Articles Posted in Real Estate

What normally occurs in a bonafide real estate sale

INTRODUCTION – Real Estate Sales Legal Overview

Real Estate Sales Legal Overview – While there are many different factors in any real estate sale, there are certain common procedures and steps involved in most transactions. This is a birds-eye view of a typical sale but is by no means a comprehensive checklist of everything involved. It is up to the brokers and or attorneys involved to make sure everything is taken care of properly. Most real estate sales in California involve the use of California Association of Realtors (CAR) standard forms which are widely recognized.  Over the last 100 years, there have been thousands of court cases involving real estate disputes and contracts and as a result the law and the forms are pretty well defined and established. A licensed California real estate broker or real estate attorney has access to those forms and should be familiar with them.

How can I tell if the deed is a valid legal transfer of ownership


A deed is the legal name for the document which transfers ownership of real estate. California state law has specific requirements for a deed to be valid. In a typical home sale or transfer, the deed will be prepared by the escrow company or by the attorney handling the transfer. Further, in a typical sale, there is title insurance paid for by the seller and the title insurance company always reviews the deed to make sure that it is legally correct and proper.



Retired couples typically have choices about how to pass on the family home. Might they make a mistake and give away the house too soon? They could sell the home and put the cash in the bank and rent. Another way people sometimes handle this is to draw up and record a deed transferring a home now to their children. The logic is that the children are going to get the house anyway so why not just given to them now. The third choice is to continue ownership of the house until both husband and wife have passed away and transfer the house to the children through their will or better yet through their living trust.

Image on lovely Orange County residenceSubtitle:  Pull out tax free gain while downsizing


Under our system of federal and state income tax, if your personal residence is sold before death for more than what was paid for it then there is a capital gain. For example, if you purchased your home for $100,000 and sell it for $300,000 there would be a capital gain of $200,000.  The capital gain is reported as income on your personal income tax return.  Figure roughly a combined federal and state tax on the $200,000 gain of 1/3rd which would be $66,666.


An individual may exclude up to $250,000 in gain and a married couple may exclude up the $500,000 on a joint return if the property was the “personal residence”.  A personal residence is defined under the tax law as a residence used as your principal residence for periods aggregating two years (730 days) during the five years leading up to the sale.  Thus, you don’t have to actually have to be living in the residence at the time of the sale if you meet the 2 year test.  Short temporary absences and vacations are counted as part of the 730 days.

Qualified Personal Residence Trust

What is a Qualified Personal Residence Trust?

A Qualified Personal Residence Trust (also known as a “ QPRT”) is an irrevocable trust which a homeowner establishes to make a future gift of his home to his or her children while retaining the right to continue living in the home for a defined number of years. At the end of that period, the home transfers to the remainder beneficiaries who are typically the homeowner’s children.  The right to continue living in the home is the “retained interest” and the beneficiaries’ interest is the “remainder interest”.   The remainder interest is a reportable gift and effectively removes the house from the homeowner’s taxable estate. The QPRT takes advantage of provisions in the tax law that allows the gift to be reported at a discounted value.

Typical Situation

John Doe, a widower at age 67,  owns his home which is worth $1 million.  He has a life expectancy of 15.2 years.  He expects that the house will be worth $1.5 million in 15.2 years.  He has other assets which total over $5,325,000, the amount of the federal estate tax exemption.  If he keeps his home until he dies, then it becomes part of his taxable estate and will be subject to estate tax of 35% on the $1.5 million value at his date of death.  $1.5 million at the 35% tax rate would be $525,000.  He wants to transfer the ownership of the home to his children and avoid the estate tax by getting it out of his estate.  He establishes a QPRT which provides that he may live in the home for 10 years.

Image of Tax Basis Increase

Gifting before death may cause huge capital gains taxes


Under our system of federal and state income tax, if the property is sold before death for more than what was pay for it then there is a capital gain. There are special rates which apply to capital gains the penny upon one’s tax bracket. To compute capital gains, you subtract the income tax basis of the property from the net selling price. The income tax “basis” is what was paid for the property in the first place minus any depreciation and adding any expenditures for capital improvements.

Reassess Property Tax on Death of an Owner

County assessor will reassess property tax on death of an owner unless prevented


California Property taxes are administered by the County in which the real property is located. The County tax assessor determines the amount of property taxes based upon the fair market value of the property at the date of purchase plus a small amount of increase each year is allowed. The value is called the “assessed value”. The yearly amount of tax is roughly 1.2% of the “assessed value”. Thus, if a property is purchased for $100,000, the annual property tax would be about $1,200 and will increase each year. The county property tax year goes from July 1 through June 30. Tax bills are sent out typically in October and are payable in two installments: December 10 for the first installment and April 10 for the second installment

The wrong kind of deed can have expensive and unintended consequences. Once the horse is out of the barn you can get back!

What is a deed?

image of California property deedReal estate property ownership is legally changed by a document commonly known as a deed which is signed by the person making the ownership transfer. The deed is then recorded with the County recorder in the county where the property is located.

Probate is not needed to transfer ownership of joint tenancy property

Generally, Probate court is the legal way for ownership transfer on death

Probate court is generally necessary to transfer ownership of property and accounts upon someone’s demise EXCEPT for some narrow exceptions.  A major exception is property held in joint tenancy ownership. Attorney David Crockett can advise clients as to whether the joint tenancy exception is available and assist in preparing necessary documentation to create joint tenancies and to transfer the property to the survivor when one of the joint tenants passes away.