Saturday, June 22, 2019

Like-Kind Exchange? Bulk Up Your Files

I met with a client a couple of weeks ago. He owns undeveloped land that someone has taken an interest in. He initially dismissed their overtures, saying that the land was not for sale or – if it were – it would require a higher price than the potential buyer would be interested in paying.

Turns out they are interested.

The client and I met. We cranked a few numbers to see what the projected taxes would be. Then we talked about like-kind exchanges.

It used to be that one could do a like-kind exchange with both real property and personal property. The tax law changed recently and personal property no longer qualifies. This doesn’t sound like much, but consider that the trade-in of a car is technically a like-kind exchange. The tax change defused that issue by allowing 100% depreciation (hopefully) on a business vehicle in the year of purchase. Eventually Congress will again change the depreciation rules, and trade-ins of business vehicles will present a tax issue.

There are big-picture issues with a like-kind exchange:

(1)  Trade-down, for example, and you will have income.
(2)  Walk away with cash and you will have income.
(3)  Reduce the size of the loan and (without additional planning) you will have income.

I was looking at a case that presented another potential trap.

The Brelands owned a shopping center in Alabama.

In 2003 they sold the shopping center. They rolled-over the proceeds in a like-kind exchange involving 3 replacement properties. One of those properties was in Pensacola and becomes important to our story.

In 2004 they sold Pensacola. Again using a like-kind, they rolled-over the proceeds into 2 properties in Alabama. One of those properties was on Dauphin Island.

They must have liked Dauphin Island, as they bought a second property there.

Then they refinanced the two Dauphin Island properties together.

Fast forward to 2009 and they defaulted on the Dauphin Island loan. The bank foreclosed. The two properties were sold to repay the bank

This can create a tax issue, depending on whether one is personally liable for the loan. Our taxpayers were. When this happens, the tax Code sees two related but separate transactions:

(1) One sells the property. There could be gain, calculated as:

Sales price – cost (that is, basis) in the property

(2) There is cancellation of indebtedness income, calculated as:

Loan amount – sales price

There are tax breaks for transaction (2) – such as bankruptcy or insolvency – but there is no break for transaction (1). However, if one is being foreclosed, how often will the fair market value (that is, sales price) be greater than cost? If that were the case, wouldn’t one just sell the property oneself and repay the bank, skipping the foreclosure?

Now think about the effect of a like-kind exchange and one’s cost or basis in the property. If you keep exchanging and the properties keep appreciating, there will come a point where the relationship between the price and the cost/basis will become laughingly dated. You are going to have something priced in 2019 dollars but having basis from …. well, whenever you did the like-kind exchange.

Heck, that could be decades ago.

For the Brelands, there was a 2009 sales price and cost or basis from … whenever they acquired the shopping center that started their string of like-kind exchanges.

The IRS challenged their basis.

Let’s talk about it.

The Brelands would have basis in Dauphin Island as follows:

(1)  Whatever they paid in cash
(2)  Plus whatever they paid via a mortgage
(3)  Plus whatever basis they rolled over from the shopping center back in 2003
(4)  Less whatever depreciation they took over the years

The IRS challenged (3).  Show us proof of the rolled-over basis, they demanded.

The taxpayers provided a depreciation schedule from 2003. They had nothing else.

That was a problem. You see, a depreciation schedule is a taxpayer-created (truthfully, more like a taxpayer’s-accountant-created) document. It is considered self-serving and would not constitute documentation for this purpose.

The Tax Court bounced item (3) for that reason.

What would have constituted documentation?

How about the closing statement from the sale of the shopping center?

As well as the closing statement when they bought the shopping center.

And maybe the depreciation schedules for the years in between, as depreciation reduces one’s basis in the property.

You are keeping a lot of paperwork for Dauphin Island.

You should also do the same for any and all other properties you acquired using a like-kind exchange.

And there is your trap. Do enough of these exchanges and you are going to have to rent a self-storage place just to house your paperwork.

Our case this time was Breland v Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2019-59.

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