Guest Post: What is a 1031 Exchange?

This article was reprinted with permission from the author.

By Brian Schmelzlen – Practicing CPA/ Tax Attorney at Reid, Sahm, Isaacs & Schmelzlen LLP.

If you own rental real estate, you are probably concerned about the tax hit you will take when you sell one property to invest in another property. If you talk to realtors or tax professionals about it, they would probably suggest that you consider a Section 1031 exchange.

So, what then is a 1031 exchange? It is a tax-deferred, like-kind exchange of one investment for another investment.

The Hasbro game Monopoly actually provides a great conceptual basis for how a 1031 exchange is intended to work.

Early in the game, you will use your cash to buy various properties. Eventually, one of the other players will acquire a property that you need and is not willing to sell it to you for cash (or you may not have enough cash on hand to buy it). Instead, the other player suggests trading his property for one of yours.

When this trade happens, you do not have to pay the bank for the difference in value between your property and the other player’s property. It is simply a trade between the two players.

In the real world, you may acquire various investment properties throughout your life. At some point in your life, you may reach a point where you want to sell one of your investment properties and purchase another investment property. Without Section 1031, the owner of each property would have to pay income taxes on their individual gains from the sale of the properties. However, Section 1031 allows each landowner to simply trade their properties like they would in a game of Monopoly while deferring paying any taxes until the eventual sale (not 1031 exchange) of a property occurs.

Of course, few trades are this easy either in Monopoly or real life. In Monopoly, if the two properties do not have exactly the same value to both players, then the player with the more valuable property may demand money in addition to the property. While there are no consequences to that in the game, in real life the receipt of cash in a 1031 exchange is referred to as “boot” and is taxable. Even beyond the difference in values between the properties, few trades in the real world are as simple as they are in a game of Monopoly because many properties are burdened with mortgages which can have tax consequences. Furthermore, in the real world it can be difficult to find two landowners who are willing to trade properties, so to make a 1031 exchange work a qualified intermediary may have to be used to work around this problem.

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