Do I Have To Pay Taxes When I Sell My Rental Property?

This Question was Originally Submitted to THE MIDCOAST MONEY MEMO, hosted by Eric Simonds CFP®.  The Midcoast Money Memo Runs Each Saturday on Radio 9 WCME.  Listen LIVE Here 24-hours a day

Q:  (Kittery, Maine) I bought a rental property years ago (17 years to be exact).  I originally paid $112,000 for it.  I keep pretty good records and can prove $50,000 in documented improvements on the property.   I listed it earlier this year and now have it sold and under contract for $235,000.00. My accountant suggested a 1031 exchange but since she is on her annual post tax season trip, I am unable to get any answers from her.  First, what is a 1031 exchange and what do I need to know.  

1031 exchance

A:  Congratulations on the sale!  If I may digress briefly, this spring (going into summer 2015) looks very promising in terms of real estate as the The Maine Real Estate & Development Association Index (or MEREDA Index) is up a record 25% to 110, returning our housing market to pre-2008 numbers.  The MEREDA Index is a key measure of the Maine real estate market’s health, and just happened to be developed by Charles Colgan, one of my favorite professors from my time at USM’s Muskie School.


1031exchange long bannerBack to our question, the good news about a 1031 exchange is that it could defer the taxable gain on the sale of your property. In the scenario you described, we are talking about a possible tax bill of over $20,000.00 (this includes depreciation recapture) that you may not be paying this year.  I would like to call your attention to the most important word in the above sentence: defer.  You will still owe the tax and are in effect just delaying the inevitable (you know what they say about “death and taxes”).  If you are selling the property because you want/need your proceeds, this may not be the right answer for you.

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A 1031 exchange is fair amount of work and should only be facilitated by a competent certified professional.  As your accountant (who is conveniently on vacation, leaving the heavy lifting for yours truly) may have shared with you, the main drawback (outside of the complexity) is that the proceeds from the initial sale need to be used for a like-kind property.  To put that in english, that means that to avoid some or all of the taxes you would only be able to purchase a piece of property sharing the same characteristics, in this case, another rental property.  For some this is a tall order, especially in a tight market like we are currently experiencing.  Tall order or not, in my opinion, saving $20k in taxes would justify you pursuing this further to figure out if it makes sense for you.

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One important thing to remember is that the tax savings is not automatic.  The amount able to be deferred (which can vary wildly) is dependent on several factors, some of which are in your control, such as the price of property you select as a replacement and many outside your purview (i.e. is the seller willing to operate within the necessary times frames?  Does a suitable replacement exist in the current inventory?   Are you able to obtain financing? etc.).  Knowing nothing about your personal financial situation, the biggest problem that I can see is finding a substitute property in the present low-inventory market.  Also I am left wondering if you even want another rental property, as I am guessing that if you have sold this one, you may be tired of being a landlord.

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There are many variables that prevent me from definitively advising you one way or the other but I will continue to provide you information for you consideration.

The formula can be complex and daunting.  When I sat for the Certified Financial Planner™ exam I had to memorize all nine (9!) steps and do it long hand.

Here is the formula



Relinquished Property Adjusted Basis                    ____________


Plus: Any other Property Transferred                    +____________


Plus: Liabilities Assumed by Taxpayer                  +____________


Plus: Amount of Cash Paid by Taxpayer               +____________


Plus: Gain Recognized on other Property             +____________


Less: Money or Property Received                           -____________


Less: Liabilities assumed by other Party                 -____________


Less: Loss Recognized on other Property                -____________


Equals: Basis in Replacement Property            ===========      


Thus if you sell the property and do not choose to do the exchange you will be paying  capital gains tax on the proceeds of $235,000 less the basis of $162,000, for a total taxable gain of  $73,000 and then there is depreciation recapture to consider.

In addition to add to the complexity and cost, you will need to employee a qualified intermediary to execute a 1031 exchange and  all funds are essentially held until the new like-kind property is purchased or the time lines elapse and you must receive the proceeds and associated liability.

The time requirements for purchasing the new property are essential to follow as you have 45 days to identify a property and 180 days to complete the new purchase.

You can do a partial exchange in which you defer some of the gain by purchasing a “lessor” like-kind property and paying taxes on the remaining portion as determined in the formula above.

Please be advised if you choose to go this route, the exchange is reported on Form 8824, which I am sure your accountant will handle.

Finally, your current options are limited and narrowing as you get closer to closing day.  If you had contacted me earlier we could have discussed putting the property into a charitable trust prior to the sale, and thus the trust would be the seller, but it appears too be late now, unless this sale falls through.  Although that last part may not be of any help to you, someone reading this may have just learned of another option for their situation.

Good luck and please let me know how it turns out.



Eric Simonds CFP® is a Certified Fee-Only Financial Planner in Brunswick, Maine.  Although Eric is now a subject matter expert in 1031 exchanges, when he was younger and a renter with his friend Josh Cobb, he led the sale of many properties throughout Portland’s Old Port region for reasons including hosting large scale parties, using a washer hookup to perform boiling hot car washes in February of 2001 and once dumping 55 gallons of water out of a 4th story window on an unsuspecting Kurt Schickle as he attempted to park his Jetta (for record: the moonroof was open).


Eric Simonds has a passion for helping others. Over the past 12 years, Eric has gained his skills and credentials through both private and public sector careers in policy and compliance. This experience, in addition to his Masters of Financial Planning from Golden Gate University, allows him to provide quality financial planning to all Maine families through Saltwater Harbor. Eric takes great pride in operating his own financial planning practice, knowing he makes a difference in the lives of his clients. His motivation for success is fueled by his clients’ accomplishments and ability to achieve their financial dreams with his guidance.

Eric is both a 2011 National Huguenot Scholarship recipient and the sole 2012 National Association Professional Financial Advisors Merit Scholar. In addition to his Masters in Financial Planning, Eric also holds Bachelor degrees from both the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine. Highly involved in his local community and family, he resides in Brunswick with his wonderful wife, Kate, their two amazing sons, two naughty dogs and a cat.