Tag Archives: real estate sales

Why Do a 1031 Exchange in a Down Real Estate Market?

Should you consider a 1031 exchange in a down real estate market?

In the booming real estate market of a few years ago, property owners saw their real estate assets increase dramatically in value.  As a result, if they sold their property they would have significant capital gains and therefore owe significant capital gains taxes that could be deferred or eliminated by a 1031 exchange.

Such dramatic increases in value are much less common in our current real estate market.  In fact, many properties have decreased in value, and would not lead to significant capital gains taxes if sold.

The question then is: if your property has not significantly appreciated in value, and you will not have a significant capital gain if the property is sold, is there still a reason to do a 1031 exchange?

The answer is yes.

Most people think of 1031 exchanges only in regard to avoiding capital gains taxes.  That’s only half the story.

In almost all real estate transactions, capital gains taxation has two components – taxes on actual gain and recapture of depreciation. The depreciation recapture provisions of Section 1250 (real property) and Section 1245 (personal property) apply to Section 1031 exchanges as well as sales. These provisions require depreciation to be recaptured at the higher ordinary income rate (instead of the long-term capital gain rate) when the property is sold or exchanged and a gain is recognized.

On the other hand, if you exchange property that is subject to recapture and no gain is recognized, the recapture potential of the relinquished property is not paid by you, but instead, carries over to the replacement property.

Moreover, this recapture potential can be deferred endlessly if you continue to transfer the property through Section 1031exchanges.

Thus, from a dollar perspective, avoiding the recapture of depreciation is just as important – and often more important – than avoiding taxes on actual capital gain since the monetary amount demanded by the government as recapture of depreciation is often larger than the taxes on actual capital gain.

In order to properly understand how recapture of depreciation works, you must first understand depreciation, and especially how the government looks at depreciation.

Simply stated, depreciation is loss of value. Over time all property except unimproved land depreciates, in the sense that over time all property except unimproved land undergoes wear and tear, becomes obsolete, and loses some of its physical integrity as foundations settle, damage is caused by long term exposure to air, water, and insects, and materials such as wood, metal, and concrete deteriorate.

The tax code properly recognizes this natural loss of value over time and allows property owners to deduct a prorated portion of this natural and inevitable loss of value each year from the owner’s basis in the property.

Deductions based on depreciation are taken according to schedules established by the IRS. For residential real estate and improvements, depreciation is taken over 27 years (known as the recovery period). For all other real property, including nonresidential investment property, depreciation is taken over a recovery period of 31 years.

While different kinds of assets are depreciated by different methods, all real properties, including buildings and permanent improvements, are currently depreciated using the straight-line depreciation method. Under the straight-line depreciation method, an identical proportional amount is deducted from your taxes as depreciation each year over the entire recovery period.

Crucially, because depreciation reduces your adjusted basis in a property, it has the effect of increasing the amount of profit – or, more precisely, the amount of capital gains that the IRS insists that you pay tax on when you sell the property.

The longer you’ve owned a particular property, the more depreciation has been taken and the lower your adjusted basis. Thus, the longer you own a particular property, the more depreciation will increase the amount of taxable capital gain, even without any cash profit due to appreciation.

For example, let’s say that you purchased a property 20 years ago for $400,000 and sell it today for exactly the same amount. You have absolutely no profit due to appreciation. But because of the depreciation allowable over the 20 years that you have owned the property, you will still have a taxable capital gain of approximately $300,000, even though you will have no cash profit whatsoever.

Even more significantly, even though you have no cash profit, you would still owe the government capital gains taxes of approximately $45,000!

Using a Section 1031 exchange allows you to legally avoid paying this tax, and instead, legally keep the money that you have deducted from your taxes as depreciation over the time that you’ve owned the property.

It is also important to note that the scheduled deductions for depreciation (and the resulting decrease in your property’s basis) are built into the tax code and are not at the discretion of the taxpayer. In other words, you cannot choose whether to depreciate your property and, hence, decrease your basis.

Even more significantly, you cannot claim an exemption from the recapture of depreciation because you did not, in fact, take the deductions due to depreciation that you were entitled to.

The government simply and absolutely assumes that you have taken all scheduled depreciation deductions, regardless of whether you have actually taken the depreciation deductions or not, and will insist that this allowable depreciation be “recaptured” when the property is sold.

So the answer to the question “Should I consider a 1031 exchange in a down real estate market?” depends not only on your actual capital gains, but also whether you want to avoid paying the government the amount of depreciation that the property has been entitled to during the time you have owned it.

In many cases, the answer will be yes.

For more information on this topic, and for everything you need to know about 1031 exchanges, see our book 1031 Exchanges Made Simple, available at Amazon.com.

To contact Melissa J. Fox about serving as a qualified intermediary or for other 1031 exchange services, send an email to strategicfox@gmail.com

Billions Poised to be Invested in Distressed Real Estate — But Small Buyers, Beware!

The New York Times reports today that major investors, fueled by domestic and foreign investment groups, wealthy individuals, endowments and pension funds, are prepared to spend billions of dollars buying distressed debt and real estate. 

These investors – often called “vultures” although the Times calls them “market opportunists” – believe that “some people have thrown the good out with the bad, and that the prices of some investments have simply fallen too far.”

For example, the Times reports that one Wall Street specialist in so-called distressed debt “recently spent at least $450 million for assets of Thornburg Mortgage, the battered mortgage servicing company. Others are buying beaten-down corporate bonds and looking at car and credit card loans.” 

“They are buying up mortgages of hard-pressed homeowners, the bank loans of cash-short businesses, and companies that seem to be hurtling toward bankruptcy,” said the Times, “And they are trying to buy them all on the cheap.”

A former executive of the Countrywide Financial Corporation, one of the mortgage giants that fostered subprime lending, recently helped start a company to buy mortgages.

In addition, the Blackstone Group “just raised $10.9 billion from investors to scoop up real estate.”

GlobeSt reports that “According to a company statement, this fund was the largest real estate opportunity fund ever raised.”

Blackstone senior managing director and New York City-based co-head of Blackstone’s real estate group, Jonathan Gray, stated that  “we believe there should be attractive investment opportunities for this capital given the market dislocation that exists today.”

We agree that the current distressed real estate market offers tremendous opportunities. 

The time is right for active, intelligent investors to take advantage of the multi-billion dollar distressed real estate market.  The real estate market is brimming with profit opportunities for those with leverage and expertise

But this is not an easy market for individual, smaller investors to penetrate.

The truth is that most smaller investors do not have the leverage and expertise to succeed in this volatile and extremely competetive market.

In fact, the effort that the smaller, part-time investor in foreclosures and distressed real estate would need to spend identifying properties, haggling with lenders and distressed owners, attending auctions and establishing financing is equivalent to a full-time job — and even then, success is far from likely.

Most smaller investors in this market will get caught up in the buying frenzy, spending too much time and money on so-called coaching and how-to courses from self-proclaimed foreclosure gurus, and then spending too much on property that will continue to fall in value and fail to provide an adequate income stream.

Great real estate deals do exist across the country. But to be successful, investors will need a high level of sophistication in identifying properties, acquiring them and developing the right exit strategy for each asset.

Smaller buyers, beware!


For the lastest on the real estate vulture fund being formed by disgraced ex-Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer, click here.

California Real Estate Continues Free Fall in Sales and Prices. Realtors Blame Credit Market. KB Home Hit Hard.

California real estate continues to free fall. 

In the latest seismic shock to hit California’s real estate market, the California Association of Realtors (CAR) reported that home sales in the Golden State decreased 28.5 percent in February compared with the same period a year ago, while the median price of an existing home fell 26.2  percent. 

Median home prices fell 27.2 percent from last year’s levels in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, 30.9 percent in Sacramento, and 39.1 percent in Santa Barbara County.

The California home price meltdown is more than three times as severe as the national decline of 8.2 percent in median prices reported this week by the National Association of Realtors.  Nationally, prices fell over the past year at a rate of $338 per week, while in California, prices fell at a rate of $2,788 per week.

According to the CAR, “The median sales price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during February 2008 was $409,240, a 26.2 percent decrease from the revised $554,280 median for February 2007.”

The February 2008 median price fell 4.8  percent compared with January’s revised $429,790 median price.

CAR attributed the continuing servere declines to the tight credit market.

“Although sales rose for the fourth straight month in February by 9.5 percent compared to the previous month, they continue to be dragged down by the ongoing effects of both the credit/liquidity crunch and tighter underwriting standards that have reduced the pool of qualified buyers who can obtain a loan,” CAR President William E. Brown said. 

CAR also called for legislative action to increase FHA loan limits, reduce FHA downpayment requirements, and include condominiums.

According to Brown, “It is crucial that FHA reform legislation currently under consideration by congress include higher loan limits for high-cost states like California,” he said. “The proposed legislation also includes a reduction in the down payment requirement for FHA loans and will include condominiums in the FHA single-family program, which will make it easier for buyers in the condominium market to qualify for loans.”

CAR’s Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young said that the Fed’s recent action to reduce the federal funds rate “will have little near-term direct effect on the housing market.”

Adding to California’s real estate woes, Los Angeles-based KB Home, one of the nation’s biggest residential homebuilders and a major player in the California real estate industry, announced today that it posted a loss of more than $268 million in its first quarter as weak home sales amid a worsening housing market forced the company to take a large write-down related to falling home prices.

Its shares fell almost 4 percent in midday trading.

The average selling price of KB’s homes dropped 7 percent to $248,200 during the quarter, with homes in the West Coast posting the sharpest drop, falling to $392,600 from $470,400 a year earlier. 

”Until prices stabilize and consumer confidence returns, we believe inventory levels will remain significantly out of balance with demand,” Jeffrey Mezger, KB Home’s president and CEO said. ”We do not anticipate meaningful improvement in these conditions in the near term, as it is likely to take some time for the market to absorb the current excess housing supply and for consumer confidence to improve.”

Mixed Signs in the Tea Leaves: Residential Sales Up, Median Prices Down, Lower Home Supply, and Commercial Real Estate Stronger than Feared

Every day we read the tea leaves (in the form of news and the financial reports) looking for indications of where the real estate market is heading.

Our conclusion for today: mixed signals.

We are sceptical about the report today from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) of a 2.9 percent rise in exisiting home sales in Febuary 2008 over last month.

NAR’s chief economist Lawrence Yun sees the data as “encouraging” and a sign that the housing market is “stabilizing.”

Yun said: “We’re not expecting a notable gain in existing-home sales until the second half of this year, but the improvement is another sign that the market is stabilizing. Buyers taking advantage of higher loan limits for both FHA and conventional mortgages will unleash some pent-up demand. As inventories are drawn down, prices in many markets should go positive later this year.”

We’d like to believe it, but we note that NAR and its affiliates have a terrible track record in forecasting the real estate market and have often been forced to revise their figures to be less optimistic than originally stated.

For example, the California Association of Realtors now projects that 332,100 homes will sell this year, revised downward by over 2,000 sales from it’s prediction in October and that the median price of a single-family house in the state will drop 9% this year, as opposed to a 6% drop they expected in October.

We note, too, that the 2.9 percent growth in existing home sales claimed by NAR pales in comparison to the 23.8 percent drop since February 2007.

In addition, even accepting NAR’s report as indicating a positive blip on the radar, median home price figures remain gloomy overall, even according to NAR. NAR’s report today acknowledged that “The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $195,900 in February, down 8.2 percent from a year earlier when the median was $213,500.” And in California, the median single-family house price is expected to drop to $505,100 this year, compared to a 2007 median house price of $558,100.

Orange County Register columnist Jon Lansner quoted a report finding that home supply in Orange County was at an 11 month low.  According to the report, at the current pace of home buying it would take 7.5 months for buyers to take all of the current listings off the market.  It was at 6.09 months a year ago.

A more reliable report of good news comes from CBRE Torto Wheaton Research (TWR) regarding commercial real estate, stating that future commercial mortgage defaults and losses could be overestimated threefold.

According to the TWR report, “While prices have been slow to change in the commercial real estate equity market, the commercial real estate debt markets have been driven by increasing spreads, and decreased availability of mortgage capital.” In recent weeks, prices of the CMBX — a set of derivatives that provide insurance against default — and prices in the commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) market are “out of line with what any likely future income stream of the underlying mortgages would suggest.”

The National Real Estate Investor observes that the TWR report shows that “Despite an expected incremental rise in vacancies across all major property types over the next few years, vacancies are still expected to remain lower than 2002/2003 peak levels, and the 2008/2009 period is projected to see rents to continue moving upward into positive territory. Currently, according to the report, CMBS and CMBX markets have priced in losses tied to doomsday estimates, more in line with 1992, at which point commercial banks lost 160 basis points.”

“One of the big differentiators between today’s ailing economy and that of 1992, is that there is currently an equilibrium with supply and demand in commercial real estate, which should weather the storm even as the economy is running out of steam. And, one of the biggest feared financial stressors — the collapse of a major investment bank — might still not bump the economy too far off its tracks.”

“As all eyes are trained on the JP Morgan buyout of Bear Stearns, which includes some $16 billion in CMBS, that is not likely to be the event that finally sets the price of CMBS. Dumping the bonds onto the market would likely make little sense given the Fed’s pledge to take in hand $30 billion of the ailing investment bank’s most illiquid assets, including both residential and mortgage-backed securities.”

We have some confidence in the TWR report and believe that overall the financial indicators for commercial real estate are much stronger than that for residential real estate.

One caveat is that if, as TWR asserts, the danger in the commercial real estate is mostly psychology of panic, another collapse of a major financial institution may make mass hysteria inevitable. Should another major credit institution do a Bear Stearns, the reprecussions could overwhelm the commercial real estate market as well as the residential market.

Regarding the drop in home supply reported by Jon Lansner, we take it with a grain of salt.  The numbers are small, and the report was confined to a small and perhaps non-representative area of the country.  We also don’t believe that over-supply of homes is a major culprit in the residential real estate crisis, and therefore don’t think that a slight decrease in the current supply will have much effect on prices.

We are not convinced by the NAR report that the residential real estate market is close to stabilizing. We think that NAR’s anouncement of stabilization in the residential real estate market is, at very best, premature, and more of the wishful projecting that has destroyed NAR’s credibility.  

The best that can be hoped for right now in the residential real estate market is volatility.

We hope too that NAR’s new chief economist, Lawrence Yun, who has worked at NAR as an analyst and forecaster since 2000, can somehow recover for NAR the credibility it lost when his predecessor and former boss David Lereah predicted an endless residential real estate boom and refused to face the facts even long after the bubble burst.

We will continue to read the tea leaves…


For an update on commercial real estate, click here.

When the House Buyers Come Back to Capistrano…

We live in Southern California, not too far from the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

According to tradition, the swallows that live in the area leave the mission every year on October 23 and return on March 19 to the ringing of the church bells on St. Joseph’s Day.

This is the week that the swallows are supposed to return. 

There is a beautiful old song written by Leon René based on the swallows legend — When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano:

All the mission bells will ring
The chapel choir will sing
The happiness you’ll bring
Will live in my memory
When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That’s the day I pray that you’ll come back to me

Like the lover in the song, many of us in real estate are feeling a sense of longing for happier days.

This weekend, it looked like those days could come back again.

It seemed that the both swallows and the house buyers had returned to Southern California.

For the past several months, the “Open House” signs in our area looked as forlorn as Joshua trees standing alone in the Mojave Desert, surrounded by miles of desolation.  And few sights were as dismal as watching the dejected realtors taking down their signs at sunset after hosting open houses that had attracted no one.

But this weekend, suddenly, inexplicably, everything changed. 

People were packing the open houses.  Outside the houses, cars were double parked.  Realtors looked perky, annimated, and happy.


Wishful thinking?

Or can we really hear the mission bells ringing in the distance? 

Have the house buyers come back to Capistrano?