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Depreciate Property Improvements Correctly with Cost Segregation

March 2003

Depreciate Property Improvements Correctly with Cost Segregation

More tax deductions means tax reduction

Important Commentary for Owners of Real Estate
By Patrick OíConnor, MAI

Depreciate Property Improvements Correctly...
and Pay Less Federal Income Tax


Most commercial real estate owners are paying excess federal income taxes because they are not depreciating their property as quickly as they should. A cost segregation study allows property owners to both defer and reduce federal income taxes. Cost segregation increases depreciation (a non-cash deduction) for commercial real estate owners. When properly performed by an appraiser with expertise in cost segregation, this is a conservative tax planning tool which reduces federal income taxes by properly allocating the cost basis between land, 5-year, 7-year, 15-year, 27.5-year and 39-year property.

Depreciation is an important non-cash tax deduction. By increasing tax deductions, commercial property owners affect federal income tax reduction. The increase in tax write-offs generates such a large tax cut that some wonder if it is a tax shelter or tax evasion scheme. It is not. Cost segregation is an IRS-guided process used to increase tax deductions during the tax preparation process. Commercial real estate owners seeking tax advice and tax relief can benefit from reviewing the tax relief available from cost segregation.

Cost Segregation Study Benefits include Tax Deductions and Tax Reduction
Benefits of a cost segregation study are substantial, immediate and enduring. Year 1 federal income tax savings are typically at least two times the cost of a cost segregation study. In many cases they are five to fifty times the cost of the study. The present value of federal income tax savings for a property held for ten years are typically at least ten times the cost of the study. In many cases, the present value of tax savings as much as 30 to 50 times the cost of the report. The cost segregation study is only required once. Its cost is not recurring, but the benefits are recurring during the term of property ownership. A cost segregation study can also materially reduce local property taxes by separating real and personal property for newly constructed properties.

Detailed Example
Preparing a cost segregation study requires only a limited time commitment from the owner, perhaps 10 to 15 minutes. This limited commitment of time results in substantial federal income tax savings, which are both conservative in approach and well documented. Some owners believe their accountant is properly segregating components into the proper classifications. Many accountants and tax lawyers cannot thoroughly research this highly specialized field to understand the myriad number of items which can be segregated and are inadvertently overstating their clientís income tax liability. Furthermore, not obtaining a cost segregation study increases exposure in case of an audit since there is no clear audit trail. A cost segregation study prepared by an appraiser with expertise in land valuation, construction costs and market value clearly documents each of these items. Further, a cost segregation expert can almost certainly sharply increase allowable depreciation.

Following is a summary of the results of a cost segregation study based upon a recent assignment: Office Building
Cost Segregation Example

Total cost
Land
Depreciable basis††††††††
$6,650,000
$1,277,500
$5,372,500


Annual depreciation (using 39-year straight line) $137,756

Accurate Cost Allocation and Depreciation after Cost Segregation Study


Land
5-year property
7-year property
15-year property
39-year property††††††††
Cost Basis
$1,277,500
$374,675
$9,433
$495,189
$4,493,203††††††††
Annual Depreciation
$0
$74,935
$1,348
$33,013
$115,210
Year 1 depreciation with cost segregation $224,506

Less annual depreciation without cost segregation
Additional year 1 depreciation
137,756
86,750

Year 1 tax savings based upon 35% marginal tax rate $30,362


Who Benefits from a Cost Segregation Study
If you own real estate and pay federal income taxes or expect to during the ownership period for the property, you will benefit from the results of a cost segregation study. This is true whether the owner of the real estate is a corporation, limited partnership or limited liability corporation. For syndicators, a cost segregation study is appropriate if limited partners will receive material net taxable income during the holding period even if the general partner does not currently pay federal income taxes. The cost segregation study will increase depreciation shield, thereby decreasing and deferring federal income taxes for the investors.

Decreasing and Deferring Federal Taxes
Since a cost segregation study decreases and defers federal income taxes, letís review the long-term impact of this deferral. When the property is sold, capital gains tax will be due if the owner does not enter into a 1031 exchange. However, capital gains tax rates are typically 15% for high net worth individuals, while the ordinary income tax rate is 35%. In addition, the deferral during the ownership period has material benefits because of the time value of money. All investors would much rather pay a 15% tax rate when an asset is sold as opposed to paying a 35% tax rate today.

When Should You Obtain A Cost Segregation Study
The best time to obtain a cost segregation study is when you build or purchase a property. Documentation is most readily available for performing a study and a contemporaneous property inspection can be performed to best document results. However, there are options to perform a cost segregation study for property which has been developed or purchased previously.

Elements of Preparing a Cost Segregation Study
The appraiser starts by gathering documents from the property owner and performing a site visit. As necessary, depending on the special-use property found during the site visit, the appraiser would confer with tax counsel and review relevant tax court decisions. For newly constructed properties, most of the information on actual costs can be obtained from construction draws or invoices from contractors. For existing properties, the appraiser performs a quantity take-off for 5-year, 7-year, and 15-year property and estimates replacement cost using recognized sources. The appraiser then values land, 5-year, 7- year, 15-year, 27.5-year and 39-year property based upon inspection, analysis and IRS regulations and court rulings.

Does this only apply to large owners?
Both large and small owners of income property or owner-occupied commercial property can benefit from a cost segregation study. Commercial properties with a cost basis of at least $200,000 will likely see a material benefit in excess of the cost from a cost segregation study. In fact, owners of single-family rental homes can probably achieve worthwhile benefits by obtaining a cost segregation study.

Qualifications to Consider when ordering a Cost Segregation Report
The ability to value land and real property are critical elements when engaging a tax reduction expert to perform a cost segregation study. In addition, it is essential they have a detailed understanding of rules for classifying 5-year, 7-year, 15-year, 27.5-year and 39-year property. The ability to justifiably increase short-life depreciation materially increases the benefits of a cost segregation study. While most accounting professionals have a rudimentary understanding of the 5-year, 7-year and 15-year property classifications, few have a detailed understanding of this highly specialized niche. Be certain the report provider has scrutinized both the federal income tax code and the meaningful tax court cases to allow you to maximize your depreciation and minimize your federal income tax liability.

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