The 1031 Exchange: A Guide for Property Owners

1031 Exchange Strategy

Real estate investors understand that taxes are an integral aspect of their investments. However, there is a way to potentially avoid capital gains tax through 1031 exchanges, which derive their name from Section 1031 of the IRS tax code. 

Exploring a 1031 exchange might offer a valuable strategic option. In this guide, we’ve compiled insights on 1031 exchanges along with key regulations to adhere to. 

What is a 1031 Exchange 

A 1031 exchange, designated under section 1031 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, provides a means to delay capital gains tax triggered by selling a business or investment property. This approach involves utilizing the sale proceeds to acquire a similar property and is often termed a “like-kind” exchange. 

Functioning as a tool in real estate investment, 1031 exchange permits investors to swap one investment property for another of equivalent or greater value, deferring the payment of capital gains tax on the profit generated from the sale. 

This strategy appeals to investors seeking property upgrades while postponing tax obligations on the transaction proceeds. 

The term “1031 exchange,” also recognized as a “like-kind” or Starker exchange, specifically related to real property, including buildings and land primarily. 

1031 Exchange Rules 

Here are the rules you need to follow for a 1031 exchange, like what kind of property you can exchange and how much time you must do it. 

1. Property Requirements 

Here are the conditions your property must meet: 

  1. The new property you get in exchange must be like the one you are giving up, or it must be worth the same or more. For example, if you have a rental house, you could swap it for empty land because they are both real estates. But remember, properties in the U.S. can’t be swapped for ones outside the country. 
  2. The properties being swapped need to serve a similar purpose. So, you can’t exchange a rental property for a vacation home, or vice versa. Also, primary homes, second homes, and vacation homes don’t count. 
  3. You can’t touch the money from the sale while you are doing the exchange. It must be held by a third party, usually called a qualified intermediary, until the swap is done. If you get the money, you will have to pay taxes on it. 

Also remember, Section 1031 doesn’t cover these types of swaps: 

  1. Stocks, bonds, or notes 
  2. Other securities or debt 
  3. Partnership interests 
  4. Trust certificates 

2. 1031 Timeline Requirements 

The 180-day time limit for a 1031 tax exchange is really strict. If you miss it, you might have to pay capital gains tax on the money you made from selling your property. 

  1. 45-day rule: After you sell your property, you have 45 days to pick new ones to replace it. You have to write down the details of the potential new property and share it with the seller or the person helping with your exchange. 
  2. 180-day rule: You have to finish buying the new property within 180 days of selling your old one or before your tax return is due – whichever comes first. 

How Does a 1031 Exchange Work 

A 1031 exchange can be challenging, so it is a good idea to seek advice from a qualified tax professional. While you can find the official rules in IRS Publication 544, let’s find out how it works and what you need to do. 

1. Choose the property you want to sell 

A 1031 exchange usually applies exclusively to business or investment properties. Properties used for personal purposes, such as your primary residence or a vacation home, typically do not qualify. 

2. Pick the property you want to buy 

The property you are selling and the one you are buying need to be “like-kind,” meaning they share the same basic nature, character, or class, though they don’t have to be of identical quality or grade. It is important to remember that properties within the U.S. are not considered like-kind to properties outside the U.S. 

3. Find a qualified intermediary 

The main concept of a 1031 exchange is to avoid immediate taxation by not receiving any proceeds from the sale. 

A way to prevent premature cash receipt is by engaging a qualified intermediary, also known as an exchange facilitator. They safeguard the funds until the exchange is finalized (provided the sale and purchase don’t happen simultaneously). It is important to choose wisely because if the intermediary faces bankruptcy or fails to fulfill their obligations, you might incur losses. Additionally, missing crucial deadlines could result in paying taxes sooner than anticipated. 

4. Decide how much money will go toward the new property 

You are not obligated to put all the money from the sale into a similar property. Typically, you can delay paying capital gains tax only on the amount you reinvest. Therefore, if you choose to keep some of the proceeds, you may need to pay some capital gains tax at this time. 

5. Watch the deadlines 

In general, there are two deadlines you must meet, or else the profit from selling your property might become taxable. 

Initially, within 45 days after selling your property, you must identify potential replacement properties. This identification must be done in writing and shared with either the seller or your qualified intermediary. 

Secondly, you must purchase the new property no later than 180 days after selling your old property or before your tax return is due, whichever occurs first. 

6. Be careful with the money 

Remember, the key concept of a 1031 exchange is that if you don’t directly receive any proceeds from the sale, there is no income to be taxed. Therefore, assuming control of the cash or other proceeds before completing the exchange could invalidate the transaction, resulting in immediate taxation of your gain. 

7. Report to the IRS   

You will probably have to submit IRS Form 8824 along with your tax filing. This form is where you will outline the properties involved, give a timeline, clarify the parties participating, and provide a breakdown of the funds used. 

Types of 1031 Exchanges 

There are four types of 1031 exchanges, where each type has its own set of rules, so seeking assistance from a tax professional is advisable if you are contemplating a 1031 exchange: 

1. Simultaneous exchange

In a simultaneous exchange, both the buyer and the seller swap properties simultaneously. 

2. Deferred exchange (or delayed exchange) 

In a deferred exchange, the properties are swapped by the buyer and seller at separate times, but the sale and purchase must be interrelated as integral parts of one transaction. 

3. Reverse exchange 

In a reverse exchange, you acquire the new property prior to selling the old one. This may involve an “exchange accommodation titleholder,” who holds the new property for up to 180 days while the sale of the old property is finalized. 

4. Improvement exchange 

This arrangement enables a taxpayer to utilize proceeds from selling a current property for enhancing or constructing a new one. Referred to as a construction exchange or built-to-suit exchange, this exchange variant can pose unique challenges, underscoring the importance of seeking advice from a tax professional. 

Other Rules of 1031 Exchange Real Estate 

Below are key rules, criteria, and conditions to consider for ‘like-kind’ exchanges: 

  1. While a 1031 exchange delays the payment of capital gains tax, it doesn’t eliminate it entirely. Eventually, you will still have to settle the tax bill. It’s crucial to anticipate this. However, if a 1031 property remains unsold until the owner’s passing, heirs might have the opportunity to reduce or completely avoid tax implications through a stepped-up cost basis. 
  2. The requirement for properties to be “like-kind” doesn’t mean they have to be identical. For instance, you are not restricted to exchanging a rental property solely for another rental property or a parking lot for another parking lot. Instead, “like-kind” typically refers to swapping one investment property for another (but always consult a qualified tax professional before proceeding). For example, it is feasible to exchange vacant land for a commercial building. 
  3. When it comes to intermediaries, relationships are crucial. Your qualified intermediary or exchange facilitator cannot be a relative, your lawyer, banker, employee, accountant, or real estate agent. Additionally, individuals who have served in any of these roles for you within the past two years are also ineligible. Moreover, you cannot act as your own qualified intermediary. 

Read our related blogs here:

How to Reduce Taxes on Rental Income: Strategies for Maximizing Tax Benefits

Tax Benefits Of Investing In Multi-Family Real Estate

Trevor Henson

Trevor Henson is an experienced entrepreneur (10+ highly-successful start-ups) and property investor with a demonstrated history of building and leading teams in investment property management environments, maximizing returns for property owners, and optimizing properties through construction management and re-positioning. He…
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Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Some drawbacks of a 1031 exchange include the strict rules and deadlines, potential limited options for reinvestment, and the complexity of the process.

Individuals who cannot participate in a 1031 exchange include relatives, attorneys, bankers, employees, accountants, and real estate agents. Additionally, anyone who has served in these capacities for the taxpayer within the past two years is ineligible, and individuals cannot act as their own qualified intermediary.

The 5-year rule for 1031 exchanges states that in order to fully defer capital gains tax, the acquired property must be held for at least five years as a rental or investment property.

No, generally 1031 exchanges are for investment or business properties, not primary residences.