Capital Gains Tax on Home Sales (2024)

2024 Long-term Capital Gains Rates (for Taxes Due in 2025)
Filing Status0% Tax Rate15% Tax Rate20% Tax Rate
Single$47,025$47,026 to $518,900$518,901 or more
Married filing jointly$94,050$94,051 to $583,750$583,751 or more
Married filing separately$47,025$47,026 to $291,850$291,851 or more
Head of household$63,000$63,001 to $551,350$551,351 or more

Requirements and Restrictions

If you meet the eligibility requirements of the IRS, you’ll be able to sell the home free of capital gains tax. However, there are exceptions to the eligibility requirements, which are outlined on the IRS website.

The main major restriction is that you can only benefit from this exemption once every two years. Therefore, if you have two homes and lived in each for at least two of the last five years, you won’t be able to sell both of them tax free until more than two years have passed since you sold the first one.

The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 significantly changed the implications of home sales in a beneficial way for homeowners. Before the act, sellers had to roll the full value of a home sale into another home within two years to avoid paying capital gains tax. However, this is no longer the case, and the proceeds of the sale can be used in any way that the seller sees fit.

When Is a Home Sale Fully Taxable?

Not everyone can take advantage of the capital gains exclusions. Gains from a home sale are fully taxable when:

  • The home is not the seller’s principal residence.
  • The property was acquired through a 1031 exchange (more on that below) within five years.
  • The seller is subject to expatriate taxes.
  • The property was not owned and used as the seller’s principal residence for at least two of the last five years prior to the sale (some exceptions apply).
  • The seller sold another home within two years from the date of the sale and used the capital gains exclusion for that sale.

Example of Capital Gains Tax on a Home Sale

Consider the following example: Susan and Robert, a married couple, purchased a home for $500,000 in 2015. Their neighborhood experienced tremendous growth, and home values increased significantly. Seeing an opportunity to reap the rewards of this surge in home prices, they sold their home in 2022 for $1.2 million. The capital gains from the sale were $700,000.

As a married couple filing jointly, they were able to exclude $500,000 of the capital gains, leaving $200,000 subject to capital gains tax. Their combined income places them in the 20% tax bracket. Therefore, their capital gains tax was $40,000.

Capital Gains Tax on Investment Property

Most commonly, real estate is categorized as investment or rental property or as a principal residence. An owner’s principal residence is the real estate used as the primary location in which they live. But what if the home you are selling is an investment property, rather than your principal residence? An investment or rental property is real estate purchased or repurposed to generate income or a profit for the owner(s) or investor(s).

Being classified as an investment property, rather than as a second home, affects how it’s taxed and which tax deductions, such as mortgage interest deductions, can be claimed. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017, up to $750,000 of mortgage interest on a principal residence or vacation home can be deducted. However, if a property is solely used as an investment property, it does not qualify for the capital gains exclusion.

Deferrals of capital gains tax are allowed for investment properties under the 1031 exchange if the proceeds from the sale are used to purchase a like-kind investment. Capital losses incurred in the tax year can be used to offset capital gains from the sale of investment properties. So, although not afforded the capital gains exclusion, there are ways to reduce or eliminate taxes on capital gains for investment properties.

Rental Property vs. Vacation Home

Rental properties are real estate rented to others to generate income or profits. A vacation home is real estate used recreationally and not considered the principal residence. It is used for short-term stays, primarily for vacations.

Homeowners often convert their vacation homes to rental properties when they are not using them. The income generated from the rental can cover the mortgage and other maintenance expenses. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. If the vacation home is rented out for fewer than 15 days, the income is not reportable. If the vacation home is used by the homeowner for fewer than two weeks in a year and then rented out for the remainder, it is considered an investment property.

Homeowners can take advantage of the capital gains tax exclusion when selling a vacation home if they meet the IRS ownership and use rules. But a second home will generally not qualify for a 1031 exchange (see below).

How to Avoid Capital Gains Tax on Home Sales

Want to lower the tax bill on the sale of your home? There are ways to reduce what you owe or avoid taxes on the sale of your property. If you own and have lived in your home for two of the last five years, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married people filing jointly) of the gain from taxes.

Adjustments to the cost basis can also help reduce the gain. Your cost basis can be increased by including fees and expenses associated with the purchase of the home, home improvements, and additions. The resulting increase in the cost basis thereby reduces the capital gains.

Also, capital losses from other investments can be used to offset the capital gains from the sale of your home. Large losses can even be carried forward to subsequent tax years. Let’s explore other ways to reduce or avoid capital gains taxes on home sales.

Use 1031 Exchanges to Avoid Taxes

Homeowners can avoid paying taxes on the sale of a home by reinvesting the proceeds from the sale into a similar property through a 1031 exchange. This like-kind exchange—named after Internal Revenue Code Section 1031—allows for the exchange of like property with no other consideration or like property including other considerations, such as cash. The 1031 exchange allows for the tax on the gain from the sale of a property to be deferred, rather than eliminated.

Owners—including corporations, individuals, trusts, partnerships, and limited liability companies (LLCs)—of investment and business properties can take advantage of the 1031 exchange when exchanging business or investment properties for those of like kind.

The properties subject to the 1031 exchange must be for business or investment purposes, not for personal use. The party to the 1031 exchange must identify in writing replacement properties within 45 days from the sale and must complete the exchange for a property comparable to that in the notice within 180 days from the sale.

To prevent someone from taking advantage of the 1031 exchange and capital gains exclusion, the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 stipulates that the exclusion applies if the exchanged property had been held for at least five years after the exchange.

An IRS memo explains how the sale of a second home could be shielded from the full capital gains tax, but the hurdles are high. It would have to be an investment property exchanged for another investment property. The taxpayer has to have owned the property for two full years, it has to have been rented to someone for a fair rental rate for at least 14 days in each of the previous two years, and it cannot have been used for personal use for 14 days or 10% of the time it was otherwise rented, whichever is greater, for the previous 12 months.

Since executing a 1031 exchange can be a complex process, there are advantages to working with a reputable, full-service1031 exchange company. Given their scale, these services generally cost less than attorneys who charge by the hour. A firm that has an established track record in working with these transactions can help you avoid costly missteps and ensure that your 1031 exchange meets the requirements of the tax code.

Convert Your Second Home Into Your Principal Residence

Capital gains exclusions are attractive to many homeowners, so much so that they may try to maximize its use throughout their lifetime. Because gains on non-principal residences and rental properties do not have the same exclusions, people have sought ways to reduce their capital gains tax on the sale of their properties. One way to accomplish this is to convert a second home or rental property to a principal residence.

A homeowner can make their second home into their principal residence for two years before selling and take advantage of the IRS capital gains tax exclusion. However, stipulations apply. Deductions for depreciation on gains earned prior to May 6, 1997, will not be considered in the exclusion.

According to the Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008, a rental property converted to a primary residence can only have the capital gains exclusion during the term when the property was used as a principal residence. The capital gains are allocated to the entire period of ownership. While serving as a rental property, the allocated portion falls under non-qualifying use and is not eligible for the exclusion.

How Installment Sales Lower Taxes

Realizing a large profit at the sale of an investment is the dream. However, the corresponding tax on the sale may not be. For owners of rental properties and second homes, there is a way to reduce the tax impact. To reduce taxable income, the property owner might choose an installment sale option, in which part of the gain is deferred over time. A specific payment is generated over the term specified in the contract.

Each payment consists of principal, gain, and interest, with the principal representing the nontaxable cost basis and interest taxed as ordinary income. The fractional portion of the gain will result in a lower tax than the tax on a lump-sum return of gain. How long the property owner holds the property will determine how it’s taxed: long-term or short-term capital gains.

How to Calculate the Cost Basis of a Home

The cost basis of a home is what you paid (your cost) for it. Included are the purchase price, certain expenses associated with the home purchase, improvement costs, certain legal fees, and more.

Example: In 2010, Rachel purchased her home for $400,000. She made no improvements and incurred no losses for the 12 years that she lived there. In 2022, she sold her home for $550,000. Her cost basis was $400,000, and her taxable gain was $150,000. She elected to exclude the capital gains and, as a result, owed no taxes.

What Is Adjusted Home Basis?

The cost basis of a home can change. Reductions in cost basis occur when you receive a return of your cost. For example, you purchased a house for $250,000 and later experienced a loss from a fire. Your home insurer issues a payment of $100,000, reducing your cost basis to $150,000 ($250,000 original cost basis - $100,000 insurance payment).

Improvements that are necessary to maintain the home with no added value, have a useful life of less than one year, or are no longer part of your home will not increase your cost basis.

Likewise, some events and activities can increase the cost basis. For example, you spend $15,000 to add a bathroom to your home. Your new cost basis will increase by the amount that you spent to improve your home.

Basis When Inheriting a Home

If you inherit a home, the cost basis is the fair market value (FMV) of the property when the original owner died. For example, say you are bequeathed a house for which the original owner paid $50,000. The home was valued at $400,000 at the time of the original owner’s death. Six months later, you sell the home for $500,000. The taxable gain is $100,000 ($500,000 sales price - $400,000 cost basis).

The FMV is determined on the date of the death of the grantor or on the alternate valuation date if the executor files an estate tax return and elects that method.

Reporting Home Sale Proceeds to the IRS

You must report the sale of a home if you received a Form 1099-S reporting the proceeds from the sale or if there is a non-excludable gain. Form 1099-S is an IRS tax form reporting the sale or exchange of real estate. This form is usually issued by the real estate agency, closing company, or mortgage lender. If you meet the IRS qualifications for not paying capital gains tax on the sale, inform your real estate professional by Feb. 15 following the year of the transaction.

The IRS details which transactions are not reportable:

  • If the sales price is $250,000 ($500,000 for married people) or less and the gain is fully excludable from gross income. The homeowner must also affirm that they meet the principal residence requirement. The real estate professional must receive certification that these attestations are true.
  • If the transferor is a corporation, a government or government sector, or an exempt volume transferor (someone who has or will sell 25 or more reportable real estate properties to 25 or more parties)
  • Non-sales, such as gifts
  • A transaction to satisfy a collateralized loan
  • If the total consideration for the transaction is $600 or less, which is called a de minimis transfer

Special Situations: Divorce and Military Personnel

Getting divorced or being transferred because you are military personnel can complicate a taxpayer’s ability to qualify for the use requirement for capital gains tax exclusions on home sales. Fortunately, there are considerations for these situations.


In a divorce, the spouse granted ownership of a home can count the years when the home was owned by the former spouse to qualify for the use requirement. Also, if the grantee has ownership in the house, the use requirement can include the time that the former spouse spends living in the home until the date of sale.

Military Personnel and Certain Government Officials

Military personnel and certain government officials on official extended duty and their spouses can choose to defer the five-year requirement for up to 10 years while on duty. Essentially, as long as the military member occupies the home for two out of 15 years, they qualify for the capital gains exclusion (up to $250,000 for single taxpayers and up to $500,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly).

Can Home Sales Be Tax Free?

Yes. Home sales can be tax free as long as the condition of the sale meets certain criteria:

  • The seller must have owned the home and used it as their principal residence for two out of the last five years (up to the date of closing). The two years do not have to be consecutive to qualify.
  • The seller must not have sold a home in the last two years and claimed the capital gains tax exclusion.
  • If the capital gains do not exceed the exclusion threshold ($250,000 for single people and $500,000 for married people filing jointly), the seller does not owe taxes on the sale of their house.

How Do I Avoid Paying Taxes When I Sell My House?

There are several ways to avoid paying taxes on the sale of your house. Here are a few:

  • Offset your capital gains with capital losses. Capital losses from previous years can be carried forward to offset gains in future years.
  • Use the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) primary residence exclusion, if you qualify. For single taxpayers, you may exclude up to $250,000 of the capital gains, and for married taxpayers filing jointly, you may exclude up to $500,000 of the capital gains (certain restrictions apply).
  • If the home is a rental or investment property, use a 1031 exchange to roll the proceeds from the sale of that property into a like investment within 180 days.

How Much Tax Do I Pay When Selling My House?

How much tax you pay is dependent on the amount of the gain from selling your house and on your tax bracket. If your profits do not exceed the exclusion amount and you meet the IRS guidelines for claiming the exclusion, you owe nothing. If your profits exceed the exclusion amount and you earn $44,626 to $492,300 (2023 rate), you will owe a 15% tax (based on the single filing status) on the profits.

Do I Have to Report the Sale of My Home to the IRS?

It is possible that you are not required to report the sale of your home if none of the following is true:

  • You have non-excludable, taxable gain from the sale of your home (less than $250,000 for single taxpayers and less than $500,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly).
  • You were issued a Form 1099-S, reporting proceeds from real estate transactions.
  • You want to report the gain as taxable, even if all or a portion falls within the exclusionary guidelines.

Do You Pay Capital Gains Taxes When You Sell a Second Home?

Because the IRS allows exemptions from capital gains taxes only on a principal residence, it’s difficult to avoid capital gains taxes on the sale of a second home without converting that home to your principal residence. This involves conforming to the two-in-five-year rule (you lived in it for a total of two of the past five years). Put simply, you can prove that you spent enough time in one home that it qualifies as your principal residence.

If one of the homes was primarily an investment, it’s not set up to be the exemption-eligible home.

The demarcation between investment property and vacation property goes like this: It’s investment property if the taxpayer has owned the property for two full years, it has been rented to someone for a fair rental rate for at least 14 days in each of the previous two years, and it cannot have been used for personal use for 14 days or 10% of the time that it was otherwise rented, whichever is greater, for the previous 12 months.

If you or your family use the home for more than two weeks a year, it’s likely to be considered personal property, not investment property. This makes it subject to taxes on capital gains, as would any other asset other than your principal residence.

Do You Pay Capital Gains If You Lose Money on a Home Sale?

You can’t deduct the losses on a primary residence, nor can you treat it as a capital loss on your taxes. You may be able to do so, however, on investment property or rental property.

Keep in mind that gains from the sale of one asset can be offset by losses on other asset sales up to $3,000 or your total net loss, and such losses may be eligible for carryover in subsequent tax years.

If you sell below-market to a relative or friend, the transaction may subject the recipient to taxes on the difference, which the IRS may consider a gift. Also, remember that the recipient inherits your cost basis for purposes of determining any capital gains when they sell it, so the recipient should be aware of how much you paid for it, how much you spent on improvement, and costs of selling, if any.

Are Real State Agent Commissions Tax Deuctible?

Yes. You can deduct realtor fees from the capital gains generated from that activity. In fact,
any costs related to the sale of your home can be tax deductible. This can include legal and escrow fees, marketing and advertising costs, and staging fees.

Keep also in mind that the standard 6% commission paid by home sellers in the U.S. is disappearing under a pending settlement by the National Association of Realtors. Once new rules are in place by mid-July 2024, home sellers should see lower commissions.

Advisor Insight

Kimerly Polak Guerrero, CFP
Polero ICE Advisers, New York, N.Y.

In addition to the $250,000 (or $500,000 for a couple) exemption, you can also subtract your full cost basis in the property from the sales price. Your cost basis is calculated by starting with the price you paid for the home, and then adding purchase expenses, such as closing costs, title insurance, and any settlement fees.

To this figure, you can add the cost of any additions and improvements you made with a useful life of over one year.

Finally, add your selling costs, like real estate agent commissions and attorney fees, as well as any transfer taxes you incurred.

By the time you finish totaling the costs of buying, selling, and improving the property, your capital gain on the sale will likely be much lower—enough to qualify for the exemption.

The Bottom Line

Taxes on capital gains can be substantial. Fortunately, the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 provides some relief to homeowners who meet certain IRS criteria. For single tax filers, up to $250,000 of the capital gains can be excluded, and for married tax filers filing jointly, up to $500,000 of the capital gains can be excluded. For gains exceeding these thresholds, capital gains rates are applied.

There are exceptions for certain situations, such as divorce and military deployment, as well as rules for when sales must be reported. Understanding the tax rules and staying abreast of tax changes can help you better prepare for the sale of your home. And if you’re in the market for a new home, consider comparing the best mortgage rates before applying for a loan.

Capital Gains Tax on Home Sales (2024)


Is there a way to avoid capital gains tax on the selling of a house? ›

Is there a way to avoid capital gains tax on the selling of a house? You will avoid capital gains tax if your profit on the sale is less than $250,000 (for single filers) or $500,000 (if you're married and filing jointly), provided it has been your primary residence for at least two of the past five years.

How do I figure capital gains when I sell my home? ›

This is the sale price minus any commissions or fees paid. Subtract your basis (what you paid) from the realized amount (how much you sold it for) to determine the difference. If you sold your assets for more than you paid, you have a capital gain.

How does IRS verify cost basis real estate? ›

The IRS expects taxpayers to keep the original documentation for capital assets, such as real estate and investments. It uses these documents, along with third-party records, bank statements and published market data, to verify the cost basis of assets.

How to prove 2 out of 5 year rule? ›

If you used and owned the property as your principal residence for an aggregated 2 years out of the 5-year period ending on the date of sale, you have met the ownership and use tests for the exclusion. This is true even though the property was used as rental property for the 3 years before the date of the sale.

Do I have to buy another house to avoid capital gains? ›

You can avoid capital gains tax when you sell your primary residence by buying another house and using the 121 home sale exclusion. In addition, the 1031 like-kind exchange allows investors to defer taxes when they reinvest the proceeds from the sale of an investment property into another investment property.

What is the 6 year rule for capital gains? ›

The capital gains tax property six-year rule allows you to treat your investment property as your main residence for tax purposes for up to six years while you are renting it out. This means you can rent it out for six years and still qualify for the main residence capital gains tax exemption when you sell it.

What are the two rules of exclusion on capital gains for homeowners? ›

Sale of your principal residence. We conform to the IRS rules and allow you to exclude, up to a certain amount, the gain you make on the sale of your home. You may take an exclusion if you owned and used the home for at least 2 out of 5 years. In addition, you may only have one home at a time.

Does everyone pay capital gains when selling a house? ›

If you owned the home for longer than a year before selling, long-terms capital gains tax rates may apply. The rates are much more forgiving. Many people qualify for a 0% tax rate. Everybody else pays either 15% or 20%, depending on your filing status and taxable income.

At what age do you not pay capital gains? ›

Capital Gains Tax for People Over 65. For individuals over 65, capital gains tax applies at 0% for long-term gains on assets held over a year and 15% for short-term gains under a year. Despite age, the IRS determines tax based on asset sale profits, with no special breaks for those 65 and older.

What if I can't find my cost basis? ›

You can also call the company's shareholder services department for help. For shares purchased more than 10 years ago, go to a public library or law school library and look for back issues of newspapers, such as USA Today, to find the high and low price on the date of purchase.

What counts as improvements for capital gains? ›

A capital improvement, as defined by the IRS, is a change made to property you own that does at least one of the following: Add to the value of the property. Prolong the property's life. Adapts the home to new uses.

What cannot be included in the cost basis of a main home? ›

The cost includes the cost of materials, equipment, and labor. However, you may not add the cost of your own labor to the property's basis. Add the interest you pay on construction loans during the construction period, but deduct interest you pay before and after construction as an operating expense.

Do I have to report the sale of my home to the IRS? ›

Report the sale or exchange of your main home on Form 8949, Sale and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets, if: You have a gain and do not qualify to exclude all of it, You have a gain and choose not to exclude it, or. You received a Form 1099-S.

How to calculate capital gains on sale of primary residence? ›

As with other assets such as stocks, capital gains on a home are equal to the difference between the sale price and the seller's basis. Your basis in your home is what you paid for it, plus closing costs and non-decorative investments you made in the property, like a new roof.

Do I have to pay capital gains tax immediately? ›

It is generally paid when your taxes are filed for the given tax year, not immediately upon selling an asset. Working with a financial advisor can help optimize your investment portfolio to minimize capital gains tax.

What lowers capital gains tax? ›

Long-term investing offers a significant advantage in minimizing capital gains taxes due to the favorable tax treatment for investments for longer durations. When investors hold assets for more than a year before selling, they qualify for long-term capital gains tax rates, typically lower than short-term rates.

Can I reinvest capital gains to avoid taxes? ›

Reinvest in new property

The like-kind (aka "1031") exchange is a popular way to bypass capital gains taxes on investment property sales. With this transaction, you sell an investment property and buy another one of similar value. By doing so, you can defer owing capital gains taxes on the first property.

Can you deduct closing costs from capital gains? ›

In addition to the home's original purchase price, you can deduct some closing costs, sales costs and the property's tax basis from your taxable capital gains. Closing costs can include mortgage-related expenses. For example, if you had prepaid interest when you bought the house) and tax-related expenses.

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