Real Estate Professional Tax Status: Do You Qualify?

What is a real estate professional tax status? Discover what this designation is, why it's beneficial, and whether you qualify. Gaining an understanding of the requirements, tax implications, and proper documentation procedures can help you tap into significant savings.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
January 15, 2024
Real Estate Professional Tax Status: Do You Qualify?

As a property business owner, you're always looking for new ways to maximize your rental property, flipping, or development profits. By attaining IRS real estate professional tax status, you can potentially lower your taxes, saving you tons every year and enhancing profits and returns across your real estate investments.

What does achieving this status involve, and what are the implications? This guide will cover the qualification criteria regarding time and participation commitments. We’ll explain the documentation needed for your personal service activity, like rental management, development, or brokerage trade work.

You'll also discover the benefits associated with classifying real estate income as active income, like additional deductions and accelerated depreciation.

So, if this sounds good to you, read on!

Understanding real estate professional tax status

Real estate professional tax status is a designation acknowledged by the IRS that can provide significant tax advantages for individuals in the real property trades or businesses.

Real estate professional status offers favorable tax rules for investors who rent out or sell properties. By obtaining this status, you treat rental income as active income rather than passive. This allows investors to fully deduct any rental losses on their tax returns, reducing their overall tax burden.

Qualification for real estate professional tax status

Are you eligible for real estate professional tax status and its benefits? Here are the IRS requirements to consider:

More than 50% of personal service activity

The first requirement to qualify for real estate professional tax status is that you must spend over 50% of your total hours providing personal services in real property trades or businesses during the tax year.

Activities like property management, leasing, buying and selling properties, or real estate development all count as real property trades or businesses. In general, any work related to real estate investing will count.

750 hours of real estate-related activities

In addition to the 50% rule, property managers are required to dedicate at least 750 hours total per year on real estate-related activities to obtain real estate professional status.

Beyond the expected day-to-day rental management activities, tasks included in this hours-based requirement include researching properties, analyzing markets, and attending real estate industry seminars.

Make sure to keep records of your hours, because this documentation proves the time you spend on real estate trade or business activity.

Material participation test

Alongside the time requirements, the IRS looks at your level of material participation in real estate activities. Material participation means actively working on your business's day-to-day operations and decision-making processes.

You'll need to demonstrate active involvement rather than passive investment in the management and growth of your rental property business.

Types of real property trades or businesses

What does the IRS consider real property trades or businesses? The tax code considers the following to be real estate trades:

1. Development activities

Real property development includes activities involved in buying assets and improving them for income-generating use. Time spent on the following activities counts towards real estate professional status:

  • Acquisition: Evaluating, identifying, underwriting, and purchasing raw land parcels, existing buildings, or other structures to develop/redevelop.
  • Overall management: Overseeing design planning, budgeting, permitting, hiring contractors, and overall execution of ground-up building construction or renovating/rebuilding damaged structures.
  • Conversions: Transforming the purpose or use of existing buildings through modifications, for example, converting warehouses into apartments.
  • Project coordination: Planning development phases, securing financing, managing stakeholders, overseeing timelines and activities from acquisition through completion/lease-up.
  • Marketing & sales: Promoting and selling finished development projects through advertising, showings, negotiating offers, and closing sale transactions.

2. Rental activities

Rental real estate activity can qualify towards your hours for real estate professional tax status. These rental activities include:

  • Property management: Handling operations, maintenance, and oversight of rental properties. Tasks like tenant screening, rent collection, repairs, and compliance monitoring are included in this.
  • Leasing: Setting up new lease agreements for residential and commercial properties.
  • Rental services: Setting rental rates, advertising unit availability, and showing rental properties.
  • Tenant management: Collecting rent payments, addressing maintenance requests, and enforcing lease terms and rental policies.

3. Brokerage services

Real estate brokers or agents act as intermediaries, representing clients to facilitate sales transactions and connections between buyers, sellers, landlords, and tenants. The following brokerage service activities count as qualifying hours toward real estate professional status:

  • Listing properties: Marketing real estate listings through the MLS, photography, writing descriptions to promote for sale or rent.
  • Buyer/tenant representation: Assisting clients in locating suitable properties, showing available spaces, and developing buyer agency agreements.
  • Negotiations and contracts: Acting on the client's behalf to make purchase offers or lease proposals, negotiating terms/prices, and drafting purchase and sale agreements.
  • Transaction management: Navigating the transaction process, coordinating inspections and appraisals, arranging financing, verifying proper documentation, and legal compliance.
  • Commission processing: Finalizing transaction details, facilitating the closing process between parties upon sale, and collecting brokerage commissions.

Advantages of real estate professional tax status

Qualifying for real estate professional status provides several tax benefits, including:

Active vs Passive income

As previously mentioned, one major benefit of qualifying as a real estate professional is that your rental real estate activities get treated as active income instead of passive.

What does this mean? Having rental real estate activities taxed as active income allows you to take advantage of more tax deductions and offsets to reduce your overall tax liability. For example, you can fully deduct any losses on your rental properties against your other income sources.

In comparison, passive rental real estate activity faces more restrictions on tax write-offs, limiting loss deductions against other income. By achieving status as a real estate professional, an investor can unlock significant tax savings through accelerated deductions.

Depreciation benefits

Claiming depreciation is another major tax advantage of real estate professional status. Through depreciation, investors can deduct the purchase cost of rental properties over time as buildings and assets decline in value or wear out.

If you qualify as a real estate professional, you can fully utilize depreciation deductions to lower rental income taxes, even if your properties have positive yearly cash flow. This results in major tax savings.

Work with a tax professional to calculate depreciation and verify IRS compliance. Taking these accelerated deductions allows real estate professionals to realize substantial lifetime tax reductions on rental properties.

Deduction of rental losses

Deducting rental real estate losses is a valuable perk for real estate professionals. Unlike passive investors, real estate professional status means you can deduct your rental property losses against any income source, like salaries or business profits, to lower your tax bill.

This means that negative cash flow on rentals directly reduces your taxes on other earned or active income categories. This allows you to offset your total tax liability when some properties underperform, providing financial flexibility.

Real estate professional status opens the door to deducting all your rental property losses rather than limiting write-offs only against passive income streams. For many real estate investors, this results in substantial tax savings year after year.

Long-term capital gains

Real estate professionals may also enjoy the advantage of long-term capital gains treatment. If you hold a property for more than one year and choose to sell it, the profit from the sale may be eligible for favorable long-term capital gains tax rates.

Capital gains rates max out at 20% currently, while ordinary income tax rates that most taxpayers pay on salaries or other revenue can reach more than 30%.

For a real estate professional who flips houses or sells rental property at a profit, paying capital gains taxes versus ordinary income means keeping more money in your pocket after the sale.

Exemption of the 3.8% net investment income tax

Real estate professionals who meet the requirements may be exempt from the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT). The NIIT is an additional tax imposed on certain types of investment income under the Affordable Care Act.

Risks and challenges of real estate professional status

Qualifying for estate professional tax status can bring numerous benefits, but you should also be aware of the risks and challenges that come with it. Here are some areas to consider:

IRS scrutiny and audits

Real estate professional tax status can sometimes attract greater scrutiny from the IRS. Due to the potential tax benefits, the IRS may pay closer attention to individuals claiming this status.

Increased scrutiny could result in audits or additional inquiries into your real estate activities, deductions, and overall compliance with tax law, so be sure to maintain proper documentation of your activities. Consult with a tax professional to lessen the risk of audit and confirm accurate reporting.

Time commitment

Getting and keeping a real estate professional tax status requires a time commitment. You'll need to spend almost 15 hours a week on rental activities to show significant participation activity. This can be challenging if other personal or professional commitments demand your attention.

Changing tax laws and regulations

Like any tax-related matter, real estate professional tax status is subject to tax laws and regulations changes. The IRS can modify or update rules surrounding this status, which may impact your eligibility or the tax benefits you can claim.

Stay updated on any changes and seek expert advice to navigate this dynamic environment. A tax professional can help you stay compliant and maximize new opportunities or adjustments.

How to maintain a real estate professional status

Once you have obtained real estate professional status, keeping this designation requires ongoing effort. Investors must proactively maintain eligibility by continuing to meet annual qualification criteria.

Going forward, focus on these key areas to preserve professional status from year to year:

1. Maintaining records and documentation

Keeping detailed records and documentation is the foundation for demonstrating real estate professional status. You'll want to organize the following:

  • Work hour records: Keep a detailed log of your time on real property trade or business. Maintain logs and calendars that clearly outline the specific tasks and properties you're involved with. This way, you can show the full scope of your activities.
  • Paper trail: Save receipts, contracts, and invoices. Keep these documents organized and easily accessible to prove you are following the rules and operating within the guidelines.
  • Showcasing expertise: Consider your educational materials, certifications, and industry-related documents to be your professional portfolio. As such, you should present them in a way that demonstrates your knowledge and expertise.

2. Ongoing education and industry involvement

Things are always changing in real estate, and staying updated helps to maintain your professional status. Real estate professionals can count on these activities to maintain their status:

  • Workshops and seminars: Attend courses, workshops, or seminars to stay at the forefront of industry advancements. Gain insights, learn new strategies, and demonstrate to the IRS that you're continuously expanding your knowledge and adapting to changes.
  • Professional networks: Joining professional associations and networking groups offers value beyond just socializing. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals, gain valuable insights, and share experiences. These connections can keep you informed and connected within the industry.
  • Stay updated: Subscribe to industry publications and newsletters. Stay knowledgeable about the latest trends and legal updates.

Real estate professional status

Obtaining real estate professional status demands a commitment to time and detailed tracking of your activities in real property trades. Successfully meeting these requirements unlocks valuable tax benefits, transforming your rental income from passive to active business income. This shift allows for significant tax advantages, including loss write-offs and accelerated depreciation deductions.

Though the path to achieving and maintaining this status requires documentation and time investment, the rewards are substantial. Embrace the opportunity to reap these tax benefits year after year and increase the profitability of your real estate business.

Real estate professional tax status FAQs

Is it possible for me to qualify as a real estate professional if I only own one rental property?

Yes, you can still qualify as a real estate professional, even if you own only one rental property.

The key factor is meeting the IRS requirements mentioned earlier, such as dedicating most of your hours to personal services related to real estate-related activities and actively participating in your rental property's management and decision-making processes.

Are there any limits on the amount of rental losses I can deduct as a real estate professional?

You can deduct all qualifying rental losses against your other income as a real estate professional. However, it's important to consider other tax rules and limitations, such as the at-risk and passive activity loss rules, which may impact the deductibility of rental losses.

Can I claim real estate professional tax status if I have a partnership or own properties through an LLC?

Yes, partnerships and properties owned through LLCs can qualify for real estate professional tax status.

Be sure to meet the requirements, such as actively participating in managing the partnership or LLC, dedicating sufficient time to real estate-related activities, and meeting other criteria outlined by the IRS.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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