1031 Basics

A 1031 exchange, also known as a like-kind exchange or tax-deferred exchange, refers to a transaction allowed under Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). A 1031 exchange is a powerful tax strategy that allows an investor to sell its existing property held for business or investment purposes and purchase other like-kind property, without having to pay capital gains taxes on the sale, encouraging a valuable investment opportunity. 

This exchange allows capital gains taxes to be deferred that the investor would normally have to pay at the time of the sale. The deferment is the length of ownership of the new property, and the sale of the new property can be part of a new 1031 exchange, potentially deferring the capital-gains taxes indefinitely. 1031 exchanges are an attractive tool for investors, essential for retaining investment capital and diversifying portfolio holdings into different real estate classes and markets.  

Section 1031 provides the legal framework for these exchanges and outlines the specific criteria that must be met. It states that the relinquished property and the replacement property must be of “like-kind.” Although the term “like-kind” does not require the properties to be identical, they must be similar in nature or character. This means that any property being held for business or investment purposes may be eligible to qualify for a 1031 Exchange. However, property held for personal use is exempt. This includes a primary residence, and a second home. Vacation residential property may qualify if the investor had personal limited use of the property. Additionally, a 1031 exchange does not apply to non-real estate such as inventory, stocks, bonds, notes, securities, debt, or certificates of trust.

Unless both the first and second closings are taking place at the same time, Section 1031 mandates the use of a qualified intermediary (QI) or accommodator. The QI is an independent party who facilitates the exchange process, holds the proceeds from the sale of the relinquished property until the exchange is complete, and ensures compliance with the IRS rules. Their involvement helps prevent direct access to the funds and maintains the integrity of the exchange.

The IRS code also sets specific timelines for completing a 1031 exchange. The investor has 45 days from the initial closing of the relinquished property to locate and identify potential replacement property. The replacement property (or properties) must be purchased no later than 180 days after the initial closing of the relinquished property. It is vital to adhere to these timelines to ensure the success of the 1031 Exchange. In particular, it is advisable to begin locating a replacement property as soon as a contract to sell the existing property has been initiated, to avoid last-minute mishaps with the 45-day identification deadline.

Once the 1031 exchange is complete, the investor notifies their CPA or other tax advisor of the exchange and provides all the transaction and 1031 documents. The tax return for the year in which the relinquished property was sold should not be filed until the 1031 exchange is complete.

By following the rules outlined in Section 1031, taxpayers can defer paying capital gains taxes on the sale of investment property and reinvest those funds into another like-kind property. The tax liability is postponed until a future taxable event occurs, such as the sale of the replacement property without completing another 1031 exchange.

A 1031 exchange may seem complex, but it offers substantial benefits for an investor that can comply with the strict timelines and other requirements. To complete a 1031 exchange, it is recommended to speak to an Exchange Facilitator such as Birmingham Exchange Company to ensure the 1031 process is successful.