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Learn How to Avoid Taxes When Selling Your Home

Did you know if you have a capital gain from the sale of your main home, you may qualify to exclude up to $250,000 of that gain from your income, or up to $500,000 of that gain if you file a joint return with your spouse. Publication 523, Selling Your Home provides rules and worksheets. Topic No. 409 covers general capital gain and loss information.

In general, to qualify for the Section 121 exclusion, you must meet both the ownership test and the use test.

  • You’re eligible for the exclusion if you have owned and used your home as your main home for a period aggregating at least two years out of the five years prior to its date of sale.
  • You can meet the ownership and use tests during different 2-year periods. However, you must meet both tests during the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale.
  • Generally, you’re not eligible for the exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the two-year period prior to the sale of your home.

 

For example, if you bought a home 10 years ago for $200,000 and sold it today for $800,000, you’d make $600,000.

If you’re married and filing jointly, $500,000 of that gain might not be subject to the capital gains tax (but $100,000 of the gain could be).

 

The bad news about capital gains on real estate

Your $250,000 or $500,000 exclusion typically goes out the window, which means you pay tax on the whole gain, if any of these factors are true:

  • The house wasn’t your principal residence.

  • You owned the property for less than two years in the five-year period before you sold it.

  • You didn’t live in the house for at least two years in the five-year period before you sold it. (People who are disabled, and people in the military, Foreign Service or intelligence community can get a break on this part, though; see IRS Publication 523 for details.)

  • You already claimed the $250,000 or $500,000 exclusion on another home in the two-year period before the sale of this home.

  • You bought the house through a like-kind exchange (basically swapping one investment property for another, also known as a 1031 exchange) in the past five years.

  • You are subject to expatriate tax.