High-End Homeowners Scramble to Sell Before Dec. 31

December 28, 2012

BOSTON ( TheStreet ) -- Super-rich home sellers are scrambling to close deals by Dec. 31 to avoid a 3.8% so-called "Obamacare Tax" -- not to mention other tax hikes set to kick in if Washington goes over the "fiscal cliff."

"There's definitely a  financial  incentive for [high-end] sellers to get deals done before Jan. 1," says Sotheby's International Realty's Elizabeth Sample, a Manhattan broker who has three clients pushing to close multimillion-dollar sales by year's end.

High-income taxpayers who sell their homes by Dec. 31 will generally owe just 15% federal capital-gains taxes on their profits, with $500,000 exempt from all U.S. taxes if sellers are married and meet other criteria. (Singles can get $250,000 exemptions.)

Long-term capital-gains tax  rates  for rich people could jump to as high as 23.8% come New Year's Day, though, costing some extremely wealthy sellers millions.

For instance, Sample is marketing an $85 million Manhattan townhouse whose owner will owe Uncle Sam an extra $4 million if the property sells after Dec. 31 and tax rates soar.

Capital-gains rates are going up partly because of the Obamacare Tax, so named because it will help fund Obama's 2010 health care law.

The levy will boost long-term capital-gains tax rates on home sales to 18.8% for married couples who make an adjusted $250,000 a year or more. (Singles who earn $200,000 and up must also pay the new tax.)

Rates will also rise another 5% on a wider set of taxpayers if politicians fail to avert the "fiscal cliff." That's the set of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that will kick in Jan. 1 if lawmakers don't reach a deficit-reduction deal by then.

The new taxes shouldn't affect the majority of home sellers, as most have either too little income or home-sale profits to trigger the higher rates.

But the super-rich are another story.

In tony Newport, R.I., Robin Nicholson of  Lila Delman Real Estate  is aiming to close one multimillion-dollar deal by Dec. 31 and says other clients told her earlier this year to sell before rates  rose.

"People realized that it made sense to do certain [sale prices] this year instead of waiting for a higher price after Jan. 1," she says.

On the West Coast, Sharran Srivatsaa of Teles Properties estimates some three-dozen closings his upscale Los Angeles firm plans for the next few days face higher taxes if they drag into 2013.

"Those are the deals we're really working on right now," Srivatsaa says. "Everything else is sort of fading into the background."

The expert says affected clients aren't generally  selling multimillion-dollar homes.

Rather, they're unloading primary residences bought decades ago at low prices or selling  investment properties heavily depreciated for tax purposes.

For example, Srivatsaa says one client who's making $650,000 on a highly depreciated parcel will owe $50,000 in extra taxes if his sale spills into January and rates hit 23.8%.

Of course, bad news for sellers can be good news for buyers.

Eli Karon, a Teles agent who represents buyers instead of sellers, recently won a $105,000 discount on a $1.4 million home by promising to close by Dec. 31.

"We were able to use knowledge [of the pending tax increases] to negotiate a very attractive purchase price," Karon says.

Compliments of TheStreet.com



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