Business Real Estate: The Best Way (Tax-Wise) To Own It
The first commandment of my someday-I-will-write-it bible of taxation would be, “Thou shalt not put real estate into a corporation.”
We see it at least a dozen times per year: When readers of this column ask us to provide a tax consultation, usually for transfer/succession/estate planning, we find the business real estate in a separate C corporation (sometimes an S corporation) and leased to the operating corporation. Often, the real estate is owned by the operating corporation. Not only are these the wrong choices, but they are tax disasters waiting to happen. Here’s why.
Someday, when you try to get the real estate (invariably, depreciated down to a low-tax basis and appreciated in value) out of the corporation, you will be beat up with a double tax. The first tax will hit the corporation when the real estate is sold or transferred to the stockholders. The problem: the sales proceeds are stuck inside the corporation with only two ways to get at them, a dividend or a corporate liquidation. Sorry, both are subject to a second tax. A transfer of the property directly to the stockholders triggers the double tax.
For a better solution, consider a typical business owner (Joe) married to Mary. At the time of the real-estate purchase, Joe should take title in a limited liability company (LLC) and then lease it to his operating corporation. Some of the tax and other goodies that can come Joe’s way over time:
1) The rent Joe collects is not subject to social security tax or other payroll taxes.
2) Joe can borrow tax-free against the property if he needs cash.
3) A sale of the property is subject only to one capital-gains tax, which Joe can report on the installment method if he takes back a mortgage for a portion of the purchase price. Joe might even exchange it tax-free for another piece of property, called a 1031 exchange.
4) When Joe dies, his heirs receive a raised basis. For example, say Joe bought the property 25 years ago for $100,000 and it now is fully depreciated down to $20,000—the cost of the land. The value of the property on his date of death is $620,000. Now, get this—that built-in $600,000 of profit escapes income tax, forever. And, Mary now owns the real estate free of income and estate taxes, with a brand new tax basis of $620,000—just as if she had bought the property for that price. Yes, she can depreciate the property, except for the value of the land, using her new $620,000 tax basis, which will shelter her rental income.
5) Joe’s interest in the LLC can be transferred tax-free into a family limited partnership (FLIP), which has many tax and nontax benefits. For example, a $1 million piece of real estate transferred to a FLIP will receive a discount for estate-tax purposes of about $350,000. The estate-tax savings (using 2014 rates) could be as high as $140,000.
6) The LLC acts as an asset-protection shield. Should a lawsuit, because of the real estate in the LLC, threaten or exceed the value of the real estate, Joe’s other assets are protected.One more point: Do you now have valuable real estate stuck in a corporation? There is an easy way out of the tax trap. Exactly how to get it out of the corporation varies based on your circumstances. So, if real estate in your corporation is giving you a tax headache, call me (847/674-5295). MF
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Thanks for the article. Good to know that it is not recommended to own the real estate by operating corporation. However, the alternative described is not all that clear. Why is these scheme not considered tax evasion?