Is the gain on my home sale really tax free?

April 30, 2014 by Dave Du Val, EA
Homes surrounded by mountains

Hey Dave,

I bought a house in Arizona in 1996 for $95,000. I did two cash-out refi’s totaling about $30,000 through 2004. I sold the house in 2014 for $165,000, and ended up with a net profit of about $27,000. I have also spent money on remodeling and maintenance through the years. I have been told I have no tax burden from this as I have not exceeded a capital gain of $250,000. Is that true? Should I continue to keep all my records of repairs and improvements or can I trash them? Also, in layman's terms, what are the current rules regarding buying/selling a house and capital gains?




Hi John,

If it was your primary residence all those years and never used as business property (e.g. used as a rental or for a home office), you are correct that you would have no tax liability based on the difference between your original basis of $95,000 and the sale price of $165,000, as it would fall under the Section 121 exclusion. (If it was used for business, there may be some gain from depreciation recapture.)

In layman’s terms, the general rule is that if you have owned and lived in the property as your personal residence for at least two years during the five year period ending on the date of the sale (the two years do not have to be consecutive), you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for Married Filing Joint) from capital gain taxes as long as both you and your spouse meet the rules.  Keep in mind that this is the rule now but that could always change.

You should keep all your records (purchase statement [often referred to as the HUD statement], remodeling costs [not repairs or general maintenance costs as those are not deductible for personal residences]), and the sales statement for at least four years after the tax year when the home was sold (it is three years for federal and four for Arizona).

Deductibly Yours,


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