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Capital Gains on Selling a House


  1. Introduction
  2. Understanding Capital Gains
  3. Calculating Capital Gains
  4. Primary Residence Exclusion
  5. Reporting Capital Gains
  6. Strategies to Minimize Capital Gains Tax
  7. State and Local Taxes
  8. FAQs


When selling a house, understanding the tax implications is crucial. Capital gains tax is one of the significant considerations, especially if your property has appreciated in value. This guide will help you navigate the complexities of capital gains tax on the sale of your house.

Understanding Capital Gains

What Are Capital Gains?

Capital gains are the profits you make from selling an asset for more than you paid for it. In the context of real estate, it’s the difference between the selling price of your home and your adjusted basis (the original purchase price plus improvements and certain other costs).

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Capital Gains

  • Short-Term Capital Gains: If you sell your house within one year of purchasing it, the profit is considered a short-term capital gain and is taxed at your ordinary income tax rate.
  • Long-Term Capital Gains: If you sell your house after owning it for more than a year, the profit is considered a long-term capital gain and is usually taxed at a lower rate, ranging from 0% to 20% depending on your income.

Calculating Capital Gains

Adjusted Basis

Your adjusted basis is the original purchase price of your home plus any capital improvements you’ve made, minus any depreciation claimed for tax purposes.

Calculating the Gain

  1. Determine Selling Price: This is the amount you sold your house for.
  2. Subtract Selling Expenses: Deduct costs related to selling your house, such as real estate agent commissions, advertising fees, and legal fees.
  3. Subtract Adjusted Basis: Subtract your adjusted basis from the net selling price (selling price minus selling expenses) to calculate your capital gain.


  • Original Purchase Price: $300,000
  • Capital Improvements: $50,000
  • Adjusted Basis: $350,000 ($300,000 + $50,000)
  • Selling Price: $500,000
  • Selling Expenses: $30,000
  • Net Selling Price: $470,000 ($500,000 – $30,000)
  • Capital Gain: $120,000 ($470,000 – $350,000)

Primary Residence Exclusion

Eligibility Criteria

You may exclude up to $250,000 of capital gains from taxation if you’re single, or $500,000 if married and filing jointly, under the primary residence exclusion. To qualify, you must meet these criteria:

  • Ownership: You must have owned the home for at least two of the last five years.
  • Use: The home must have been your primary residence for at least two of the last five years.
  • Frequency: You have not used the exclusion for another home sale in the last two years.

Exclusion Limits

  • Single Filers: Up to $250,000 of capital gains can be excluded.
  • Married Filing Jointly: Up to $500,000 of capital gains can be excluded.

Reporting Capital Gains

IRS Form 1099-S

  • What It Is: This form reports the sale of real estate transactions to the IRS.
  • When It’s Required: The closing agent or real estate professional will typically file this form if the transaction meets certain conditions (e.g., sale price over $250,000).

IRS Schedule D

  • Purpose: Schedule D is used to report capital gains and losses from investments, including real estate.
  • Filing: You’ll need to include your capital gains calculation and any applicable exclusions.

Strategies to Minimize Capital Gains Tax

Holding Period

  • Long-Term Gains: Holding the property for more than a year can reduce your tax rate on the gain.

Home Improvements

  • Increase Basis: Keep records of all capital improvements, such as renovations or additions, as these costs can be added to your basis, thereby reducing your capital gain.

1031 Exchange

  • What It Is: A 1031 exchange allows you to defer capital gains taxes by reinvesting the proceeds from the sale into a similar property.
  • Requirements: Strict rules govern the timing and type of replacement property.

State and Local Taxes

  • State Taxes: Some states impose capital gains taxes in addition to federal taxes. Rates and rules vary by state.
  • Local Taxes: Certain localities may also have taxes on real estate transactions. Check with your local tax authority.


What is the capital gains tax rate on selling a house?

The rate depends on your income and how long you owned the property. Long-term capital gains are taxed at 0%, 15%, or 20%, while short-term gains are taxed at your ordinary income rate.

How do I qualify for the $250,000/$500,000 exclusion on capital gains?

You must have owned and lived in the home as your primary residence for at least two of the five years before the sale.

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

Yes, you must report the sale on your tax return. If you qualify for the exclusion, you may not owe any tax, but you still need to report the transaction.

Can I deduct home improvements from my capital gains?

Yes, capital improvements that add value to the home can be added to your basis, reducing your capital gains.

What is a 1031 exchange, and how does it work?

A 1031 exchange allows you to defer paying capital gains taxes by reinvesting the proceeds into a similar property. There are strict rules regarding timing and property types.

Understanding the tax implications of selling a house can help you make informed decisions and maximize your net proceeds. For personalized advice, consider consulting a tax professional or real estate expert, such as those at Dale McCarthy Real Estate.

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