Q: My parents want to sell their house to me as part of a retirement plan. We’re hoping to find a way where I can make a contract specifically with them so I pay them an agreed upon monthly rate with some interest rather than going through a mortgage company. I read your article from 2014 about this topic, but with some of the new tax laws I wanted to know if anything changed. We just want to know our options. Thank you.
A: Truthfully, not much has changed since 2014 on the real estate side when it comes to buying your parents' home. There are changes on the federal income tax side and estate planning side, but as for the mechanics on how to do it, the process is much the same as it was back then.
You and your parents can sign a contract for you to buy the home. The contract can either transfer the home to you outright or set up the contract as a sale on an installment basis, where you pay over time. If you buy the home outright, you would then sign a note and mortgage for the financing to them. In short — they’ll be your bank.
With either plan of action, you’d have an ownership interest in the home and you’d have the same federal income tax benefits of owning the home as if you purchased a home from anybody else. So, good. The one thing you have to watch out for is that the interest rate on your loan or amount you owe your parents must not be less than what the IRS indicates for loans of your type. You can go to the IRS website and look up “Applicable Federal Rates” to determine what the minimum interest rate should be in your situation. Now, if your parents want to get about the same as the going rate for mortgages in your area, you should be okay with the IRS, as its minimum rate is usually lower than what banks charge.
Having said that, you need to remember that your interest payments will be deductible on your federal income tax return if you itemize your deductions; but you will be limited to a total deduction of $10,000, per federal income tax return, for your state income taxes and real estate property taxes.
On your parents' side, the situation is trickier. The amount of money that a married couple can exclude from federal estate and gift taxes has gone up significantly, up to $11.2 million. Most parents don’t have that kind of cash, so the next issue you think about is how your parents will benefit from receiving interest payments from you and whether the sale of the home to you triggers any taxes on their end.
The potential federal tax issues facing your parents is a bit too much for this column, but you should know that if they are selling this home and it was their primary home, where they lived for two out of the last five years, they'd have no federal income taxes to pay on up to $500,000 of profit on the sale. If, on the other hand, this home is not their primary residence and they'd owe taxes on any profits realized, an installment sale (versus an outright purchase) of the home may allow them to pay taxes on the gains over time.
Since we don’t know the details, we think your parents should consult with someone on how to deal with the tax consequences of the sale.
In terms of setting up the paperwork for the sale, you can talk to a real estate attorney to draw up the papers no matter which way you decide to go. Just make sure you get the paperwork filed with your local recorder of deeds, putting the world on notice that the home is yours.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website, ThinkGlink.com.