Repairs or Improvements?
Of course, repairs! Why bother with some technicalities?
Because if you don’t, the IRS will. Everything you spend to fix the real property is classified is either repairs or improvements. The cost of repairs is a current year expense, fully deductible. The cost of improvements is a capital expenditure, only partially deductible through depreciation.
Let’s look at an example. If, after your tenant moved out, you spent $5,000 replacing various broken things (windows, toilets, handles) and repainting the whole mess – it is a repair. Your tax deduction is $5,000. However, if you spent the same $5,000 on a new roof – it is an improvement. As such, it is subject to depreciation rules: in the first year, you can only deduct less than $180 – out of $5,000 spent! Quite a difference on your tax return!
Obviously, a repair is “better” than an improvement. How do we decide which is which? To do so, we need to answer 3 questions:
- Is it necessary to restore the property to its operational condition?
- Does it increase the value of the property?
- Does it extend the useful life of the property?
If the answer to the first question is “yes”, you have a repair. If the answer to the 2nd or 3rd question is “yes”, it is an improvement. The table below gives you some typical examples of how this test works out.
fixing broken windows
replacing door locks
patching damaged carpet
patching vinyl or tile flooring
|replacing entire carpet wall-to-wall
upgrading plumbing or wiring
adding a room or patio
putting up a fence
paving a driveway
installing central air-conditioning
installing security system
There is a nasty surprise for rehabbers. If expenses that are normally repairs are part of a remodeling project – they are considered improvements and must be depreciated. Working “around” this rule is possible but tricky.
With tax laws, almost nothing is black and white. If the 3-question test above appeared to you unclear, it is. There is a long history of arguments between the taxpayers and the IRS over the interpretation of the rules. Some cases went to courts, and some of those were ultimately won by the taxpayers. In one particular case, a taxpayer was allowed to treat a new roof as a repair. Does it mean you can do it too? Most likely, no! But if you believe that you have some special situation, it may pay off to consult a tax professional knowledgeable in Real Estate.