DEAR BOB: We will be relocating due to my husband's job transfer. In 1978 we bought a very old home for $41,000. We have put a great deal of money into its restoration. It has become a showpiece. When we sell it we probably won't get as much out as we have put into it. (1) If we sell the house for less than we have put into it can we claim a capital loss? (2) If we buy another house for less than we receive for our old house, but spend the difference fixing up the new house, what are the tax consequences?
Suppose we sell our home for $200,000 and buy one for $150,000 and put $50,000 into improvements within the first year; do we have to pay tax on the $50,000 difference? What is the time limit on the improvements? -- Wanda F. WANDA: It sounds like you committed the deadly sin of over-improving your home beyond neighborhood standards.
I realize you were planning to enjoy living in your home for a long time and didn't expect to sell it, but your situation shows why spending too much on improvements can be unprofitable.
(1) Sorry, but a loss on the sale of your personal residence is not tax deductible. However, perhaps you can get your husband's employer to pick up all or part of your prospective loss. Many corporations have relocation plans that minimize or eliminate home sale losses. It won't hurt to ask.
Incidentally, don't forget your moving expenses are tax deductible if the new job site is at least 35 miles further away from your old home than was the old work location.
(2) The IRS "rollover residence replacement rule" says tax must be deferred when selling your principal residence and buying a replacement home of equal or greater cost within two years before or after the sale.
However, when a less expensive replacement home is acquired, the sale profit is taxable up to the difference in the two prices.
For example, if you sell your old home for $200,000 adjusted (net) sales price after expenses and buy a replacement home for $150,000, up to $50,000 of your sale profit will be taxed as a long-term capital gain (currently at a 28 percent tax rate).
But if you add $50,000 of capital improvements to your new home, within the two-year replacement period, to bring its total cost up to the $200,000 adjusted (net) sales price of your old home, then you qualify for total tax deferral.
Consult your tax adviser for further details. DEAR BOB: In 1975 we bought 23 acres that we paid off in 1980. Then we bought another 23 acres next door and paid it off with money from having the timber cut. We built our house on this land. Should we record both properties and the house in the records at the county courthouse?
We have never recorded the deeds.
Also, should we have this additional 23 acres added to our wills or is the statement "all real property" sufficient? -- Marcia W. MARCIA: I can see you love to gamble. But please don't take chances with real estate. Run, don't walk, to the courthouse and record your deeds.
If you should die before the deeds are recorded, your heirs might have difficulty proving you owned both parcels.
Also, you should purchase a title insurance policy to be certain you received marketable title. Never, never, never acquire any property, even from friends and relatives, without getting a title insurance policy. It is cheap peace of mind insurance.
It also would be a good idea to have your attorney review your wills to be certain the phrase "all real property" achieves the result you desire. DEAR BOB: We are moving to Massachusetts and are in the process of buying a home. I requested a copy of the appraisal from the mortgage company handling our loan. They told me they are not allowed to give that out. Are there different laws in Massachusetts? -- Mr. V.E. DEAR MR. V.E: If you paid for the appraisal you are entitled to receive a copy. I am unaware of any Massachusetts law prohibiting the property owner from receiving a copy of the appraisal.
However, if you are obtaining a VA or FHA mortgage in any state, there are VA and FHA policies prohibiting the appraiser or lender from directly giving the borrower a copy of the appraisal.
To get a copy of a VA or FHA appraisal on your home you must request it under the Freedom of Information Act from the nearest regional or district office that processed your loan. Your lender can give you the address. DEAR BOB: In February we bought a rather expensive home. We commented to the real estate agent about the adjoining open field with several picturesque trees.
She agreed the view was lovely. But in May bulldozers started grading the field for what we learned at City Hall are to be 220 apartments.
We discovered almost everyone in town knew about the project as it was very controversial and was reported in the newspaper many times. If we had known our view would be blocked by 220 apartments we either wouldn't have purchased or we wouldn't have paid so much.
Since we moved from out of town, do you think the real estate agent should have told us about the planned apartment development? -- Della W. DEAR DELLA: Yes. But a real estate agent's primary duty is to the principal who is the property seller who signed the listing.
If one agent listed the property and another agent finds a buyer, the selling agent is a subagent of the listing agent.
Both are agents of the seller and, legally, no agent represents the buyer.
I realize most home buyers think their agent represents them but that's not legally correct. The only exception occurs when the buyer hires an agent as a "buyer's broker" to represent the buyer's interests.
In your situation, although the real estate agent was the seller's agent, as a buyer you were still owed a fiduciary duty of honesty and full disclosure of all material facts affecting the house you were considering for purchase. The old days of "caveat emptor" or buyer beware are long gone.
Court decisions in almost every state now hold the realty agents liable for disclosing adverse information to the buyer.
The issue in your situation is whether the agent knew of the planned apartment development adjoining your home and whether there was a duty to disclose it to you. Since you were moving from out of town and remarked about the beauty of the open space, it seems to me the agent should have told you about the planned development. However, it would be up to a court jury to decide and to award any damages such as decreased value of your home. Consult an attorney for further details. DEAR BOB: We are trying to buy a home and are finding the first hurdle is the real estate agents. Almost every weekend we drive around looking at open houses. Of course, the agents want us to make offers to buy the houses. But they almost immediately start asking about our jobs, income, credit and other financial information I feel is not their business. One agent refused to let us make a purchase offer until we filled out a "loan application." We want to buy a house and are willing to disclose our financial information to a lender, but how much should we tell the real estate agent? -- William C. DEAR WILLIAM: There are several valid reasons the real estate agents you encountered are trying to obtain as much financial information about you as possible: (1) They don't want to waste their time or the home seller's time if you are a "flake" without financial ability to buy the home and (2) the seller will ask the agent for information about the buyer such as job, income and current address.
But some agents go too far in demanding financial details from prospective home buyers. When I am asked by a real estate agent for financial information I politely reply, "Don't worry, I can afford to buy this property. Let's concentrate on getting the offer accepted by the seller." Anything you tell the agent probably will be told to the seller so never disclose your total cash available for the down payment or that you might pay more than your initial purchase offer. If an agent refuses to allow you to make a written purchase offer on a home, that is a very serious violation of the agent's fiduciary duty to the seller. Immediately contact the sales agent's supervising broker. If the matter is not quickly resolved, immediately report the matter to the state real estate commissioner who will investigate and possibly revoke the agent's sales license. Readers with questions should write Bruss directly at P.O. Box 6710, San Francisco, Calif., 94101.
1987, Tribune Co. Syndicate Inc.