by Dan Krell
It is unfortunate that many home buyers and home sellers neglect to consult with experts and sometimes enter into situations that may not be in their best interest. There are several common situations that are associated to real estate transactions that seem beneficial, but may actually incur a tax liability to those involved. The situations are the “short sale,” rebate programs, and the use of a down payment assistance programs.
The short sale has gained popularity recently as a sluggish market has forced some desperate home sellers to reduce the price of their home below what is actually owed. A short sale is when the lender agrees to accept an amount that is less than the payoff amount in order to sell a home. The concept is simple although the process is sometimes problematic. Although there is no net profit from a short sale, the financially challenged home seller can find some relief when they engage in such a process.
Although the short sale can help you out of a mortgage crisis, the IRS looks at the difference between the actual mortgage payoff and the negotiated payoff as a financial gain to you. You will most likely be issued a 1099 at the end of the year by your lender.
Another popular practice that seems beneficial but may have some liability is the rebate program. Rebates are offered to Home buyers and home sellers as a business incentive from organizations, brokers, and Realtors to use their services. Some organizations and credit unions offer buyer rebates as a value added service to its members if an affiliated broker or Realtor is used. For example, Costco offers rebates to its members of up to 0.75% of the price of the home when affiliated service providers are used. USAA offers its members up to $3,100 when the MoversAdvantage® program is used. If you participate in such a program, you may receive a 1099 as you may have incurred a tax liability.
Although they have been scrutinized by HUD and the IRS, down payment assistance programs have been used by millions nationwide to assist in the purchase of a home. Down payment assistance programs are non-profit organizations that assist home buyers with limited funds to purchase a home by providing the money needed for their down payment. The funds provided to the home buyer are typically received by the program as a gift from the home seller. These programs have been criticized as being a circle scheme funneling extra money from the home seller to the home buyer to assist in the purchase of the home, circumventing the underwriting guidelines.
Last year, the IRS revoked the non profit status of some of these programs citing that that the amount given to the program from the seller is directly related to the amount provided to the buyer. Additionally, the amounts in question are only provided to the program if the sale closes. If you use such a program, you should consult the IRS on the tax exempt status of the program as well as any tax liability you may incur.
As any real estate transaction may have tax ramifications, you should always consult a tax expert for advice.
This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 21, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell.