1031 News This Week


Uncertain Times: Planning Your Real Estate Tax Alternatives

These are crazy, uncertain times. If you’re selling a property, do you know what to do? Do you sell it and pay the tax, or do you roll the dice on a 1031 exchange? Is this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take your gain at a low tax rate (as low as we may see for awhile)? Or is paying the tax simply a waste of money? What if I told you there is a way to take the guesswork out of your decision?

As I write this, McCain and Obama are neck and neck in the race to see who will be the next President of the United States. The one who wins will probably be the one who is able to sway the greatest number of undecided voters to his side. Typically the undecided don’t make up their minds until the last minute, which means that this race looks like it could go down to the wire.


Short Sales and 1031 Exchanges

It seems that every time I turn around, I hear the term “short sales” in connection with real estate. I hear talk of them in the locker room at the gym; I read about them in the newspaper, and I see them on the Six O’clock News. Since short sales are the big topic of conversation right now, naturally we’ve been getting a lot of calls from investors who want to know if they can, or should, do a 1031 exchange in a short sale situation.

Just so we’re all clear on what I’m talking about, a ‘short sale,’ as I use it here in connection with real estate, is ‘the sale of a property for less than what is owed to the bank.’


Where's Your Commingled Exchange Account Invested?

Interest rates on separate exchange accounts are currently in the toilet. So it’s not surprising that taxpayers who are doing 1031 exchanges are intrigued with Qualified Intermediaries that offer a high rate of interest on their exchange accounts. But how are they earning those rates? If you use them to do your exchange, what will they be investing your money in? Will you even know where your money is?

Most intermediaries commingle their client’s money. By commingle, I mean the pooling of all the clients’ exchange funds into one account. The benefit of pooled accounts is that the intermediary is investing a larger amount of money, and is therefore able to obtain a greater return. Just look in the business section of your Sunday paper: you’ll notice the difference in interest rates on $1,000 invested in a money market account versus $1 million invested in a CD.

...A 1031 exchange is a relatively short-term event, but losing your money could be forever...


IRS Issues Vacation Home Ruling

The IRS has just issued a new ruling that sets forth the guidelines for those taxpayers that wish to do a 1031 exchange involving a vacation home. While I believe that the IRS intends that the ruling will put to bed all of the controversy surrounding this issue, it will certainly create more controversy than it settles.

By way of background, you can only exchange property held for investment or used in a trade or business. Personal use property, such as a residence, does not qualify for an exchange; so the question is: are vacation homes investment property or personal use property? Up until last year there was no guidance from the IRS that said that vacation homes do not qualify for an exchange, but that changed when the U.S. Tax Court disallowed a taxpayer’s exchange from one vacation home into another.


How I Handle My Vacation Home So That I Can Do A 1031 Exchange

After a recent Tax Court ruling that disallowed one taxpayer's 1031 exchange of his vacation (or "second") home, I've seen articles on this topic that range from "this was a bad ruling, so ignore it," to "the sky is falling and you can no longer 1031 vacation homes under any circumstance."

So can you exchange a vacation home? For those of you who are not familiar with this controversy, let me summarize the issue: Section 1031 allows the deferral of the gain from one investment property into another. Properties held strictly for personal enjoyment do not qualify. The question is, "Are vacation homes held for investment, or for personal enjoyment?” The Tax Court ruling clarified that vacation homes held strictly for personal enjoyment do not qualify. The trick then is to differentiate your property from purely personal enjoyment, and cast it, or document it, as investment property.


Security of Funds One of the Biggest Issues Facing 1031 Exchanges

Security is the big issue for those investors doing 1031 exchanges. There have been a lot of stories in the news lately about intermediaries who’ve taken their clients’ exchange funds. All of the bad things that happen with exchange accounts stem from commingled accounts, rather than separate exchange accounts. Yet few intermediaries place each exchange client’s money in a separate account for them; commingling is the industry standard.

When “commingling,” all of the exchange funds are placed in a single account rather than in a series of multiple, or “separate,” accounts set up for each client. The primary reason that intermediaries commingle is to maximize their personal return on your money – they earn a large return and pay you a small portion of it. With a separate account you get all the earnings from the account.


“Drop-and-swap” Problems with 1031 Exchanges

Structuring transfers of property for partnerships or limited liability companies without running afoul of the 1031 exchange rules can present problems. It's a common problem because you seldom can get all of the owners of a property to agree on the same course of action.

For example, Fred, George and Howie are equal partners in the FGH Partnership, which owns an office building they are under contract to sell. George and Howie want to sell the property, take their share of the proceeds and pay the tax. Fred, on the other hand, wants to do a 1031 exchange into a small apartment building he's found.


1031 Exchanges Targeted for more audits by IRS and states

Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows a taxpayer to roll the gain from the sale of their Old Property over to their New, provided they do certain things which are set out by the code. Most people seem to miss (or perhaps simply don’t understand) that Section 1031 is a “form driven” code section. This means you must do exactly what the code section requires. If you don’t, your exchange will be disallowed in an audit. In other words, you must dot the i’s and cross the t’s.


Beware more than ever about your exchange intermediary

At the beginning of the year, Southwest Exchange out of Henderson, Nevada, filed for bankruptcy after losing $100 million of their clients’ money. And this spring, local intermediary IXG and its sister companies in the 1031 Tax Group went down when they were unable to account for $150 million in client funds.

Most intermediaries put all of their exchange funds into one account, called a “commingled” or a “pooled” account. For years I’ve been writing articles, warning about the potential problems inherent in commingling 1031 exchange funds. And for years I’ve been the piñata of the exchange industry. I’ve been threatened with lawsuits and have been told by other intermediaries to: 'shut up and quit needlessly scaring the public about commingled accounts...!'


THE FUTURE of The 1031 Exchange Industry

So far in 2007, there have been three spectacular 1031 intermediary defalcations: Southwest Exchange of Henderson, Nevada ($100 million), Scoop Daniel of Breckenridge (the attorney that took one million and disappeared), and IXG (locally) and its related companies ($150 million).

All of these problems arise from two systemic problems with the industry: first of all there are no entry barriers to become an intermediary. Both Southwest and IXG were existing intermediary companies that were purchased by people who had no intermediary experience and whose sole intention for purchasing the company, apparently, was to get control of the exchange balance. Locally, Mile High Capital from last year is another example of this problem because according to several press reports they set up their own intermediary company and hired a convicted felon to run it.


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