How To Pay No Capital Gains Tax After Selling Your House For Big Profits

If you decide to sell your house to simplify life, lock in gains, downsize, or relocate for a job, this article will help you minimize your capital gains tax bill. You may even be able to pay no capital gains tax after selling your house for big bucks.

According to the IRS, most home sellers do not incur capital gains due to the $250,000 and $500,000 exclusion for single and married couples. This makes sense since the median home price is roughly $350,000 in 2021.

If you make more than $250,000 – $500,000 on a median-priced home, it is extremely rare. However, as the housing market continues to go up, more people may potentially face a capital gains tax bill.

Conditions To Sell A Home Using The Tax-Free Exclusion

To be eligible for tax-free profits up to $250,000 / $500,000 for singles / married couples, there are three conditions that need to be met.

  • Ownership. You must have owned the home for at least two years during the five years prior to the date of your sale. It doesn't have to be continuous, nor does it have to be the two years immediately preceding the sale.
  • Use. You must have used the home you are selling as your principal residence for at least two of the five years prior to the date of sale.
  • Timing. You have not excluded the gain on the sale of another home within two years prior to this sale.

But let's say you plan to sell a property where your gains are much greater than $250,000 / $500,000. Fear not! There's still a good chance you still won't owe much in capital gains tax if any. Let's go through how with an example.

Important Documents To Have After A House Sale

If you have greater than a $250,000 / $500,000 capital gain, the title company will most likely send you a 1099-S. This document tells the IRS the final sale price of the home plus any real estate taxes you may have paid. If you don't receive a 1099-S, call the title company and ask for one. Your records and the IRS's records must match.

While you're at it, ask the title company for the HUD-1 settlement statement or Closing Disclosure. The document will show the date you purchased the home and for exactly how much. Knowing the correct purchase date and cost basis are a must when you do your taxes.

Dig Up All Home Improvement Records And Receipts

Now that you have the documents above, it's time to dig deep into your home records. Find out how much you spent on construction, renovation, improvements, and any special assessments you've paid for local improvements. Your goal is to gather as many receipts and records as possible about your home.

All these expenses INCREASE your cost basis, thereby DECREASING your capital gains and your capital gains tax. For example, if you spent $100,000 on home improvement, the cost of your $1 million home increases to $1,100,000. As a result, your tax liability will decrease by $100,000 X your tax rate.

The problem many long-term homeowners face is not keeping proper records of all their expenditures over the years. For example, it's hard to remember exactly how much you spent remodeling a bathroom 30 years ago. And oftentimes, the company who did work for you may have gone out of business. Or if you used an individual, that individual may have retired, left the country, or switched professions.

Hence, contact all your vendors today and ask for any missing receipts and plans. Even if you don't plan to sell for a while, you need to get caught up with all of your expense records.

Always take pictures of each receipt and keep a spreadsheet of all your home improvement work. The spreadsheet should include a date for when work was completed, the description of the work, the vendor, and the cost.

Worst case, you can estimate how much the home improvements cost and when you did them.

Example Of A Profitable Home Sale Gain With No Tax Liability

Here's an example of a $1,800,000 home sale that was originally purchased for $800,000 in 2005. This price appreciation is quite typical in more expensive coastal cities like SF and NYC. The sellers are a married couple.

Despite a handsome $1,000,000 gross profit, the home seller pays $0 federal and state capital gains tax. This is huge, especially if the long-term capital gains tax rate gets hiked. Study the chart carefully, and let's discuss the line items below.

How To Pay No Capital Gains Tax After Selling Your House

Cost To Sell A Home

Despite negotiating a total commission cost of 5% ($90,000), it still costs an absurd $105,000 to sell this $1,800,000 home. The costs include commission, inspection, 3R and NHD reports, staging, water compliance, and transfer taxes.

The transfer tax is particularly arbitrary and onerous for higher-priced homes. It is based on a percentage of the selling price, e.g. NY City realty transfer tax: 1% to 2.625% based on +/-$500K home value and type of property.

Just remember that the costs to sell a home are negotiable between the real estate agent and the homebuyer. Absolutely do not agree to a selling commission of 6%. The most you should pay nowadays is 5%. However, paying a 4.5% selling commission can be negotiated for higher-priced homes ($1M+).

You can always use a platform like Redfin to sell your home as well. They charge 3.5%.

Construction, Renovation, and Home Improvement Cost

Over a 15-year time period, this homeowner spent $373,000 making their home perfect. It feels wonderful living in a completely remodeled home compared to an aging rental. For many people, as their wealth grows their tastes also grow over time. The global pandemic saw a massive home remodeling boom as people spent more time at home.

Most of these home improvements increase the cost basis for the homeowner. At the same time, home remodeling also increases the value of the home. But usually by not as much as the cost. To get top dollar after a home remodel usually requires selling the home immediately after the remodel is done.

Related: If You Want To Make Money On Property, Focus On Expansion

Special Assessments From The City

$5,000 was assessed by their city to pay for a water treatment plant overhaul and water sewage pipe replacements.

Cost To Purchase The Home In 2003

The seller bought the home for $800,000 in 2003. Typically, a home buyer will pay between about 2 to 3 percent of the purchase price of the home in closing fees. This homeowner paid 1 percent of the purchase price in closing fees due to some negotiating. Here are some typical fees homebuyers may face.

  • Application Fee: This fee covers the cost for the lender to process your application. It can often include things like a credit check for your credit score or appraisal as well.
  • Appraisal: This is paid to the appraisal company to confirm the fair market value of the home.
  • Attorney Fee: This pays for an attorney to review the closing documents on behalf of the buyer or the lender. This is not required in all states.
  • Closing Fee or Escrow Fee: This is paid to the title company, escrow company, or attorney for conducting the closing. The title company or escrow oversees the closing as an independent party in your home purchase. Some states require a real estate attorney to be present at every closing.
  • Courier Fee: This covers the cost of transporting documents to complete the loan transaction as quickly as possible.
  • Credit Report: A Tri-merge credit report is pulled to get your credit history and score. Your credit score plays a big role in determining the interest rate you’ll get on your loan.
  • Escrow Deposit for Property Taxes & Mortgage Insurance: Often you are asked to put down two months of property tax and mortgage insurance payments at closing.
  • FHA Up-Front Mortgage Insurance Premium (UPMIP): If you have an FHA loan, you’ll be required to pay the UPMIP of 1.75% of the base loan amount. You are also able to roll this into the cost of the loan if you prefer.
  • Flood Determination or Life of Loan Coverage: This is paid to a third party to determine if the property is located in a flood zone.
  • Home Inspection: You will likely get your own home inspection to verify the condition of a property and to check for home repairs that may be needed before closing.
  • Homeowners’ Insurance: This covers possible damages to your home. Your first year’s insurance is often paid at closing.
  • Lender’s Policy Title Insurance: This is insurance to assure the lender that you own the home and the lender’s mortgage is a valid lien, and it protects the lender if there is a problem with the title. Similar to the title search, but always a separate line item.
  • Lead-Based Paint Inspection: Covers the cost of evaluating lead-based paint risk.
  • Loan Discount Points: “Points” are prepaid interest. One point is one percent of your loan amount. This is a lump-sum payment that lowers your monthly payment for the life of your loan.
  • Owner’s Policy Title Insurance: This is an insurance policy that protects you in the event someone challenges your ownership of the home. It is usually optional.
  • Origination Fee: This covers the lender’s administrative costs. It’s usually about 1 percent of the total loan but you can sometimes find mortgages with no origination fee.
  • Pest Inspection: This fee covers the cost to inspect for termites or dry rot, which is required in some states and required for government loans.
  • Prepaid Interest: Most lenders will ask you to prepay any interest that will accrue between closing and the date of your first mortgage payment.
  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): If you’re making a down payment that’s less than 20% of the home’s purchase price, chances are you’ll be required to pay PMI. If so, you may need to pay the first month’s PMI payment at closing.
  • Property Tax: Typically, lenders will want any taxes due within 60 days of purchase by the loan servicer to be paid at closing.
  • Recording Fees: A fee charged by your local recording office, usually city or county, for the recording of public land records.
  • Survey Fee: This fee goes to a survey company to verify all property lines and things like shared fences on the property.  This is not required in all states.
  • Title Company Title Search or Exam Fee: This fee is paid to the title company for doing a thorough search of the property’s records. The title company researches the deed to your new home, ensuring that no one else has a claim to the property.
  • Transfer Taxes: This is the tax paid when the title passes from seller to buyer.
  • Underwriting Fee: This also goes to your lender, covering the cost of researching whether or not to approve you for the loan.

Phew! That's a lot of fees. No wonder why the real estate market has powerful lobbyists to keep transaction costs high.

In hot real estate markets, some homebuyers will skip the home inspection, appraisal fee, origination fee, pest inspection, application fee, and more because they are paying cash and need to make their offer as competitive as possible.

Home Profit Before Tax-Free Profit Exclusion Rule

Without the $500,000 tax-free profit exclusion for married couples, the home seller would have to pay taxes on $499,000 in capital gains. At an 22% total effective tax rate (federal + state), we're talking $109,780 in taxes.

If the couple was in the top marginal tax bracket, they would have had to pay a 20% federal capital gains tax rate + 13% state tax, or $164,670 in taxes. But thanks to the tax-free profit exclusion and all the costs associated with the home, the tax liability is $0.

It takes $640,000 in capital gains taxed at a 22% total effective tax rate to net $499,000. It takes $745,000 in capital gains at a 33% total effective tax rate to net $499,000. Therefore, the tax-free profit exclusion for primary residences is a huge incentive for the after American homeowner.

Net Proceeds After Tax

After coming up with a $160,000 down payment on the $800,000 home in 2003, the seller walks away with $895,000 in net proceeds.

Of course, the home improvement expenses cost them $373,000 over a 15 year time period. But during that time, they improved their home lifestyle. If we add the downpayment to the home improvement costs, the home seller still comes away $362,000 richer. Not bad after 15 years of living.

Compare a $362,000 gain with a $1,080,000 loss if you were to rent the house for $6,000/month for 15 years. That's a $1,442,000 swing.

But at the end of the transaction, the home seller walks away with $895,000, not $362,000. It's kind of like getting a large tax refund, but actually enjoying the money throughout the year.

The $895,000 can be rolled into other investments like stocks, bonds, and real estate crowdfunding. Reinvesting 100% of my home proceeds is exactly what I did in 2017 when I sold a rental. Or, the proceeds can be spent to enjoy life more.

Whatever the case may be, having an $895,000 windfall is huge for most households. Suddenly, college tuition for multiple kids can now be fully paid for. Medical insurance for a couple in retirement is now covered. Now you can see the wealth-building power of homeownership over time. Hopefully, the renter invested their cash flow wisely during this time frame.

Related: Why Real Estate Will Always Be More Desirable Than Stocks

Lower Your Active Income The Year You Plan To Sell Your House

The final strategy to pay no capital gains tax after selling a home is to reduce your income the year of the home sale. For this to happen, you must plan ahead and have flexibility with your income. Ideally, you want to make as little W2 or 1099-MISC income as possible during the year of the home sale.

Further, once a couple's income is over $250,000, they've got to pay an additional 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT, Form 8960) on every dollar above $250,000. In addition, the couple will also face a higher marginal income tax rate. The income threshold for the NIIT is $200,000 if you are single.

Here’s an example where a single person made $141,827 in net investment income from his home sale. He then made $167,724 in W2 and 1099-MISC income for a total MAGI of $319,551. Given the income threshold is $200,000, he has to pay an additional 3.8% NII tax on $119,551 ($319,551 – $200,000). His additional NIIT bill is, therefore, $4,543.

How to pay no capital gains tax on a home after a sale

If this individual did more proper planning, he could have lowered active income to $58,173 ($200,000 – $141,827) to avoid paying the NIIT. During the house sale year, he could have worked less and increased his business expenses. He could have pushed out his 1099-MISC freelance income to the following year or deferred his December paycheck to January.

Business owners and freelancers have more flexibility in adjusting their incomes than day job workers. Therefore, I encourage everyone to start their own business or work on some side hustles. Accurate active income and passive income forecasting are important to minimize tax liability.

The 1031 Exchange Is Still A Possibility

If your property sale is a rental property, then you can consider doing a 1031 Exchange where you defer capital gains tax indefinitely.

In my case, I decided not to do a 1031 Exchange when I sold my rental property in 2017. I wanted to simplify life. Trying to identify three properties to buy within 45 days after the sale was difficult. Then actually having to buy one within 180 days to complete the 1031 Exchange felt too rushed.

Therefore, I reinvested 100% of the proceeds into building more passive income. In retrospect, I'm glad I did. As a new father, managing a rental property with five rowdy dudes was no fun. Further, the investments have performed just as well.

Final Way To Avoid Capital Gains

If you want to pay no capital gains tax after selling your home for big bucks, please keep detailed receipts of all your home remodeling expenses. Take full advantage of the $250,000 / $500,000 tax-free profit exclusion rule until it changes as well. Also plan to make as little active income as possible the year of your home sale.

Better yet, if you want to guarantee never having to pay a capital gains tax, never sell! The longer you can hold onto your home, usually the better for your wealth anyway. There might come a point where you are so rich that your estate might have to pay a death tax. However, let's cross that bridge when it comes.

Two Best Real Estate Investing Platforms

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My other favorite platform is CrowdStreet. CrowdStreet focuses specifically on real estate opportunities in 18-hour cities. 18-hour cities are secondary cities with lower valuations, higher rental yields, and potentially higher growth due to job growth and demographic trends.

Personally, I've invested $810,000 through real estate crowdfunding to diversify away from my San Francisco-heavy real estate exposure. Further, I'm looking to boost passive income as I head to retirement.

Fundrise Investment Plan

For more nuanced personal finance content, sign up for the Financial Samurai weekly newsletter. How to Pay Not Capital Gains Tax After Sell Your Home is a FS original post. I've been helping people save, earn, and achieve financial independence since 2009.

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123 thoughts on “How To Pay No Capital Gains Tax After Selling Your House For Big Profits”

  1. Financial Samurai, Thank you for taking the time out to put this together. I am a single father of 3 and need some help with figuring out what to do with the proceeds to avoid taxes, I still have a few questions if you dont mind reaching out to me at some point, thank you.

  2. This article and the comments are extremely helpful and informative. Thank you. We inherited a farmhouse in 2020, tried to make a go of it, but living 30 miles away and as a minister in another town it was impossible. So we sold it in December of 2021. Of course the house jump enabled us to sell it for more than appraised and now we are paying capital gains tax. My question is this…since we only stayed in the farmhouse several days a month and it wasn’t our primary residence, but we do not own any home except for the farmhouse, and since our income is less than $50,000, do we qualify for any help on this capital gains? We do have an accountant but she doesn’t believe there are any exemptions for which we would qualify. But hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask another opinion! Thanks for your time!

  3. I am trying to avoid capital gains since I will likely sell my home after I finish construction on the new one and have moved to the new home. Here are the details:

    -I plan to build a new home in the next year or two that will be equal to or of greater value than my current home.
    -I will be paying the builder monthly for expenses and will be using my savings to pay for construction costs. (No loans)
    -I would prefer to sell my current home (no mortgage) after I am able to move into the new home.
    -I estimate I will have about $800K in gain.

    I understand that if I were to sell my current home and buy another at equal or greater value, I would avoid capital gains tax. However, what if I buy another home first and then sell my current home?

    Can I avoid capital gains by “paying myself back” for the cost to build the new home even if that expense comes prior to selling my current home?

  4. late i just put my rental on the market that i bought 40 years ago. the agent mention a 1031 . I would expect this home to sell with in 30 days with a 700 k profit . What can I do quickly

  5. I am curoius about flipped homes. How are these taxed? From what I read on-line, it’s perplex.

  6. Li Ka Shing is a developer, not an real estate "investor"

    “Compare a $362,000 gain with a $1,080,000 loss if you were to rent the house for $6,000/month for 15 years. ”

    Yes, but the genius purchased the primary residence for $800,000 in 2003 and sold sold 15 years later, making $362,000 in gains and $1,080,000 in living there rent free; that $1,442,000 “swing” is $96,000/year or 12% pa on the purchase price.

    The S&P 500 (with dividends reinvested) return roughly the same.

    1. Yep, which is why it’s good to invest in both stocks and real estate, as most homeowners do. However, the homeowner has the added benefit of enjoying his or her property. You can’t really enjoy your stocks.

      1. He does, assuming it’s a property he can both live on and rent out- which is a big “if”.

  7. Todd Vinson


    Long time reader. I live and work in Silicon Valley and like many today we are looking to move to the East Bay for the same reasons you brought up in a recent article (larger house, bigger yard for the kids, close to in-laws for child car, etc). I just created a chart like your example above to figure out my cost basis and my capital gains taxes would be significant (I have owned the home since 2003). So, I am considering renting out this home for 2 years when we do the move to the East Bay and then doing a 1031 exchange (assuming Biden doesn’t kill it). My questions are: 1) You decided to pay the capital gains on the sale of your SF rental, but at what $$ tax value would you have kept it? 2) I don’t want to be an active landlord either, so after the 2 years of renting this home, when I do a 1031 exchange are there passive investment options that are eligable for a 1031 rather than to another single family or a mult-family property ? (i.e. sysdication deals or syndication funds. etc)?

    1. For me, being an effective capital gains tax rate of 20% is reasonable. Well like I write in my article, there are so many ways to reduce your capital gains tax when selling a home. You can let the tail wag the dog.

      But when I sold back in 2017, I already have three properties in San Francisco. But if I only had two properties in San Francisco, I wouldn’t have sold. I probably would’ve just got it out and rented it out or just left it empty for a while as I spent the first six months really getting deep into being a good father.

    2. Between the $500k exclusion and the 20% capital gains tax today, honestly that’s a better deal risk adjusted then 1) losing part of the $500k exclusion by renting it for 2 years 2) risk 44%+ capital gains tax down the road 3) not being able to do a 1031 into a project you like. Just my humble opinion, though.

  8. I believe there are 2 additional advanced tax deferment/avoidance strategies for these cases where the selling price has risen well beyond the $250k/$500k limit (section 121 exclusion). One is to use a Delaware Statutory Trust. This is basically a 1031 exchange that you can then sell more like mutual funds for as much or as little as you want in the subsequent years – allowing you to have a more spread out (and ideally $0) capital gains tax.

    Second option is more complicated and involves combining a 1031 exchange with a 121 exclusion. Basically, for the 121 part that you can’t exclude, you can exchange it to a cheaper property. Then eventually move into that new property and after a few years, sell again and exclude another $250/$500k. And repeat. Drawback is this gets pretty complicated and requires years of planning. And you’ll have to do several rounds of buys/sales – which costs quite a bit of money too. But – if you got millions locked up in gains you can’t exclude, it’s worth it.

  9. Biden wants to abolish the 1031 exchange. That will certainly impact the real estate market and investors. Do you think this will pass and truly be abolished?

  10. Does anyone know about seller financing?
    If you agree to sell the house for $100,000 a year for 18 years, what happens with capital gains?

    1. Installment sales recognize gain proportional to the amount received each year. I.E. if 100,000 is 10% of your sales price you recognize 10% of your gain each year. As Sam indicated above the capital gains rate structure is progressive and an installment sale could keep more of your capital gains in the lower tax brackets. With the lowest tax bracket being 0%.

      Note this would not apply if you were merely providing seller financing with a written note between the buyer and the seller.

      1. ive michael freeman

        I am thinking about selling an investment property I own free and clear to a friend. What do I need to do to reduce or eliminate my capitol gains I currently receive about $5000 a month in rent and would be okay with just $4000 a month to avoid land lording. Any suggestions would be appreciated

  11. I’ve been thinking about buying an investment property that I can live in and renovate first and then rent out. Good to know on the cap gains rules – thanks! I didn’t realize there were rules on needing to live in it as a primary residence for two full years. Nor did I know that you can’t have taken a cap gains exclusion on another house sale within the last 2 years. I probably won’t come across that latter scenario, but it’s definitely good to know in case I want to sell my condo at some point in the future. Thanks!

  12. Very thorough post! Keeping detailed records is one of those things that sounds easy but is harder than it seems with all the time that goes by owning a house.

    When something breaks and needs repairs that tends to be quite stressful. And that in itself makes it hard to remember to keep track of all the details of costs, who you hired, when, etc. since you’re just focused on getting xyz fixed.

    Lots to think about as a homeowner but worth it in the long run!

  13. Great summary Sam! I can’t think of much else, always scan your receipt right away to a place where you process it later, or put paper receipts in a special place in your wallet, purse etc., then record and file them. If I make an internet purchase i record those in the spreadsheet right away (also remember staging is deductible). I scan with the Dropbox app then record them whenever I file my scans.

    Also, working with landscapers/contractors. A lot of those dudes don’t like paperwork, especially if its a one man shop: you gotta make them do it. It’s already easy to get confused when they come back on 15 different days. Keep things real clear with them and well recorded. Demand a daily log of what was done, and if they are time and materials, close out every 2 visits or so. You don’t want a huge bill to arrive that’s impossible to verify. This helps you keep records of all the payments.

    I’ve had to write the receipt out then have them sign it because they just want to get paid in cash and do verbal estimates. Make them write you up one of those receipts on a form/pad with carbon copy, and take a pic of it and the check, straight into dropbox. If they really want cash, make the check to ‘cash’ (this can be a red flag though, that they might not be licensed bonded and insured.) If you get this system down you will never have to rely on a fallible memory.

    I also number all the electronic files by date: “180419-contractors-drainage” etc. so that they sit in the electronic folder in chronological order and are easier to reconcile with the spreadsheet.

    Also, this is a huge tip that I forgot this time around, dang. Open a new credit card (points!) or even just a little checking account and pay for EVERYTHING FROM DAY ONE religiously on that card that is deductible for the house. I even write on the card what it’s for in sharpie, because remodeling involves a lot of details!

  14. Good post, the only thing I would add is if you are taxed on the sale of a home, you’ll need to file a Schedule D and/or a form 8949. This is where you would include “cost basis” which includes the cost of the house plus the cost of any improvements.

  15. dennis baldini

    We have to sell my aunts house, inherited from her mom in 1968. Worth about 1.4 million now. She is in a rest home paying 6k a month. Her income is minimal, about 24k a year.. We are basically forced to sell to pay for her residential home care.. Is there any way around paying capital gains on her profit which will be over 1.3 and a massive check.


    1. Hello. Another option would be to rent the home and take the proceeds from the rental to pay her nursing home fees. That is what I have instructed my children to do…and then when I pass on, they inherit the house. Or….how about reverse mortgage??? That would give her the funds she needs to pay for her care, charged against the equity in the home. Good luck!

    2. Believe it or not if the owner selling a home has an income less than 38K annually will pay ZERO long term capital gains on the sale of their property no matter how much equity is in the property so long is it was their primary residence for 2 out of the last 5 years! DO NOT RENT!! That would change the property type and if it were rented for more than 3 years ALL the equity will be taxable! She should sell now and avoid any taxes of her massive check. Talk to a tax consultant and you will find all this to be true!

  16. I have a question regarding long term capital gains on the upcoming sale of my house. I will have lived in it 23 months and currently my income places me in the 0% tax bracket. If I make 250,000 profit on the sale of my house will that push me up into a higher tax bracket? And if so, will I pay taxes on the full amount or is it prorated since I am missing the two year mark by only a month?

  17. Cathy Etchebehere

    Quick question. Parents bought house and 11 acres back in 1953 and can’t remember how much – maybe $50k? In mid 70’s tore down old house and built a new house in it’s place. Sold 9.75 of the 11 acres over 10 years ago. Father died 11 years ago. Mother still living in the house but has taken a reverse mortgage against it. She is considering selling and moving next to her son’s home to be closer to someone to take care of her in case of emergency. The property is currently appraised at about $400K. Will she be able to deduct reverse mortgage from proceeds of house to decrease any capital gains? She is concerned about any taxes she may have to pay if she sells,

  18. So I bought land on April 2018 and build house on it, building didn’t finish till on July 2019 now I’m selling my house because of job, do I need to pay capital if I make profits?

  19. Hello,
    Looking for some desperately needed info.
    My husband has a rental property in CA, looking to sell for $340k, he purchased it in 2007 for $237,500 (only in his name, purchased before we got married). We have not lived in either unit of the duplex in the past 5 years (well, we have stayed a couple summers and winters when the units were empty). We have made improvements tallying over $30,000. after paying the 5% broker fee and any other hidden costs, Lest assume it’ll cost us around $18000, what portion do we get taxed on? Is it $340,000-30,000-18,000-237,500=54,500. Would we have to pay recapture depreciation, Ca tax and a federal tax? Is there any other tax I’m not aware of? And is it calculated on the $54,500 capital gains? I know that we have tax brackets, and I believe based on our income we are in the middle, but I’m trying to figure out some numbers before we list the home. Thanks for your time, looking forward to your response.

  20. I purchased my condo in 2017 for 120,00 Hope to sell for 150,000.

    Only large replacement was a hot water heater, Paint, light fixtures

    Would I need to pay capital gain

    1. If it was your primary residence, then probably not because you have that $250,000 exemption which would be more than your condo is even worth. I think you’re fine.

  21. I have owned my home for 6 years with my husband. We filled for divorce last month but it won’t be final for 5months+. How does it work for the tax break??? Do we have to stay married at the time of the sale for the 500k break or could we get 2 – 250k (one break each) if we are legally divorced by the time of sale? Also, is our marital status based on time of sale or when we file taxes at the end of the year we sell the house in (2020)
    Any advice is very much appreciated. Pretty lost over here. Yay divorce =(

  22. Question I have a property that has been a rental for 8 years. I am selling it and should make profit about 80,000. I am married. Will I have to pay capital gains on that? Also is there a way I won’t pay the capital gains if I reinvest the money into paying off my current home?

  23. Elizabeth Smatlak

    My Mom has owned her house since 1992. The last 6 years, she has been living in an Assisted Living facility for medical reasons. We have been renting her house to pay for AL. We now are forced to sell the house because we are running out of money. I know that time spend in a facility licensed to treat her condition qualifies as months towards the 2 of 5 year residence requirements, HOWEVER, does renting her home nullify this qualification? Also, she has been out of her home for 6 years. Thanks. My CPA cannot find a clear answer to this.

    1. Elizabeth Smatlak

      BTW, I assume you know that I am asking about the Capital Gains residency requirement.

  24. If my mom’s house was quit claimed to me, can I quit claim it to four siblings? I m not interested in profit . I don’t want to pay taxes on a house sale.

    1. You can only quit claim to other people who are listed as owners. If you are the only owner, you need to add them to the deed and then you can quit claim to them.

  25. I bought my house less than a year ago for $395,000. I would like to sell it before the 2yr mark. I plan on breaking even. Would I have to pay a capital gain?

    1. If you break even, what would your capital gain be? Zero. What is the taz on Zero, regardless of the rate? Zero. So, no, you would not have to pay capital gains on it.

  26. I have a house I bought for 175,000. I lived In it for 2 years before I moved. I rented it out after that for about 3 years. Then it sat empty while I remodeled It before putting it on the market. Owned it for about 6 years, rented it out for 3. Sold it for 220,000. Will I be paying capital gains on it? I keep finding that if you live in the house for 2 of 5 years as long as it’s under 250,000 profit I wouldn’t but when I went to my tax person it’s showing I need To pay $8,000 in taxes from the sale and I just Don’t get that.

  27. I live with my girl friend she’s 67 i’m 64. Her house is in her name only, we plan to sell.
    I heard we could use an exemption to get the $500k capital gains break as we meet all other requirements, but we lived together over the past 3 years.
    Anyone heard of this–for live in partners?
    Thanks in advance…

  28. Is there exclusion if ownership test was not met (under 2 years), but the sale was due to job relocation? Also what property section classification would this be considered?

  29. The capital gain rules when selling a primary residence has been changed from living in the home for two of last five years to five of last eight years. Article requires amending.

    1. You’re welcome to live in your house for five of the past eight years, but you might regret the last three years if you wanted to move. Feel free to check the rules again.

        1. Even on your primary home, business or rental propert(ies). No need to get back into real estate if you don’t want to. Remember knowledge is not power, the implementation of knowledge becomes power. Always think of a librarian, they are surrounded by knowledge, but they are not the most powerful people….

  30. michael puig

    i have a horrible feeling now – we bought or home 40 years ago fro 150k – now its worth a million

    that million – all of it was going to go into the purchase on a house of like value – a Million.

    I had always thought that when you sold your primary residence and bought a new primary residence – there would be no tax on the sale as it would be a wash. This sale and purchase was to done in a fixed amount to time to qualify


      1. Darryl Leahmann

        I don’t believe you can utilize a 1031 exchange for your primary residence; it is for investment property.

  31. Alan Kullberg

    I recently sold my house. I refinanced multiple times over the years, paying points multiple times. Are the points for all of the refinances included in the cost to buy the house?

  32. I’m 75 and selling my house this year. Purchased for $400000 and selling for $1,6000,000. Unfortunately I’ve refined to pull money out many times over the years so now owe $700,000. I’m not married so will only get the $250,000 exclusion. Property is a townhouse with HOA so have not done miluch in improvements. Who would be the best person to figure my capital gains? An accountant or RE attorney specializing in taxes?

  33. OK I got a 1099-s from a lawyer that handled the selling of my parents house the money was split with 4 of us for 6000 then the lawyer took out closing cost that took all four down to 5900 and the 1099-s is for 6000 will this have to be filed on when I do my taxes s

  34. I am looking at possibly selling a piece of property that is my primary residence. I will make a few million dollars if I sell it. It will be long-term capital gains. Is my understanding correct, that if my wife and I have an income of under $77,200, we will pay zero taxes on the capital gains?

      1. Financial Samurai, I thought that as well that as long as I earn no taxable income the year the sale of my home, even if a gain of a few millions, I owe no capital gain tax.

        1. You have to add the 2 incomes together (your capital gains income with your salary to see how it compares with the capital gains table). In your cases, you’d end up paying the highest capital tax rate (23% plus state tax) on the majority of your gain. Sorry to be bearer of bad news. The only way to avoid it is to combine 1031 exchange with the section 121 exclusion. Or go with Delaware Statutory Trust to take your gains over several years.

  35. I just sold my home and trying to figure out my tax bill in NY which might be significant. I am a widower who jointly owned my home with my wife who passed 7 years ago. The home was also hit hard by Hurriance Sandy and was in a presidential disaster area. I received money from FEMA and NYS but the money wasn’t enough to cover all the damage. I lost a lot of personal items in the hurricane. My wife and I made a number of improvements over owning the home for 40 years but unfortunately don’t have all the records due to Hurricane Sandy. Is there a way to deduct some of these home improvements as well as personal items under casualty losses. Thank you.

  36. Hi! Hoping you could help, if instead of a house it was multifamily and the capital gain was +2.5m what can I do in order to lower my taxes if I already gave up my 1031 ex (being a seller’s market at the time).

    Any advise?



  37. We moved across the country from Vegas and turned our previous primary home into a rental July of 2017. Our net profit will be less than the 250k/500k rule. We initially thought as long as we sold within two years we could avoid capital gains. I was told by our new cpa and a financial planner that once we turned our primary into a rental we would be hit with capital gains and not fall into the two year window. After reading this article now I am not sure. What is correct. Can you clarify? Thank you.

  38. Neil Saling

    We just sold our home of 32 years. During that time, we refinanced three times. Do any of the expenses count in the basis other than the last refinancing? I remember your fence example; is this similar?

  39. C @ Working Optional

    Good call on calling the title company to get the closing costs etc from when the home was purchased. What a great idea! Most people won’t even think of that (but hopefully kept good records)…

  40. I’m getting married this year and my fiancé owns a condo that has gone up in value, slightly less than the 250,000 limit. We did not live together beforehand. Does us getting married preclude him from the excemption if he sells it this year since I have not lived in it for 2 years? If neither of us live in it after we get married, when does he need to sell it by to still qualify for the exemption?

    1. Yes, he still gets the $250K limit if he’s lived in the house 2 out of the past 5 years. You must live wit him for 2 out of the next 5 years to get a $500K tax free benefit.

      If neither of you live in the condo, you’ve got 5 years max until your tax free profits run out.

      1. Can 2 joint owners get $500,000 capital gains exemptions when they sell the house that they bought together?
        Or the exemption rule only applies to married couple?

  41. Admiringlurker

    Love this site and the incredible posts.

    Having recently sold a home for a rather significant ‘gross profit’ I made sure to do all of my research to make sure I adjusted the basis and the costs of selling appropriately.

    I’m all for following the tax code and making sure to not pay an extra dime – fair is fair.
    But fair is not the same as unintentional (or even more so willful) fraud.

    As such, IMO, it’s important to make sure to follow the IRS guidelines on this topic.

    In that publication it clearly delineates which items from a home purchase (and sale) are allowed and not allowed to be factored into basis or sale costs.

    For example:

    Some settlement fees and closing costs you can’t include in your basis are: …

    Charges connected with getting a mortgage loan, such as:
    Mortgage insurance premiums (including funding fees connected with loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs),
    Loan assumption fees,
    Cost of a credit report,
    Fee for an appraisal required by a lender,

    On the basis side…

    Examples of improvements you CAN’T include in your basis. You can’t include:
    Any costs of repairs or maintenance that are necessary to keep your home in good condition but don’t add to its value or prolong its life. Examples include painting (interior or exterior), fixing leaks, filling holes or cracks, or replacing broken hardware.
    Any costs of any improvements that are no longer part of your home (for example, wall-to-wall carpeting that you installed but later replaced).
    Any costs of any improvements with a life expectancy, when installed, of less than 1 year.

    Look, we each can file the tax return we want to file, and simply think of it as a negotiation with the IRS, but it would be factually incorrect to state that all selling and buying costs listed in this post and things like repainting can be factored into how to determine the net cap gains (ie selling and basis adjustments).

    Paying our lawful and full share of taxes is part of the deal we make living in this country and the deal we make with our other taxpayers. To each their own, but remember each dollar you don’t pay that you are supposed to pay has an impact on everyone else. Will the IRS catch you? Probably not. I just hope that isn’t the advice being given in this post.
    I doubt it is…

  42. frustratedInBoston

    I bought my city condo 4.5 years ago and lived there as my primary residence for 1.5 years. I had a fire in my condo that resulted in total loss to the entire 7-unit building. Unfortunately due to incompetence and malfeasance on the part of the GC it has taken almost 3 years to rebuild. In the meantime, I have had to find alternative living arrangements. Do any accountants have opinions on how the 2 out of 5 year rule would apply to my case if I wanted to sell today?

  43. Great article on the details of expenses of buying/selling a home and capital gains tax impact.

    The article and some comments here mention the 2 out of 5 years.

    The article says:

    “Ownership: You must have owned the home for at least two years during the five years prior to the date of your sale.”

    This might be a silly question, but how can you NOT own a home before you sell it? Should this be “lived in 2 out of the 5 years”? Or am I missing something?

    1. It could be clarified in the reverse: you are allowed to have rented it 3 out of the last 5 years, and still have it considered your home for the purposes of this tax rule.

  44. I have never been questioned but I’ve only ever sold 1 home.

    In your example yes, if you improve your home with an awesome new fence then the cost of that fence can be added to your basis. The point I was trying to make is that if in order to build that awesome new fence, you first had to remove a fence that you had built in Year 1 after you bought the home, you have to subtract out the cost of that fence (assuming you had added it to your basis to begin with).

    Year 0 – cost of home: $100,000
    Year 1 – install fence: $ 10,000
    Year 15 – replace Year 1 fence with awesome new fence – $20,000

    Your basis is $120,000, not the combined $130,000, as the Year 1 fence is no longer part of your home.

    From the IRS Pub 523, page 12:

    “Any amounts you spent on construction or other improvements that are still part of your home at the time of sale (not including costs of maintenance and repairs). See Basis Adjustments—Details and Exceptions.”

    The key part being “still part of your home at the time of sale.” I don’t work for the IRS but I am a CPA.

    1. Right, anything you do that keeps the house at the same level of usability/value is excluded from getting a tax writeoff. Such as replacing that hot water heater with one that is not a big upgrade, fixing a crack in a driveway that cracked while you were living there (as opposed to having the old concrete drive pulled up and replaced with pavers), and so on.

      The deduction is for improvements. Landlords do have the advantage there as they can deduct them as a business expense. They can also depreciate the property (which seems somewhat odd, at first, as most real estate in most markets only appreciates in the long run, unless it’s a trailer home or some such). On the other hand, most places give resident-owners a partial tax exclusion, sometimes called a homestead exemption, which may also be even better if the resident-owner is a veteran, disabled person, or a senior citizen. Not a CPA but I do have an MBA, heh.

  45. Apologies if I missed it in your article, but it’s a potentially expensive oversight not to mention the partial exclusion. See page 5 of

    Read it carefully to make sure it applies, but if you don’t meet the Eligibility Test, you may still qualify for a partial exclusion of gain if the main reason for your home sale was a change in workplace location, a health issue, or an unforeseeable event. IF you qualify for the partial then you apply a formula that basically prorates the time you were in residence, owned the house, or the time elapsed since you last used this exemption (whichever is smallest). For example, a single person forced to take a job more than 50 miles away after only six months in the home can still exempt $62,500.

    Don’t feel too badly. My accountant didn’t know about it either and just about gave me a heart attack when I saw my proposed tax return. Saved myself a bundle when I pointed this out.

    So far as the 1,000,000 dollar figure for profit? In your example half of that was for upkeep and improvements which, treating the house as an investment, is pretty much necessary. For a myriad number of reasons, Uncle Sam (and society in general) should not want to encourage people to rent over owning, which it would be doing if landlord-owners could claim these expenses while tenant-owners could not. As for the exclusion? Used to be you had to use all the money from a sale within six months on a new home or the unused portion would get taxed. This came down unnecessarily hard on people moving from expensive areas to inexpensive areas, old people who were moving to an assisted care arrangement, couples looking to downsize (especially after all the kids moved out), and created all kinds of special rules dealing with people moving overseas to work, et cetera.

  46. One point of clarification I would add: if you make an improvement to your house, like say a $10,000 fence in Year 1 – that gets added to your cost basis; however, if 15 years later you replace the fence because it has rotted and put a new fence in for $20,000 – you can add the $20,000 to your cost basis but you must subtract the $10,000 you previously added for the replaced fence. So your net increase in basis is $10,000. You don’t get to double count.

    1. Ah, but you who is to save you didn’t improve your house with a new security deterrent next level fence with pre-installed cameras and electronic shocks? This is a material improvement.

      Have you ever had the IRS question you on a home improvement?

    2. one useful upshot is to be careful to note how it was an improvement. i forgot about this, thanks crowd. :)

  47. Hi Sam and fellow readers,

    I read from New York law jounal of following in regards to LTCG:

    “The law, though, may change which rate you pay. In the past, the rate was based on your tax bracket. Taxpayers in the 10 percent and 15 percent brackets paid 0 percent, and those in the top tax bracket paid 20 percent. Now, the rate will be based on income thresholds. For 2018, the 0 percent rate for long-term gains and qualified dividends will apply to taxpayers with taxable income that’s less than about $38,600 on individual returns and about $77,200 on joint returns. Taxpayers with taxable income that’s more than those amounts but less than $425,800 ($479,000 for married couples) will pay 15 percent, and taxpayers with higher income will pay 20 percent.”

    If I read it correctly, as of 2018, if one’s taxable income is lower than $38,600 (not including LTCG,) one pays 0% on LTCG.

    Is this correct? Any comments?

    1. only on the first increment of ~30k. the gains push you up into the next bracket. I know, lame.

  48. Sam, with the real estate market being so inefficient in terms of realtors and selling and fees. I think everyone would love to hear or know how you found the right person to sell your place or what can be done to limit costs since it can be so high in a HCOL area where values of properties are so much higher so more costs!

  49. Huge tip!

    As a homeowner for about a year, I was not keeping meticulous records for this purpose… But I’m sure going to start now before those receipts are lost to the sands of time. I’m sure the appreciation/inflation on a 600k house will make this worth it if I stay long enough and the law doesn’t change.


  50. Thanks Samurai for article…..In 2017 we sold rental property gifted by our parents that was fully depreciated prior to the gift date. One CPA advised that there’s an existing rule where home improvements can be estimated to determine cost basis. Both parents are deceased so some records are on file but not all. Are you aware of how the estimate process works?

  51. I am missing the obvious here. In the example, the homeowner actually spent all that money and hence he/she was able to apply it against the profit. But If she didnt have any of it, then I don’t see how she escapes the taxes on the gains.

    1. That’s exactly right.

      The deduction is one of the reasons why homeowners spend money to improve their homes. The other reason is to improve the quality of their life while living in the home.

      Sometimes you get 80% of your money back on your remodel, sometimes you get 200% back when you expand and the cost of construction is cheaper than the cost to sell.

      Now compare the benefits a renter has.

      The main point of buying a home is to prove the quality of your life and find stability. If you so happen to make a huge capital gain, that’s a bonus, especially if you don’t have to pay taxes.

      1. The key here is to borrow the renovation costs (and sell quickly within 2 years) then you have really won. Because you wrote off the expenses (which were incurred but borrowed) and you got the 500K exemption.

        We did this on our last rental and paid no taxes on the sale (no exemption, but the expenses were so high (borrowed, on paper) it negated the profits we made, and we walked away with actual profits. We originally did a 1031 exchange which we re-characterized in our taxes to a regular sale once we saw the expenses number match the profit numbers.

  52. I have a home in Bend Oregon, where San Fran peeps are moving to in LARGE numbers. I conconverted a rental due to tax law changes.
    I will most certainly occupy it for 2 years if the tax law did not change to 5 of 8!
    Home arbitrage is very real here in Central Oregon with, dare I say, the infestation of Californians. Good for us money wise, very lousy due to changes in the new residents attitudes and lack of Oregon values.

      1. I do not blame any individual for changing values. It is that large cities make all.of us have anonymity and move much faster.
        People walk by with salutations, drive like speed doesn’t matter, tailgate and have ideas anathema to small town rural life. .No ones fault and your money is welcome here too. Recent article about large tech presence coming here and we see it.
        I win either way as I have raw land smack dab in the middle of
        all this in migration:).
        Thanks again for the clarification that the 2 of 5 still stands, boy am I happy!

        1. Edit: People walk by Without salutations. Like saying hello, just an odd but understandable behavior if one comes from bigger citities.

  53. When something breaks it is a repair and that is not a deductible expense. If you fix a hole in your roof for example. If something is a home improvement such as an upgrade, perhaps a new 30 year roof, then that is deductible.

  54. I suppose I can kick off the fairness argument on not paying tax on a $1,000,000 gain. Part of the use of government’s tax power is to incentivize individuals into certain transactions or decisions. For example, levying a 10% tax on soda discourages purchases of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc., with the goal of reducing childhood/adult obesity. Here, government incentives home ownership by giving a tax break when an individual eventually sells their residence. Although, to be fair, the requirement that you had to have lived in the home for 2 out of the last 5 years smells like a lobbyist addition to me…

    From the perspective of buying a home to live in it, then yes, I think the tax break is fair. To me, buying a home is part of the American dream and the tax break certainly fosters that.

    But, from a purely investment perspective, I would disagree and say its not fair. Why incentivize one sort of investment over another? Understood that some time must be spent actually living in the residence but the requirement then should be living in the home full time. Period.

  55. Thanks for sharing the detail. I’ve been waiting for this one. I thought the 2 out of 5 years were prorated, but I’m glad it isn’t. This is what we plan to do with our duplex. We’ll move in and live there for a while so we can take advantage of the exception. I really hope it sticks around for a while. Good job!
    How goes the home search in Hawaii?

      1. I am very sorry if I was incorrect.
        I will admit I read the entire tax bill at least twice!
        I will look again and would be overjoyed if incorrect!

  56. Sam,
    What is the best way not to pay more property taxes than you have to once the renovations are done? I’m putting over $1M into a house but don’t want to pay that much in additional property taxes. Is it all based on the assessments? Is there a way to keep this down legally?

    1. Property tax laws are very state and local dependent. You’ll need to figure out how it works in your location.

    2. Likely your builder’s permits will cause a property reassessment by the govt. Only way to save is not perform warranted improvements, but that is asking for trouble.
      In 1998, I added a superfluous window to my attic dormer and was surprised when the assessment jumped dramatically.

    3. you can do a LOT of work without triggering a reassessment. I put about 250k into my home with no reassessment. now, undertaking an addition or something that is obviously a large project may do it, but anything that is resurfacing, basic reinforcements, electrical, painting, redo kitch/bath, walkways, drainage, roof etc etc none of those necessarily trigger one. So conceivably you keep paying same tax the whole way. I think they nudged mine up once.

  57. And Americans say that Europe has a lot of bureaucracy!

    This kind of tax code is insane and, as you just shown, it does not net much tax collected either. We have a fixed percentage tax for home transactions, it does not matter who lives in the house or doesn’t, or how much they improved it or not, or how much they make or don’t. You sell something, you get 100 dollars, you pay x% of those dollars in taxes and you move on. No reason to keep receipts from 20 years ago when you bought a lamp(metaphorically) and improved the house.

    The buyer is quite capable to realize how much to pay for the house, and if it’s a hovel, you get 10 dollars instead of 100 and the tax is lower.
    I’m quite surprised that people in the US put up with this kind of red tape, it has to seriously impact their quality of life in the 6 months before actually selling a house.

    If only the US president had to go through 1% of this effort before being allowed to threaten to bomb another country and spark a world war, I think we would all sleep better at night.

  58. I really hope I need to refer back to this post one day. Nobody should pay more in taxes than they have to. I’m perfectly fine with somebody not having to pay taxes on a $1M gain on their primary residence. When you think about it, that gain will likely need to be used to pay for a new residence or rental at an inflated price as well.

    If only one person with a $1M gain applies this rule, this post would have a huge impact. Unfortunately, I doubt I’m going to see a > 500K gain on my primary residence anytime soon though.

  59. I thought the lived it in for 2 of 5 years has changed with the new tax law to lived it in for 5 of the last 8 years.

    1. Wow, 5 out of 8? That’s a much higher bar. I’ll check the new tax law. 2 years is nothing. 5 is long…

      1. I may be wrong. It seems that was in both the House and Senate bill, but looking on the Internet now (to verify) it may not have passed. May still be 2. Please check.

          1. I hate being wrong but in this case, I’m really glad I was. My job forced me to move from South Florida 2 years ago. Company is doing poor, and I’m entertaining other offers that would require relocation, as well as company maybe moving us again. I had thought that I’d have to wait 5 years to recoup any benefit on the house (as I got it at a good price) but am now very glad to know I don’t have to worry about that. Definitely makes me feel better about taking another job with a relocation (on this aspect, family is still another issue).

  60. Lily | The Frugal Gene

    No doubt it could be a hugeee money maker with the leverage and tax laws in place, just get the timing and general location right and you’re golden with a big check coming. For us, it’s just work for returns we don’t necessarily need. I feel like a gray old goose sometimes instead of a young buck with 3 rentals.

        1. You don’t get to deduction annual property taxes and insurance, therefore these are not added to your cost basis. They are an ongoing expense, not an improvement to the property.

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