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Getting the Best Tax Break When Selling Your Primary Residence


When you sell your primary residence, you may be able to save thousands of dollars by taking advantage of one of the best available tax breaks. Provided that you have lived in the home as your primary residence and owned it for at least two of the past five years, when you sell your home, you can exclude from income up to $250,000 of gain ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly). This tax benefit can be used once every two years.



Did you know that a married couple can qualify for the entire $500,000 exclusion even if only one spouse has owned the property for two years? Or that you don’t need to own the home and use it as your primary residence the same two years? Read on for a few pointers that may help you take advantage of this tax benefit when you sell your house of primary residence. 

Pointer One – $500,000 Exclusion For Married Couples Available Even If Only One Spouse Owns Home For Two Years

If you are married and you and your spouse file a joint return, you can exclude up to $500,000 of gain under this rule, provided that:

  1. Either you or your spouse has owned the home at least two of the past five years;

  2. Both you and your spouse have used the home as your primary residence at least two of the past five years; and

  3. During the two year period prior to the sale, neither you nor your spouse excluded gain from the sale of another home.

If both spouses don’t qualify under these rules, the maximum tax exclusion is based on what they qualify for individually, but each spouse is treated as owning the property during the period that either spouse has owned it.

Pointer Two – Ownership And Use Timeframes Don’t Need To Occur At The Same Time

Although the exclusion is only available if you have used your home as your primary residence and owned it for at least two of the past five years before the sale, the required two years of ownership and two years of use don’t have to occur at the same time.

For example, Tina rents a home and lives in it as her primary residence starting in 1995. In September of 2008, Tina buys the home she has been living in. She continues to live in it for a month and then moves to another home. In October of 2010 Tina sells the home. In this case, Tina has used the home as her primary residence for at least two of the past five years (October 2005 until October 2008) and she has owned the home for at least two of the past five years (September 2008 until October 2010). Even though the usage and ownership time frames did not occur at the same time, Tina is eligible for the exclusion of up to $250,000 of her gain.

The ownership and usage time frames also don’t have to be continuous, so you qualify for the exemption as long as you have used the home as your primary residence and have owned it for a total of at least a full 24 months or 730 days before the sale.

Pointer Three – Using Your Home For Personal And Business Use

Sometimes a property can be used partly as your primary residence and partly for business or as a rental. This may happen when you have an office in your home or own a duplex in which you live in one unit and rent the other unit. This can also occur when you change the use of the property from business to personal or vice versa. A few points to remember:

  1. There are special rules that determine how you allocate your basis and gain between the part of the property used as your home and the part of your property used as a business or rental, but in some cases the rules allow you to take the entire exclusion even if a part of your property is used in your business or is rented.

  2. If you acquire property in a 1031 exchange and then move into it as your primary residence, you must own it for five years before you can exclude any gain from a sale of the home. In addition, the gain attributed to the years that you used the property for your business or as a rental may reduce the total amount of gain you are entitled to exclude when you sell the property.

  3. If you move out of your primary residence and rent it for one or two years before you sell it, you may be able to exclude gain using this tax benefit and defer any excess gain by doing a 1031 exchange into another property.

One of the best tax benefits widely available to homeowners is the exclusion of gain upon the sale of your primary residence. We encourage you to call us to discuss any questions you might have or to open an exchange.

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