The Reference Section

A collection of wealth improvement articles


The Lost Art of Tracking Home Improvements
How a tax law makes us sloppy and creates a tax risk

One of the more popular provisions in the tax code is the $250,000 capital gain exclusion ($500,000 for a married couple) of any profit made when selling your home. As long as you follow the rules, most home sales transactions are not a taxable event.

  • But what if the tax law is changed?
  • What if you rent out your home?
  • What if you cannot prove the cost of your home?

Your best defense to a potentially expensive tax surprise in your future is proper record retention.

The problem

The gain exclusion is so high, that many of us are no longer keeping track of the true cost of our home. This mistake can be costly. Remember, this gain exclusion still requires documentation to support the tax benefit.

The calculation

To calculate your home sale gain take the sales price received for your home and subtract your basis. This “basis” is the original cost of your home including closing costs adjusted by the cost of any improvements you have made in your home. You might also have a reduction in home value due to prior damage or casualty losses. As long as the home sold is owned by you as your principal residence in at least two of the last five years, you can usually take advantage of the capital gain exclusion on your tax return.

To keep the tax surprise away

Always keep documents that support calculating the true cost of your home. This should include:

  • Closing documents from the original home purchase
  • All legal documents
  • Canceled checks and invoices from any home improvements
  • Closing documents supporting the value of the sale of the home

There are some cases when you should pay special attention to keeping track of your home value.

You have a home office. When a home office is involved, it can impact the calculation of the capital gain exclusion. This is especially true if you depreciated part of your home for business use.

You have lived in your home for a long time. Most homes will rise in value. The longer you stay in your home the more likely the value of your home will rise over time. For example, a sizable gain can occur when an elderly single parent sells their home after living in it for over 50 years.

You live in a major metropolitan area. Certain areas of the country are known to rapidly increase in value.

You rent out your home. Any time part of your home is depreciated, it can impact the calculation for available gain exclusion. Home rental also can impact the residency requirement calculation to receive the home gain tax exclusion.

You recently sold another home. The home sale gain exclusion can only be used once every two years. If you recently sold a home with a gain, keeping all documents related to your new home will be critical.

The best way to protect this tax code benefit is to keep all home-related documents that support calculating the cost of your property. Please call if you wish to discuss your situation.