What Property Qualifies for a 1031 Exchange? (Part Three)

This is Part Three of our series on what property qualifies for a 1031 exchange.  You can also see Part One and Part Two.

In deciding whether a particular property has been held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment, the IRS looks at how you have characterized that property on your tax returns. If you have historically taken depreciation on or reported rental income on a property, there should not be any problem with that property qualifying for a Section 1031 exchange.

In addition, it is important to note that the IRS has ruled that the Section 1031 requirement that property be “held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment” excludes primary residences, vacation homes (when they are not held for investment), and second homes. When a personal residence is exchanged for other property, the Section 121 exclusion rule applies (providing that up to $250,000 of capital gain, or up to $500,000 for a married couple, is not taxable), not Section 1031.

The burden of establishing that a property is held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment (and not for a non-qualifying use such as inventory for resale) is on the exchanger, not the government.

The “for investment” requirement is somewhat trickier than the requirement that the property be “held for productive use in a trade or business,” since all property could conceivably be considered an investment.

Each property must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. What the IRS looks at is the intent of the property owner and whether, on balance, the property is held for investment purposes or personal enjoyment.

If you want to do a Section 1031 exchange of property that you now use as your primary residence or as a second or vacation home, you must first turn it into qualifying property that is productively used in a trade or business or for investment. In other words, even property you have used as a primary residence, a second home, or primarily for personal enjoyment as a vacation home, may still qualify for an exchange under Section 1031 – if you re-characterize that property by using it for business purposes for a sufficient period of time.

The date the IRS uses to determine whether property has been held for a qualifying business use is the date of the transaction; any previous use is theoretically irrelevant. There is also no clear rule regarding how long a “holding period” is required in order to re characterize property and qualify for a Section 1031 exchange. Tax advisors recommend a period of one to two years (opinion is split on which time period is sufficient, but in no case less than 12 months) in the new use, and that you are able to report rental income and deduct depreciation and other business expenses regarding the property on your tax returns for that period of time.

It should also be noted that one can also exchange many types of non-real estate property that is held for investment or used in a business. For example, an airline can sell its airplanes as part of a like-kind exchange and avoid recapture of depreciation.

But the “like-kind” requirement is interpreted much more narrowly by the IRS for non-real property than for real property. While any real property held for trade or business use or for investment and located in the United States can be exchanged for any other real property held for trade or business use or for investment use and located in the United States, non-real estate properties exchanged under Section 1031 must be essentially the same type of asset.

Airplanes can be exchanged for airplanes, trucks for trucks, pizza ovens for pizza ovens, oil digging equipment for oil digging equipment; but airplanes cannot be exchanged for trucks, and oil digging equipment cannot be exchanged for pizza ovens. In addition, franchise rights and certain types of licenses can also be exchanged under Section 1031.

The replacement property, like the relinquished property, must meet certain requirements to be eligible for a Section 1031 exchange.

First, the replacement property, like the relinquished property, must be property, not securities or services, and it must be intended for “productive use in a trade or business or for investment.” 

Section 1031 applies only to “the exchange of property…for property.” For this reason, you cannot exchange property for securities or services. As with the relinquished property, this is a matter of the how the exchanger intends to use the property. The use of either property by the other party in the exchange is irrelevant.

Second, the replacement property must be of a “like-kind” to the relinquished property. What does “like-kind” property mean? In a typically obtuse ruling, the IRS has stated that:

“As used in IRC 1031(a), the words like-kind has reference to the nature or character of the property and not to its grade or quality. One kind or class of property may not, under that section, be exchanged for property of a different kind or class. The fact that any real estate involved is improved or unimproved is not material, for that fact relates only to the grade or quality of the property and not to its kind or class. Unproductive real estate held by one other than a dealer for future use or future realization of the increment in value is held for investment and not primarily for sale.”

Got it? Okay, now let’s unpack the “like-kind” requirement in language that makes sense.

As used in Section 1031, “like-kind” property does not mean property that is exactly alike – or even alike at all in any normal sense. Instead, the IRS interprets the “like-kind” requirement very broadly – so broadly that if two or more properties are located in the United States and are held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment, they are considered “like-kind” property under Section 1031.

In other words, all real property located in the United States is considered “like-kind” to all other real property located in the United States.

Conversely, foreign property such as property located in Canada or Mexico) or in overseas U.S. possessions, such as Guam or Puerto Rico, is not considered “like-kind” to any property located in the United States.

But urban real estate in Los Angeles can be exchanged for a ranch in Utah, a ranch in Utah can be exchanged for a factory in Delaware, a factory in Delaware can be exchanged for a gas station in Las Vegas, and a gas station in Las Vegas can be exchanged for a conservation easement in Seattle. The quality or type of the real property does not matter so long as each real property is located in the United States. Under Section 1031, an apartment building in Chicago can be exchanged for an office building in Los Angeles, an office building in New York can be exchanged for a car wash in Nashville, a car wash in Seattle can be exchanged for a tenancy-in-common ownership in a resort in San Diego, and a tenancy-in-common ownership in a mall in Arizona can be exchanged fortimberland in Oregon, a farm in Wisconsin, a factory in Pennsylvania, or a gas station in Louisiana.

The fact that one property is improved and the other property is unimproved, or that one property is in a run-down part of a city while the other property is located in an upscale neighborhood is irrelevant.  Moreover, even partially completed property can, if properly identified, qualify as “like-kind” property with completed property. The “like-kind” requirement refers to the nature or character of property, not to its grade or quality. As long as a property is located in the United States and is “held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment,” it is “like-kind” to every other property located in the United States that is “held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment.”

See also “What Property Qualifies for a 1031 Exchange?” Part One and Part Two.

To contact Melissa J. Fox for 1031 exchange or other real estate or legal services, send an email to strategicfox@gmail.com

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