What Happens To Depreciation When You Sell A Rental Property?

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If you’re like most investors, you own a rental property to make a profit. They often earn cash flow as long as you can keep them occupied. The property may also appreciate leaving you with a nice profit when you decide to sell.

Before you sell the property, though, you’ll need to understand what happens when you sell a rental property. Most importantly, understand the depreciation recapture taxes as it often sneaks up on investors in the final hour. 

Depreciation recapture tax is a tax on the depreciation you wrote off while you owned the property. Once you sell, Uncle Sam wants his portion of the expenses you wrote off and now earn back by selling the property.

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What Is Depreciation On A Rental Property?

As a real estate investor, you can claim depreciation on the rental property, even if its value increases. The deprecation exists on paper only – and only for the IRS. You may only depreciate the building, not the land.

On average, the land takes up 20% of the home’s value, but check your tax bill or latest appraisal for accurate numbers. Each property has a different land and building value. For example, if you bought a home for $200,000 and the tax bill shows the land is 20% of the home’s value, your depreciation cost basis is 80% of the purchase price or $160,000. You can’t depreciate the $40,000 land value.

You may depreciate the property as soon as you ‘place it in service.’ If you buy the home on June 1 but take 6 months to fix it up and advertise its availability, you can’t start depreciating it until Jan 1 or the date you put it in service. This date applies whether or not you have tenants – as long as you list the property for rent, it counts.

You depreciate the home over its useful life, which according to the IRS is 27.5 years or 3.63% of the cost basis annually. Your cost basis is the cost of the home minus the land’s value plus the cost of any improvements that add value to the home. You may not include the cost of getting the loan, rent paid prior to closing, or fire insurance premiums, though.

What Is Depreciation Recapture?

The depreciation deduction lowers your tax liability for each tax year you own the investment property. It’s a tax write off. But when you sell the property, you’ll owe depreciation recapture tax.

You’ll owe the lesser of your current tax bracket or 25% plus state income tax on any deprecation you claimed. Here’s the kicker – even if you didn’t claim the depreciation expense, you’ll pay depreciation recapture tax, so make sure you take the deduction when eligible. 

The only time you don’t owe depreciation recapture tax is if you sell the home for a loss. Let’s say the market dropped drastically and you can’t afford to keep the home any longer. You cut your losses and sell for what you can, selling for an amount less than you paid originally. You claim a loss on your taxes and don’t owe a recapture tax.

The IRS Depreciation Rules

Who does the IRS assume depreciation a rental property? If the home meets the following requirements, it qualifies:

  • You own the property outright or with a mortgage on it
  • You own the home as a part of your business (aka you rent it out)
  • The property has value
  • The property has a useful life of at least one year

If you buy a rental property and sell it within the same year, you can’t depreciate it and don’t have to worry about depreciation recapture tax.

Final Thoughts

Rental property depreciation gives you greater cash flow while you own a property and delays the taxes you owe until you sell a rental property. It’s like an interest-free loan, but keep the taxes in mind. When you sell the property, you’ll realize a lower profit because you’ll owe the taxes. There’s no getting around it, even if you don’t take the deductions, so take advantage while you can and be aware of the tax liability when determining the price to sell the home.