Taxes and Selling Your Home

When it comes to selling your home, you want to make a profit. Many homeowners don’t fully understand the tax implications of selling a home. It is important to know when profit turns into taxable income.

Individuals can exclude up to $250,000 in profit from the sale of a main home. Married couples get to combine that exclusion for a total of $500,000. You simply have to own the home and lived in the home for at least two years. The two years do not need to be consecutive. In the five years before the sale of the home, you must have lived in the home for at least 24 months.

You are allowed to use this two-out-of-five year rule every time you sell or exchange your main home. You simply have to live in the home for two years first.

But as with everything, there are exceptions to the rule.

If you have lived in the home for less than 24 months, you may be able to exclude a portion of your gain.

If you live in your house for less than two years, you can still exclude a portion of your gain if your work location has changed. It doesn’t matter if you are starting a new job or being transferred by your existing employer. The IRS understands that you have to move.

Health concerns can also provide you with an exemption. If you are selling your home for medical or health reasons, you will need to document this with a letter from your doctor. It will not need to be filed with your tax return, but you will need it in case the IRS needs further information.

There are several unforeseen circumstances that could cause you to sell your property. If you are selling your home due to an unforeseen circumstance, you will need to be able to document the situation. The IRS defines an unforeseen circumstance as “the occurrence of an event that you could not reasonably have anticipated before buying and occupying your main home.” For example:

  • a natural disaster
  • act of war
  • terrorism
  • change in employment
  • unemployment
  • death
  • divorce
  • legal separation
  • multiple births from the same pregnancy

If you have lived in your home for less than two years and meet one of the above exceptions, you will be able to take a partial exclusion on your profits. This is calculated by the amount of time you lived in the home.

For example, you live in your home for 12 months before being transferred to a European office for your company. You are single and able to sell your home for a healthy profit. To calculate your partial exclusion you divide 12 months by 24 months for a total of 0.5. Multiply this by your maximum exclusion of $250,000. The result is that you can exclude up to $125,000 in gain. If you sell your home for a higher gain, you will count any amount over $125,000 as taxable income.

But it doesn’t go both ways. You aren’t able to deduct any losses that occur in the sale of your main home.

Gains on real estate are reported on Schedule D as capital gains. If you owned your home for one year or less, the gain is considered a short-term capital gain. If you owned the property for over a year, the gain is considered a long-term capital gain.

Remember that there is more than just your purchase price to consider when figuring your gain or loss. The cost basis on your home includes the purchase price, purchase costs, improvements and selling costs. You subtract these from the selling price. So keep all records from when you purchased your home. Keep all documents from home improvements as well. These will help you offset your gain.