Taking a Loss on Real Estate it Happens

With the run-up in real estate prices in Metro Denver since The Great Recession we are finally witnessing the cooling of the market memorialized in the New York Times a few weeks ago in an article titled: Housing Market Slows, as Rising Prices outpace Wages.

While those sellers who have owned their residences for over 3 years are probably fine with selling and gaining  a small profit; over the past few months I have written about a few residential sales which has actually taken a loss via actual recorded sales price and additional losses when factoring in commission and of course inflation which seems to rarely be factored into the transaction.

In the present environment of housing prices adjusting downward, interest rates continuing to increase and signs of instability in the equities markets those taking losses on their residences may become more commonplace depending when they purchased and how motivated they are to sell.

Of note in general a loss on the sale of a home is NOT deductible on one’s income tax. In general a loss concerning real estate is only deductible when the property has been used for business or investment purposes. One tip if a loss may be forthcoming consider turning the residence into a rental and then sell; the property is now considered related to investment. Of course one would need to consult with their professional tax advisor or financial planner to ascertain the legality and proper filing but this is an option.

I predict we will start seeing some losses on homes in the Denver Metro area that had been purchased within the last 12-36 months when the market seems unstoppable concerning price appreciation coupled with historically low interest rates. While it may seem counterintuitive when the employment market is at its zenith that housing should be lagging yet that is generally how the market behaves. This is partially due to interest rate impacts, inflation eroding the value of money and other factors. This is not a new phenomenon; happens with every business cycle. This is why longer-term holds on housing usually generates a hedge against inflation but the key is long-term i.e. 7,10, 20 years out. A few examples if I may including my personal residence.

Two years ago (April 2016) I sold my personal residence for $535,000. The net after commission and closing costs was $520,000 (and no I did not pay myself a commission).

I purchased the house in October 1989 for $140,000 or $266,692 in inflation dollars. Thus my actual net gain was $253,308….no I am not complaining. On a monthly basis I made about $800 +/- and when factoring in taxes, maintenance, upkeep…..lets just say I had a house over my head.

Now when I bought the house in 1989 the Denver housing market was in a deep regional recession two years post Wall Street Crash of 1987. The seller of the house actually bought the residence in 1984 for $200,000 from the developer, another high-point of real estate in Denver that decade, here are the inflation adjusted #’s:

  • 1984: $200,000 (or $238,566 in 1989 Dollars)
  • 1989: $140,000

Thus not including commissions in real dollars the seller not only took a $60,000 loss from his purchase to the sale in 5 years, when factoring in inflation i.e. $38,566 and commission (6% at $140,000 = $8,400) the seller lost $45,000+ or almost a quarter of the value of his home in that 5 year period and the loss was not deductible.

As mentioned I sold the house in April 2016 for $535,000.

The buyers actually resold the house in June 2017 for $560,000 due to a relocation thus even after commissions and closing costs they did OK. From what I understand the new owners plan to reside long-term and thus are somewhat insulated from the pending adjustments in housing prices I believe will be headwinds in the near future.

Denver is not unique in this situation. In New York where I also hold a license there was a major loss on a truly trophy condominium apartment as follows:

The single biggest sale last month (September 2018), at $42 million, was a penthouse covering the entire 77th floor of One57, the vitreous skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan’s Billionaires’ Row, at 157 West 57th Street. Monthly carrying charges are $15,214. The unnamed European seller took a loss, however, having paid nearly $47.8 million for the unit in May 2015. The 6,240-square-foot apartment has four bedrooms and five and a half baths, not to mention breathtaking views.

While a $6M loss is painful when you consider the apartments were delivered with interiors unfinished, at that price-point you bring in your own designers and architects which can easily add $500,000 to $1M+ in finishes AND the monthly carrying charges i.e. HOA fees ranging increasing from $12,500/month to $15,214 at the time of sale that is over $150,000 annually just in common charges or another $500,000 paid during ownership. Thus all losses are relative; as we say on Wall Street you will never sell at the high and buy on the bottom.

A house is a home and should not necessarily be considered an investment or a hedge against inflation, it is shelter first and foremost.

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