Are Expenses When Selling a House Tax-Deductible?

Calculating Capital Gains

Rear view of a young couple looking at a house
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If you're wondering what expenses are tax deductible when selling a house, there are several ways to calculate your capital gains.

You might have questions like:

  • Does any touch-up work that was done just prior to listing the house come into play?
  • Does painting count?
  • Is there a state tax that has to be paid on the sale?
  • What can be subtracted from the capital gain?

Selling Your Main Home

You can include all sorts of selling expenses in the cost basis of the house, thereby increasing your adjusted cost basis and decreasing your capital gain.

What counts as a selling expense? Any reasonable and customary expenses to get your house sold. This would include all those fees you pay at closing, plus any improvements that prolong the useful life of the house. In Publication 523, the IRS explains that the following improvements will increase your cost basis in the house:

  • Additions and other improvements that have a useful life of more than 1 year,
  • Special assessments for local improvements, and
  • Amounts you spent after a casualty to restore damaged property.

For a complete list of adjustments to cost basis, see the Adjusted Basis section of Pub 523.

Finally, remember that a married couple can exclude up to $500,000 of gain as long as at least one spouse has lived in the house for at least two years in the past five years. If you have co-owners (for example two unmarried co-owners), each owner can take his or her exclusion of $250,000.

What is Taxed as A Long-Term Capital Gain?

Any gain over this exclusion amount will be taxed as a long-term capital gain (assuming that you've owned the house for more than a year).

The tax rate on long-term capital gains is either 5% or 15%, depending on what income tax bracket you are in. I'm guessing that your long-term capital gains tax rate will be 15%. So set aside 15% of your taxable gain for the IRS. Check on capital gains tax rates in your state. You may need to set aside that money as well.

What is Separate Property?

As far as the refrigerator and other appliances are concerned, those are considered separate property from the house. Very likely you are selling these items for less than what you paid, and this loss is not tax deductible. If the appliances are fairly new, you should be able to dig up a receipt for their purchase price. If the appliances are older, they may not have much value, and the new owners might even want to replace them. You can get an idea of the fair market values for these appliances by browsing through local classified advertisements for similar appliances. If you are selling the appliances with the house, make sure that is specified in the sales contract to prevent any misunderstandings between you and the buyer.

Any state income taxes you pay on the sale of the house will not reduce your capital gain. Instead, include this amount along with other state income taxes you paid as an itemized deduction on Schedule A.