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Current IRS rules if you buy real estate from a foreign owner

Dear Clients and Friends,

As a former IRS Attorney and Supervisory Attorney with the SBA (Small Business Administration) our offices continue to successfully represent not only family law clients but, as well, clients with tax, real estate and business legal issues in. Here’s to our below information being of interest to you all.

Did you know that if you buy real estate in the U.S. from a foreign owner, you may have to withhold money from the sale price and send it to the IRS?

This is required by a law called FIRPTA (the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act), which is designed to make sure that foreigners who sell U.S. property don’t skip out without paying taxes.

In the past, a buyer generally had to withhold 10% of the sale price and send it to the IRS. Effective February 15, 2016, the withholding rate has gone up to 15%.

There are exceptions if the buyer is going to live in the property as a primary residence. In that case, the withholding rate is 10% if the sale price is under $1 million, and withholding is waived altogether if the sale price is under $300,000.

Generally, the withholding will be handled by whoever is acting as the settlement agent, but it is good to be aware of the rules.

If you’re a seller who’s a U.S. citizen, you may be asked to sign a certification that you’re not a “foreign person” and thus withholding will not be necessary.

If you’re selling property and you’re not a U.S. citizen, it’s possible to apply to the IRS for permission to reduce the amount of the withholding to the amount of tax that’s expected to be due. The IRS is usually good about approving such requests quickly. 

Call us for a free phone evaluation of your legal matters – if we can’t be of help we can always suggest do-it-yourself options and/or excellent referrals. We look forward to hearing from you. 



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