January 02, 2023 | BY Alan Botwinick & Ben Spielman
Real Estate Right Now is a video series covering the latest real estate trends and opportunities and how you can make the most of them. This episode discusses the difference between holders and developers, and why it makes a difference.
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An identity crisis in the real estate industry can make for costly tax obligations. The real estate industry is diverse and there are many roles to play – investor, agent, broker, developer. Each has its own tax ramifications. Before embarking on the purchase of a property, a buyer needs to ask himself some important questions in order to understand what role he is assuming. What is his business? Is he purchasing a property to hold and profit from as an asset? Is he purchasing a property to develop for sale?
Let’s start with some definitions. A real estate developer is someone who buys land and builds a real estate property on it or buys and improves an existing property. His intent in purchasing is to sell the property for a profit. A developer profits by creating real estate.
A holder or investor purchases a property with a long term intent. He intends to hold the property, rent it out and accrue revenues from it. A holder profits by possessing real estate.
Whether a purchaser defines himself as a holder or a developer is critical because the tax treatment of real estate holders provides certain benefits that are unavailable to developers.
A real estate holder may purchase a property, rent it out, collect income, and when he sells the property, his profit is taxed as a capital gain, as long as he’s held it for more than a year. That means that instead of being subject to the ordinary tax rate he had been paying on his rental income, his income from the sale will be subject to a lower, long term capital gains rate of 15%-20%. Holders are allowed to take advantage of a Section 1031 like-kind exchange to defer the recognition of their gains or losses that would otherwise be recognized at the time of a sale.
Because a holder may be challenged to prove that his intentions were to hold and utilize a property for the long term, it is advisable that he keep good records to support his status. Lease and rental agreements, advertising and listing information, and research efforts should be documented and saved in case his position is challenged by tax authorities after the sale of the property.
For a real estate developer, it’s a whole different picture. A developer is taxed like someone who is running a business that buys and sells real estate inventory. A real estate dealer, or developer, is defined as “an individual who is engaged in the business of selling real estate to customers for gain and profit.” Under this definition, a developer’s income, earned by the sale of his property, would be taxed as an ordinary gain, and taxed at the higher ordinary income rate of up to 37%. He may also be subject to self-employment taxes up to 15.3% (subject to OASDI limitations) as well as city taxes. Developers also cannot depreciate property held as inventory or use a Section 1031 like-kind exchange to defer income recognition. However, they may take advantage of their real estate selling expenses by taking them as ordinary business expenses and deducting unlimited ordinary losses.
Under the IRS Code, each individual property purchased is assessed independently, so one’s status as ‘holder’ or ‘developer’ is not absolute. A real estate entrepreneur may own a portfolio of rental properties which makes him a holder, and may simultaneously purchase and sell other properties, making him a developer as well. His tax status will depend on his intent for that individual property at the time of purchase.
Before purchasing, the savvy investor must be cognizant of his goals and make sure to structure his purchase properly at inception in order to avoid any tax surprises. Consult with your financial advisor regarding newly acquired or potential real estate assets.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, nor should it be relied upon for, legal or tax advice. If you have any specific legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, please consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.