Understanding Capital Gains in Real Estate

When you sell a stock, you owe taxes on your gain — the difference between what you paid for the stock and what you sold it for. The same holds true when selling a home (or a second home), but there are some special considerations.

How to Calculate Gain:

In real estate, capital gains are based not on what you paid for the home, but on its adjusted cost basis. To calculate, follow these steps:

1. Purchase price: _______________________

The purchase price of the home is the sale price, not the amount of money you actually contributed at closing.

2. Total adjustments: _______________________

To calculate this, add the following:

  • Cost of the purchase — including transfer fees, attorney fees, and inspections, but not points you paid on your mortgage.
  • Cost of sale — including inspections, attorney fees, real estate commission, and money you spent to fix up your home just prior to sale.
  • Cost of improvements — including room additions, deck, etc. Note here that improvements do not include repairing or replacing something already there, such as putting on a new roof or buying a new furnace.

3. Your home’s adjusted cost basis: _______________________

The total of your purchase price and adjustments is the adjusted cost basis of your home.

4. Your capital gain: _______________________

Subtract the adjusted cost basis from the amount your home sells for to get your capital gain.

A Special Real Estate Exemption for Capital Gains:

Since 1997, up to $250,000 in capital gains ($500,000 for a married couple) on the sale of a home is exempt from taxation if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have lived in the home as your principal residence for two out of the last five years.
  • You have not sold or exchanged another home during the two years preceding the sale.
  • You meet what the IRS calls “unforeseen circumstances,” such as job loss, divorce, or family medical emergency.

Source: REALTOR® magazine (RealtorMag.Realtor.org) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.