What everyone selling a property valued at $750k or more needs to know

Every vendor selling a property needs to prove that they are a resident of Australia for tax purposes unless they are happy for the purchaser to withhold a 12.5% withholding tax. From 1 July 2017, every individual selling a property with a sale value of $750,000 or more is affected.

To prove you are a resident, you can apply online to the Tax Commissioner for a clearance certificate, which will remain valid for 12 months.

While these rules have been in place since 1 July 2016, on 1 July 2017 the threshold for properties reduced from $2 million to $750,000 and the withholding tax level increased from 10% to 12.5%.

The intent of the foreign resident CGT withholding rules is to ensure that tax is collected on the sale of taxable Australian property by foreign residents. But, the mechanism for collecting the tax affects everyone regardless of their residency status.

Properties under $750,000 are excluded from the rules. This exclusion can apply to residential dwellings, commercial premises, vacant land, strata title units, easements and leasehold interests as long as they have a market value of less than $750,000. If the parties are dealing at arm’s length, the actual purchase price is assumed to be the market value unless the purchase price is artificially contrived.

If required, the Tax Commissioner has the power to vary the amount that is payable under these rules, including varying the amounts to nil. Either a vendor or purchaser may apply to the Commissioner to vary the amount to be paid to the ATO. This might be appropriate in cases where:

• The foreign resident will not make a capital gain as a result of the transaction (e.g., they will make a capital loss on the sale of the asset);
• The foreign resident will not have a tax liability for that income year (e.g., where they have carried forward capital losses or tax losses etc.,); or
• Where they are multiple vendors, but they are not all foreign residents.

If the Commissioner agrees to vary the amount, it is only effective if it is provided to the purchaser.

The withholding rules are only intended to apply when one or more of the vendors is a non-resident. However, the rules are more complicated than this and the way they apply depends on whether the asset being purchased is taxable Australian real property or a company title interest relating to real property in Australia.

Why Changing Your Business Structure Just Got Easier

New rules that apply from 1 July 2016 mean that small businesses can restructure their business operations without triggering adverse tax implications.

Before the introduction of the new restructuring rules, if a business restructured from say, a partnership to a trust, there was a possibility that the change in structure could trigger capital gains tax (CGT). That is, the tax law would treat the restructure the same way as a sale and the owners could be liable for CGT on their share of any gain based on the current market value of the assets being moved into the new structure.

While the existing CGT provisions already contain a number of roll-overs that can be utilised for business restructures, they generally only provide relief when assets are transferred to a company. Other concessions can potentially apply in a broad range of situations, but will not necessarily provide complete tax relief. This new form of roll-over relief can provide complete income tax relief when assets are transferred to a sole trader, partnership or trust if certain conditions can be met.

The conditions for accessing these new rules are fairly strict. Broadly, the key conditions are:

  • The transaction is a genuine restructure of an ongoing business. So, the concessions can’t be used for winding down or selling a business.
  • Each of the parties to the transaction is a small business entity (revenue under $2m) or is related to a small business entity in the year the transaction occurs. The turnover test is subject to some grouping rules.
  • The business owners (the people who have ultimate economic ownership of the assets) and their share in those assets doesn’t materially change.
  • The asset being transferred is currently being used in a business carried on by the current owner or certain related parties.
  • Both the original entity and the entity the business is being transferred into need to be Australian residents.
  • The parties involved in the transaction must choose jointly to apply the roll-over.
  • None of the entities involved in the transaction are a superannuation fund or exempt entity.

For many small business owners, the business structure they start with is not always the best structure over time. There are a lot of reasons why a business owner might need to restructure:

  • Risk & asset protection – separating assets from business activities will generally help protect the assets. Companies and trust structures offer greater protection then operating as a sole trader or partnership of individuals.
  • Tax – Your business structure determines the tax rate you pay and how it is paid. In addition, some structures offer greater tax concessions throughout the life of the business or on the sale of assets.
  • Compliance – some structures are more expensive to maintain and administer than others and provide less flexibility for succession, sale, and the introduction of investors.

If you are looking at changing your business structure, there are a few overarching principles you should think about:

  1. Keep it simple – Your structure should be as simple as possible and each entity should have a clear reason to exist. The more complex your structure the more expensive it becomes and the more likely that the Tax Office will start querying whether the entity exists for commercial or tax reasons. If reducing tax is the primary reason for structuring something in a particular way then the Tax Office can seek to remove the tax benefits the structure might provide.
  2. Think of the future – Your structure should facilitate future growth and should allow for flexibility.
  3. Start with the end in mind – You should be aware of your exit strategies from the business. Your structure can make a difference to how you are taxed and what concessions you can access when you eventually exit.
  4. The commercial considerations – different structures have different implications for how you run and manage your business. You need to be clear about the commercial reasons for adopting one structure over another.
  5. Separate business activities from valuable assets – Where possible, ensure that valuable passive, business, or private assets are not subject to the risks associated with your business activities.
  6. Protect retained profits – In some groups the use of a dormant holding company can help protect retained profits that have been generated by trading entities. The holding company can then operate as the banker for the group of entities, lending funds to operating entities as required (security could be taken over assets of the operating entity).
  7. Separate risk between individuals – Within a family group, consider providing some additional asset protection by ensuring that only one spouse is a director of an operating company.
  8. Corporate trustees for a trust – The use of a corporate trustee is generally prudent to protect from the risk of being personally liable for the debts of the trust.

Capital gains & property: The top questions and answers

The thought of the Australian Tax Office (ATO) sharing up to 50% of any gain you make on an investment decision is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most people. Given Australia’s love affair with property, it is little wonder that we are often asked about the impact of capital gains tax (CGT) on property. This month, we explore the most frequently asked questions.

In general, CGT applies to any change of ownership of a CGT asset, unless the asset was acquired before 20 September 1985 when the CGT rules first came into effect.

Most questions about CGT on property are based on the main residence exemption that exempts your home (your main residence) from any CGT exposure when you sell the property.

I jointly own an investment rental property with my elderly mother. Neither of us has ever lived in the property. We’ve recently updated our wills. The lawyer says that if Mum’s will gifts her half of the property to me then this ‘gift’ will not attract capital gains tax. Is this correct?

Kind of. Tax law tends to work on the basis that if looks like a duck and walks like a duck then it’s a duck, not whatever your legal document calls it. Exposure to capital gains tax is a matter of fact and substance.

If you inherit your mother’s share of the property, there would generally be no tax liability until you sell the property. What is important here is how the CGT is calculated when you ultimately sell.

When the rental property transfers to you from your mother’s estate, the tax rules determine how CGT is calculated when you eventually sell. Basically, if the property was bought on or after 20 September 1985 then when you sell the property your taxable profit will be based on the original purchase price. That is, you will end up being taxed on the increase in value of the property since it was acquired, including the portion that accrued while your mother was still alive.

In general, if you jointly own an investment property, your individual exposure to CGT will depend on how the property is owned. If the property is held as tenants in common then any CGT exposure is in line with your ownership interest. For example, in your case, it is 50% owned by your mother and 50% by you but different people can own different ownership interests. If the property is owned as joint tenants then any CGT exposure is equally shared by the owners.

I bought a house in 2000, and lived in it until 2003. I was posted overseas with my job between 2003 and 2011. During that time my brother lived in the house rent free – he just paid for utilities. In 2011 to 2012, I rented the house out (no one I knew). I moved back into the property in 2012 and have just sold the house. Do I have to pay capital gains tax on the property?

The capital gains tax rules are more understanding about how people live their lives than other laws and in some circumstances allow you to continue to treat your home as your main residence even if you are not actually living in it.

While you are away overseas, if you leave the property vacant or let a friend or relative live in the property rent-free, assuming you do not claim any other property as your main residence, then you can continue to treat the property as your main residence for CGT purposes indefinitely.

If you rent the property out while you are away, the tax laws allow you to still claim the property as your main residence as long as the period you rent it for is not more than a total of 6 years. This 6 year period can actually be reset by moving back into the property again.

Effectively, you can move out and move back in as many times as you like and still claim the property as your main residence as long as it is your only main residence during that time and if you are renting it out, you do not rent it out for more than a total of 6 years across the period you are claiming the property as your main residence.

During the rental period you can also claim deductions against the rent, even though the property might still be exempt from CGT during this period.

I bought a property in 2008 and expected to move in straight away, but there were tenants still in the property and their lease still had 8 months to go. I waited for the lease to expire and then moved in. I have lived there ever since and plan to sell later this year. Can you just confirm that I would still qualify for a full CGT exemption on the sale as the property has significantly increased in value?

This is a very common situation but is probably overlooked much of the time. Unfortunately, you would not qualify for a full exemption in this case.

The main residence rules allow you to treat a property as if it has been your main residence since settlement date as long as you actually move into the property as soon as practicable after settlement. This is intended to cover situations where there is some delay in moving into the property due to illness or some other “reasonable cause”. The ATO’s view is that this rule cannot apply if you are waiting for existing tenants to vacate the property.

This means that you would only qualify for a partial exemption under the main residence rules. We will need to calculate your gross capital gain and then apportion it to reflect the period of time when it was actually your main residence (i.e., from when you actually moved in).

As long as you are a resident of Australia and have owned the property for more than 12 months we can also apply the 50% CGT discount to reduce the leftover capital gain.

It will be important in this case to gather as much evidence as possible of non-deductible costs that you have paid in relation to the property such as stamp duty, legal fees, commission paid to real estate agents, interest, rates, insurance, etc. This will help to reduce the gross capital gain that is subject to tax.