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Property Flipping: Record-keeping to Pay the Least Taxes

Property flipping has been a popular side hustle since the housing market crash in 2008. Buy a property with some wear and tear and outdated décor at a low price, fix the problems, make it look nice, and resell it at a profit. There are countless classes you can take, associations you can join, books you can read, and even popular TV shows on how to flip property. However, as I always say, Uncle Sam will get his slice.

You need to keep good records in order to deduct everything possible and pay the least tax.

Why Property Flipping is Different than Other Businesses

The IRS classifies different kinds of income and taxes them differently. When it comes to buying something, making it worth more, then selling it, the IRS sees this as an investment, not as a business. You don’t have deductions like a business that does plumbing or taxes or sells car warrantees. You don’t get to ‘deduct’ everything as an ‘expense’ because you not a business in the eyes of the IRS.

Why can’t I have business deductions?

In an ordinary business, deductions are things that are ‘used up’ in the course of business. Expenses are things like open boxes of pens, the insurance you paid, partly used toner cartridges, the wages you paid your employees, break room coffee, the utility bills, permits and taxes. You can’t get any of that back. You don’t have it. You can’t sell it. The money is gone. That is a business expense.

The properties you buy are an investment. When you spend money on a property, you still own it.  The money and effort you put into the property increases the value of your investment. Every utility bill, permit, and contractor dollar was spent making the property worth a little more. You have the results of all the work you did. You can sell it. That is an investment and how the IRS views property flipping.

So How Do I deduct all my spending?

Everything you spend on the property gets deducted at the time of the sale. Everything. The cost of the property, closing costs, selling costs, all repairs and improvements, and everything it takes to get it sold. Everything. Everything. Everything.  “But what about the utilities, the lawn care, the mortgage interest, the…” everything. Everything is deducted from the profit when it is sold.

Here’s an example: (Apologies in advance for sounding like a math problem.) You made a bunch of money in 2022 so you buy a property to flip. You take out a mortgage. You put $28,000 down plus $4200 towards closing costs on a $140,000 property. You spend 10 months of weekends and another $50,000 fixing it up and you sell it in January 2023 for $260,000 and pay all the $18,000 closing costs.

140,000                property cost

4,200                closing costs at purchase

50,000                 repairs and other costs

 18,000                 closing costs at sale

212,200                total cost

 

260,000 – 212,200 = $47,800 gain

 

You sold the property for 260,000 and you pay taxes on the 47,800 gain. Sounds simple, right?

But think about this: In 2022, you made a bunch of money and bought a property hoping for “tax breaks.”  You wrote a check for $32,200 at closing when you bought it, you spent most of the $50,000 in repairs, AND you made 9 mortgage payments of $650 each. You have spent around $88,000 in 2022. You come to me to do your taxes in Spring 2023, hoping for some good deductions from this property. I say none of it is deductible and you ask, “WHY CAN’T I DEDUCT SOME OF THIS?!?! I spent 88 grand and none of it is a tax deduction?!?!?” Well… no. Because you aren’t a business. Deductions are things where the money is gone for good, and you can’t get it back. You have an investment that is worth significantly more than when you bought it and you can sell it.

So Why is Record-keeping Different for Property Flipping?

Every business keeps their records differently. Some people use their online banking. Some people throw receipts in a shoebox. Some use a spreadsheet, green ledger paper, or bookkeeping software. I have many people divide their receipts by month. Some people file by vendor. Some by project. Some use a plastic grocery sack. At the end of the year, businesses divide their spending into categories like advertising, rent, insurance, payroll, and so on, to file their taxes.

But property flipping isn’t a business, and you don’t get deductions. This is the one time the grocery sack and shoebox people have it right. It’s all the same thing. Everything is improving your property. It doesn’t matter what month or even what year you spent the money. It doesn’t matter if it was for the mortgage interest, the utilities, or the drywall. Everything you spend comes off the selling price when you sell. If you hate paperwork, this is the side hustle for you.

Your overhead like your phone bill, your business cards, your classes, your membership dues, and all your driving around town can all be pro-rated and included in your cost of selling the property, too. This is what I see people forget most often. You are not ‘losing’ any deductions, you are deducting them in a different place at a different time.

One Distinction You Must Have

The IRS sees each property as a completely separate taxable event. The one thing you need to keep separate is your properties. If you are working on two or more properties at a time, you need to get separate receipts so you know what was spent on which property. It’s easy to go to the home store and buy things for 3 different properties with one card swipe, but that is not a good idea. You need to keep each property’s expenses separate.

Getting a separate bank account or debit/credit card for each property works well for many people. However, buying shoes so you have a second shoebox for receipts is not a deductible expense.

Tax Time – Don’t Wait

When you sell a property, take your closing statements from buying and selling, total all your receipts by property, review all your overhead expenses and mileage, then figure your gain on the property and any potential tax liability. Do this right after the sale, not the following spring at tax time.  Gains can be offset by losses the same year. Maybe it’s time to dump a bad investment. If you had a loss on the property, maybe you can liquidate some other investments that had a gain. None of this planning can be done if you wait until tax time to figure your gain or loss on each sale.

Keep track of your costs and overhead, keep your properties completely separate, and call your accountant every time you sell a property.

Summary

Property Flipping is an investment activity, not a business.

Keep expenses for different properties separate.

Total your gain or loss when you sell. Do not wait until tax time.

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633 thoughts on “Property Flipping: Record-keeping to Pay the Least Taxes”

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