Tag Archives: Pool

For Want of a Nail? How Long-Term Capital Gain Eligibility Can Turn on a Single Piece of Paper

An old proverb teaches that the absence of a horseshoe nail can cause the downfall of a kingdom. A recent Tax Court cases suggest a real estate owner’s eligibility for long-term capital gain can turn on something just as trivial:  a single piece of paper.

The Sugar Land case involved real estate businesspersons who, though various entities, held some land for investment purposes and other land for development purposes. During 2008, they decided to abandon development plans for raw land they originally intended to develop. In 2008, they executed an owner resolution expressing their change of intent. Their land holding company subsequently sold most of the property to an unrelated homebuilder in three transactions in 2011 and 2012. The company then sold substantially all the remaining property to related entities in four transactions spanning 2012 through 2016. The related entities developed that land for resale.

The IRS asserted that the 2012 sales should have generated ordinary income instead of long-term capital gain. Despite several factors militating against capital gain eligibility—including nearby development activity by related entities–the Tax Court found that the sales qualified as long-term capital gain. The court identified the 2008 owner resolution as the critical factor showing their intent.

The Sugar Land opinion is a bookend to the Fargo case we discussed in 2015. In Fargo, the Tax Court held that a taxpayer who held land without developing it for over a decade recognized ordinary income on its sale. The court reasoned that the long holding period did not overcome the absence of an owner resolution or other documentation evidencing the abandonment of the owner’s original development plan. The taxpayer could not recognize long-term capital gain.

Lesson learned? Silly or not, documenting the non-development intent for holding raw land can make a big difference in the income tax bill when the property is sold. If you want long-term capital gain, take a few minutes to make sure the owners execute a contemporaneous resolution or governing documents expressing the intent to hold the property for investment, not development. Otherwise you might tell a tale of losing your own financial kingdom, for want of just one piece of paper.

Helpful Resources:

E. John Wagner, II
jwagner@williamsparker.com
941-536-2037

Real Estate Investor Forced to Recognize Ordinary Business Income Instead of Capital Gain, Despite Holding Property Without Physical Improvement For Over a Decade

Sometimes it’s what you say, not what you do, that matters. A taxpayer learned that the hard way in a recent United States Tax Court decision.

There are numerous court decisions in which a taxpayer acquired property, incurred “soft costs” to entitle the property for future development, and then recognized capital gain (not higher-tax ordinary income) on the sale of the property. In these cases, the taxpayer did not physically improve the property, and the taxpayer by resolution, agreement, prior tax reporting, or other independent means expressed an intent to sell the property before physical improvement occurred. Amongst other factors, the combination of an expressed non-development intent with the actual lack of physical improvement was sufficient to preserve capital gain treatment, and to prevent the taxpayer’s activities from becoming a more active “business” subject to higher ordinary income tax rates. This sometimes has been true even when the taxpayer sells the property to another company with common ownership, which then develops the property.

The recent Tax Court decision emphasizes that the expression of intent is essential to preserving capital gain qualification, even if property is never developed or improved. In the case, the taxpayer originally intended to develop the property. The taxpayer incurred soft costs to prepare the property for development, but then held the property for over a decade without physically improving it. The taxpayer rented and occupied the property as office space, uses usually considered capital gain-qualifying activities. The Tax Court nevertheless held that the absence of evidence the taxpayer abandoned its initial development intent was sufficient to distinguish the case from others in which taxpayers engaged in the same activities, but specifically expressed non-development investment intent to third parties.

While the decision seems harsh, it is a reminder that the characterization of a taxpayer’s activities in partnership or operating agreements, resolutions, business coding on tax returns, and other third-party pronouncements is essential to protecting capital gain qualification, even if a taxpayer never physically develops property.

Here is a link to the United States Tax Court decision in Fargo v. Commissioner:
http://www.ustaxcourt.gov/InOpHistoric/FargoMemo.Goeke.TCM.WPD.pdf

E. John Wagner, II
jwagner@williamsparker.com
941-536-2037