Property Purchase Accounting Checklist

Join us as we outline an essential accounting checklist for rental property purchases, ensuring investors handle every financial detail meticulously for compliance and optimal returns. It provides a thorough breakdown of key components like purchase price, loan costs, and escrow management to maximize investment profitability.

Gemma Smith
Last Updated
May 2, 2024
Property Purchase Accounting Checklist

Are you ready to manage your property investments confidently? Whether you're a first-time buyer or an experienced investor, knowing the financial details of purchasing rental properties can help you protect your investment.

Accurate accounting isn't just about compliance; it's the cornerstone of strategic investment and maximizing returns. Every detail, from the purchase date to the breakdown of costs, directly influences your financial health and the profitability of your property.

This article is crafted to guide you through our essential accounting checklist that will ensure your rental property purchase is not only compliant but also poised for financial success. With our insights and straightforward advice, we'll help you decode the most important aspects of property purchase accounting, turning potential pitfalls into opportunities for growth.

The components of the property purchase accounting checklist

When purchasing a rental property, precise accounting is essential for safeguarding your investment. This checklist provides a roadmap through the key financial elements you need to manage:

  1. Purchase date: Establish the foundation for all subsequent financial calculations, including depreciation and tax filings.
  2. Purchase price breakdown: Separate the costs between land and building to aid in proper depreciation and tax treatment.
  3. Loan and closing costs: Identify and categorize the costs associated with securing a loan and finalizing the purchase, ensuring these are correctly capitalized and amortized.
  4. Loan amount and treatment: Document the loan as a liability and track the decrease in liability as payments are made, alongside the corresponding increase in equity.
  5. Escrow management: Set up and maintain an escrow account to manage expenses like property taxes and insurance.

In the following sections, we will discuss each item in more depth and provide detailed guidance on managing and navigating these accounting tasks effectively.

1. The importance of the purchase date

Every journey begins with a first step, and in real estate investing, that first step is the purchase date of your property. This date sets the stage for all financial aspects of your investment, influencing various accounting and tax processes, which are key for maximizing your investment's value.

The purchase date determines when you start accounting for capital expenditures. These expenditures include significant investments in the property, such as renovations, additions, or major repairs, which are essential for enhancing its value. 

Unlike routine expenses, these costs are capitalized (added to the property's asset value) and not expensed immediately. This capitalization is vital because it impacts how and when these costs are depreciated over the property’s useful life.

Depreciation on rental properties does not start on the purchase date. Rather, it begins when the property is placed in service or made available for rent. This means the cost of the building — excluding the land, which does not depreciate — is spread over its estimated useful life. For residential properties, this is typically 27.5 years, according to IRS guidelines using the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS).

Understanding depreciation is crucial as it allows property owners to reduce taxable income annually, thereby impacting profit margins and tax obligations.

To manage these details effectively, it’s important to use specialized accounting software designed for property investments. This kind of software ensures that your financial records are comprehensive and compliant with tax laws and simplifies the management of your property's finances.

2. A breakdown of the purchase price

When purchasing a rental property, it's important to separate the cost of the land from the cost of the building. This distinction is key for accurate accounting and tax purposes. Buildings depreciate over time, which can be accounted for as a deduction on your tax returns, reducing your taxable income. 

However, as we previously mentioned, land is considered a non-depreciable asset because its value typically does not decrease over time. To accurately break down your purchase price between the land and the building, you can refer to the local county property appraiser's office. 

These offices have detailed records that assess the value of real estate components separately, helping you to allocate the purchase price accurately in your accounting records.

Engaging a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can provide invaluable assistance in analyzing property values. A CPA can not only ensure that you’re using correct values for accounting purposes but can also offer strategic advice on tax implications and capital investments. Their expertise is particularly beneficial in complex transactions where precise value allocation can lead to significant tax savings.

The allocation of purchase price to building and land values directly affects your financial reporting. On the balance sheet, the building value is listed as a depreciable asset under property, plant, and equipment, while land appears as a non-depreciable asset. 

This allocation impacts your cash flow statement as well. Expenditures related to the purchase and improvements of the building are recorded as capital expenditures, affecting the investing activities section of the statement.

3. Loan costs and their accounting implications

When securing a loan for your rental property, the associated costs play a significant role in your overall financial strategy and require careful accounting treatment.

Securing a property loan typically involves various fees that contribute to the total cost of the loan. These can include lender fees, appraisal fees, credit report charges, and possibly attorney fees. Each cost is essential to facilitate the financing process and must be documented accurately.

Unlike regular operational expenses, loan costs are capitalized rather than expensed. This means that instead of deducting all costs in the year they are incurred, they are added to the value of the loan and amortized over the life of the loan. This treatment aligns the expense recognition with the benefit derived from the loan, spreading out the impact on your financial statements over several years.

The amortization of these loan costs directly affects the balance sheet and the income statement. On the balance sheet, capitalized loan costs are recorded as a non-current asset and gradually reduced through amortization, which appears as an expense on the income statement. This process decreases your net income gradually, matching the expense of the loan costs to the period in which the loan's financial benefits are realized.

4. Closing costs: What they include and how to account for them

The final stage of purchasing a property involves various fees and charges collectively known as closing costs. These costs are important for successfully transferring property ownership and require specific accounting practices to ensure financial accuracy.

Closing costs typically include:

  • Title fees, which cover the costs of ensuring the property title is clear. 
  • Inspection fees, which pay for the property's physical inspection to ensure there are no hidden problems. 
  • Title insurance, which protects the buyer and lender against losses resulting from disputes over property ownership. 

From an accounting perspective, closing costs are usually capitalized rather than expensed immediately. Capitalizing these costs means adding them to the value of the property on your balance sheet rather than treating them as a deductible expense in the year they are paid. This treatment aligns the expense recognition with the useful life of the asset, ensuring that the costs are recognized over the period in which they provide benefits.

The amortization of closing costs involves spreading out their value over the life of the property, similar to depreciation. This process impacts your financial statements by adding to the asset values on the balance sheet and creating a scheduled expense on the income statement. 

Each year, a portion of these costs is expensed, gradually reducing the asset value while impacting the net income. This systematic amortization helps provide a more accurate picture of your financial health by matching costs with the period they benefit.

5. The loan amount and its treatment in accounting

When you secure a loan to purchase a rental property, the total amount borrowed is recorded on your balance sheet as a liability. This entry reflects your obligation to repay the borrowed funds. The loan amount represents the principal — the actual money you borrowed from the lender.

Each mortgage payment you make consists of two main components: principal and interest. The principal portion reduces the loan balance, thereby decreasing your liability. Concurrently, as you pay down the principal, your equity in the property increases. Equity is the portion of the property’s value that you truly own, free of any debts.

Over time, with each payment made, the liability on your balance sheet decreases while your equity increases. This dynamic is fundamental to building your net worth through property investment. In essence, each payment not only reduces your debt but also enhances your stake in the property.

6. Escrow accounts in property transactions

Escrow refers to a financial arrangement where a third party holds and regulates the payment of the funds required for two parties involved in a given transaction. It helps make transactions more secure by keeping the payment in a secure escrow account which is only released when all of the terms of an agreement are met, as overseen by the escrow company. 

In property transactions, escrow is used to ensure that the buying and selling parties meet their obligations before any funds or property ownership is exchanged.

In the context of real estate, an escrow account is typically used to hold funds that will cover annual property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. The buyer often pays into this account at closing. This initial deposit may also include several months’ worth of taxes and insurance payments. Subsequently, each mortgage payment includes an additional amount that goes into the escrow account to cover future tax and insurance obligations.

The management of an escrow account is typically handled by the mortgage lender. They calculate the total amount needed annually to cover the taxes and insurance, divide that number by twelve, and add this cost to the monthly mortgage payment. 

Throughout the year, the lender will use these funds to pay the taxes and insurance on behalf of the homeowner. This arrangement not only ensures that these critical payments are made on time but also spreads the cost over the entire year, easing budgeting for homeowners.

When the property taxes or insurance premiums change, the lender will adjust the monthly escrow payment to reflect the new amounts. This adjustment is usually made once a year, based on the escrow review, which involves analyzing the previous year's escrow account to ensure enough funds are being collected to cover expenses without overcharging the homeowner. 

This process ensures that the homeowner is neither short in their account nor paying excessively, maintaining a balance that closely matches the actual costs.

The basics of accounting for your rental property purchase, explained

Mastering the basics of accounting for your rental property purchase sets a solid foundation for your investment's financial health and long-term success. By adhering to the principles outlined, such as understanding the importance of purchase dates, categorizing expenditures, and utilizing escrow accounts, you equip yourself with the knowledge to make informed decisions that enhance the profitability and viability of your property. 

This guide not only helps you navigate the complexities of property purchase accounting but also empowers you to manage your investments confidently, ensuring each decision contributes positively to your financial goals.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Gemma Smith

With 7 years in property management, Gemma serves as a key content strategist at While excelling in writing, editing, and SEO, she also enhances Azibo's social media presence. Passionately, Gemma educates others to make informed real estate investment decisions in the ever-changing market.

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