Ready for a Move?

Itching for a change of scenery? Whether you plan to sell your home because of retirement, a job change, or a desire to downsize or move to a larger home, you may be eligible for a very attractive tax break.

If your home has appreciated in value, you may be able to exclude all or part of your profit from the sale of your home on your federal income tax return. Eligible individuals may exclude up to $250,000 of gain from their income, while married couples who file jointly may be able to exclude up to $500,000 of gain. Just be sure you familiarize yourself with the rules before you sell your home.

Who and What Qualifies?

Your home can be a house, a cooperative apartment, a condominium, or another type of residence. To qualify for the exclusion, you must have owned and used the home as your principal residence for at least two years (a total of 24 full months or 730 days) during the five-year period ending on the date of the sale. The tax law allows you to utilize the exclusion multiple times over your lifetime as long as you meet the applicable requirements. However, you may not use it more than once every two years.

You can have only one principal residence at a time. That means that if you own two homes, the home you use for the majority of the year would generally be considered your principal residence for that year.

In the case of the $500,000 exclusion for a married couple filing jointly, only one spouse must meet the ownership requirement, although neither spouse may have excluded gain from a previous home sale during the two-year period ending on the sale date. Both spouses must meet the residence (use) requirement in order to qualify for the $500,000 exclusion.

Ownership and Use Do Not Have to Be Continuous

Your ownership and use of the home do not necessarily have to coincide. As long as you have at least two years of ownership and two years of use during the five years before you sell your home, the ownership and use can occur at different times. For example, you can move out of the house for up to three years and still qualify for the exclusion.

A Reduced Exclusion Is Possible

If you are unable to meet the qualifications for the full $250,000/$500,000 exclusion, you may be eligible for a reduced exclusion under certain circumstances. These are:

  • You have to sell your home because of a change in place of employment;

  • You must move for health reasons; or

  • You must move because of other qualifying "unforeseen circumstances."

The amount of the reduced exclusion is generally based on the portion of the two-year use and ownership periods you satisfy.

As you can see from this general summary, the rules for the gain exclusion can be complex. Your tax professional can provide more details regarding how to qualify for this valuable tax break.