must own and occupy the home as your principal residence for at least two years before you sell it. Your home can be a house, apartment, condominium, stock-cooperative, or mobile home fixed to land. If you meet all the requirements for the exclusion, you can take the $250,000/$500,000 exclusion any number of times. But you may not use it more than once every two years.
The two-year rule is really quite generous, since most people live in their home at least that long before they sell it. (On average, Americans move once every seven years.) By wisely using the exclusion, you can buy and sell many homes over the years and avoid any income taxes on your profits.
One aspect of the exclusion that can be confusing is that ownership and use of the home don’t need to occur at the same time. As long as you have at least two years of ownership and two years of use during the five years before you sell the home, the ownership and use can occur at different times. The rule is most important for renters who purchase their rental apartments or rental homes.
To qualify for the home sale exclusion, you don’t have to be living in the house at the time you sell it. Your two years of ownership and use may occur anytime during the five years before the date of the sale. This means, for example, that you can move out of the house for up to three years and still qualify for the exclusion. This rule has a very practical application: It means you may rent out your home for up to three years prior to the sale and still qualify for the exclusion. Be sure to keep track of this time period and sell the house before it runs out.
To qualify for the exclusion, you must have used the home you sell as your principal residence for at least two of the five years prior to the sale. Your principal residence is the place where you (and your spouse if you’re filing jointly and claiming the $500,000 exclusion for couples) live. You don’t have to spend every minute in your home for it to be your principal residence. Short absences are permitted—for example, you can take a two month vacation away from home and count that time as use. However, long absences are not permitted. For example, a professor who is away from home for a whole year while on sabbatical cannot count that year as use for purposes of the exclusion.
You can only have one principal residence at a time. If you live in more than one place—for example, you have two homes—the property you use the majority of the time during the year will ordinarily be your principal residence for that year. If you have a second home or vacation home that has substantially appreciated in value since you bought it, you’ll be able to use the exclusion when you sell it if you use that home as your principal home for at least two years before the sale.
There are certain additional requirements you must meet to qualify for the $500,000 exclusion. Namely, you must be able to show that all of the following are true: you are married and file a joint return for the year either you or your spouse meets the ownership test both you and your spouse meet the use test, and during the 2-year period ending on the date of the sale, neither you or your spouse excluded gain from the sale of another home.
If either spouse does not satisfy all these requirements, the exclusion is figured separately for each spouse as if they were not married. This means they can each qualify for up to a $250,000 exclusion. For this purpose, each spouse is treated as owning the property during the period that either spouse owned the property. For joint owners who are not married, up to $250,000 of gain is tax free for each qualifying owner.
If your spouse dies and you subsequently sell your home, you qualify for the $500,000 exclusion if the sale occurs within two years after the date of death and the other requirements discussed above were met immediately before the date of death.
How to Calculate Tax from Your Home Sale?
If you do have to pay taxes, you and your tax professional will need to calculate the adjusted basis of the house. Your taxes will be based on the calculation of the sales price of the home, minus deductible closing costs, minus your basis. Some examples of deductible closing costs include the real estate broker’s commission, title insurance, legal fees, administrative costs and any inspection fees paid by you instead of the buyer. If you made any home improvements specifically in order to sell your home, such as new landscaping or repairs or replacing the carpet in some rooms, you can deduct those costs – as long as you did them within 90 days before the sale. You may also be able to deduct moving costs from your tax bill if you’re moving at least 50 miles because of a job change.
While these are potential tax implications of selling your home, you should always consult a tax professional to make sure you are meeting current IRS requirements.