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Serving South Florida

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For over 30 years

Foreign Nationals

FIRPTA Withholding – Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act

Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act

FIRPTA (Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act) Withholding is the Withholding of Tax on Dispositions of United States Real Property Interests

The disposition of a U.S. real property interest by a foreign person (the transferor) is subject to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980 (FIRPTA) income tax withholding.

FIRPTA authorized the United States to tax foreign persons on dispositions of U.S. real property interests.

Persons purchasing U.S. real property interests (“transferee”) from foreign persons, certain purchasers’ agents, and settlement officers are required to withhold 15% of the amount realized.

Withholding is intended to ensure U.S. taxation of gains realized on disposition of such interests. The transferee/buyer is the withholding agent. If you are the transferee/buyer you must find out if the transferor is a foreign person. If the transferor is a foreign person and you fail to withhold, you may be held liable for the tax.

One of the most common exceptions to FIRPTA withholding is that the transferee (purchaser/buyer) is not required to withhold tax in a situation in which the purchaser/buyer purchases real estate for use as his home and the purchase price is not more than $300,000.  However, buyers should be aware that while they may meet the withholding exemption they are still responsible for the seller’s tax liability, interest and penalties should the seller not file a US income tax return to report the sale and pay any relevant taxes.

Note to Non-Resident Buyers – If you purchase property from a non-resident seller and an exception to FIRPTA withholding does not apply then you must ensure that FIRPTA is satisfied as part of the closing.  Check your settlement statement prior to closing where you should see 15% of the sales price withheld on the seller’s side of the settlement statement.  Request a copy of the withholding certificate from the closing agent and, if withholding was calculated, request a copy of forms 8288, 8288-A and front and back of cancelled check.  Retain these documents in a safe place along with your settlement statement and other closing documents.

Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) Withholding

U.S. Tax law requires that a non-resident alien who sells an interest in U.S. real property is subject to withholding, for tax purposes, of 15% of the gross sales price (i.e. $45,000 on a property with a sales price of $300,000). The withheld amount is required to be forwarded to the IRS, by the Closing Agent, within 20 days of the date of closing. These funds are held until the IRS is satisfied that all taxes due by the non-resident are paid. In order to apply for a refund you can either:-

File U.S. tax returns for each year that rental income was received, reporting all income and expenses; file a final U.S. tax return in the year following the year of sale, to report the sale and recover the balance of cleared funds. This process can take up to eighteen months depending on when, during the tax year, the property is sold.

File prior year tax returns (where required) plus an application for early release of cleared withholding on or before the date of closing. By making this submission, the 10% withholding remains with the Closing Agent whilst the IRS processes the Withholding Application and issues a Withholding Certificate for the cleared funds – usually around 90 days.

Please note that applying for and receiving a Withholding Certificate does not eliminate your requirement to file a final U.S. income tax return to report the sale transaction. In fact, when your final tax return is filed you may receive a further tax refund depending on the number of owners and length of time that the property was held.

In order to ensure a timely release of your funds it is extremely important that the following is obtained PRIOR to closing:-

Buyer’s names, address and SSNs – if U.S. Citizens

Buyer’s names, address and ITINs – if non residents

Or, if the buyers are non residents and do not have ITINs, the buyer’s completed Form W-7 (one per buyer) and authenticated copy of the picture page of their passport(s)

Without this information the Application for a Withholding Certificate and early refund will be rejected. We suggest that you request your Realtor prepare your sales contract contingent upon the buyers providing the above information.

Who’s responsible for FIRPTA withholding on the sale of U.S. property?

Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) was established in 1980 to ensure the withholding of estimated amount of taxes which may be due on the gain from the disposition or transfer of a U.S. real property interest from a foreign person.

If you purchase U.S. real property from a foreign individual or corporation then you are required to make sure that the seller pays any taxes due on the property.  The buyer must execute or have executed the correct forms including the sellers name, address and social security number or individual taxpayer identification number.  15% of the gross sales price must be withheld and submitted to IRS or held in escrow whilst an application for reduced FIRPTA withholding is timely filed and processed.

If the buyer does not take care of the withholding and the seller is a foreign entity who leaves without paying their tax then 15% will be taken from the buyer.

Most buyers are unaware that it is their responsibility to determine if the transferor/seller is a foreign person and subject to FIRPTA withholding.  In reality, the settlement agent (Title Company or Attorney) may be instructed to deduct the 15% and submit to IRS or hold in escrow whilst an application for reduced FIRPTA withholding is submitted to IRS for processing.

The Foreign Buyers Guide – What you need to know about buying real estate in the United States

For many a foreign national, the United States has always been a great place to invest in.

Buying Real Estate in the United States does not give foreign owners any rights or privileges regarding legal stay or status. If you’re interested in staying in the states longer than allowed by a standard visa, contact an immigration lawyer.

By determining the primary use for your property and how long you plan to own it, you’ll be able to provide information to your real estate agent that will help guide the search and sale.

How will you use the Property?

Before you start your property search, it’s important to think ahead to how you’ll use the home once the deal is done.

  • Will this be a vacation home?
  • A home to stay in while doing business in the United States?
  • A home for your children while they attend college in the States?
  • An investment?
  • An eventual long-term residence?

The way U.S. real estate transactions are carried out may differ from your home country. Each State in the US has its own set of rules regarding the purchase of real estate, including the type of purchase contract used, the method of closing the sale and even the duties and titles of the individuals involved.

Several important U.S. real estate practices that are worth noting are:

  • In the United States, real estate listing information is shared by agents using multiple listing services ( MLS) and consumers can access that same information using real estate sites such as com or Realtor.com. In many other parts of the world, real estate is a fragmented business and buyers have to go from agent to agent to find a property.
  • In some countries, it is typical to pay a fee to the agents who are scouting properties on your behalf and showing you around. In the United States, the sales commission is paid by the seller who has a listing agreement with the Seller, so buyers don’t pay anything to have an agent work on their behalf if it is being advertised in the MLS system. It is always advisable for a buyer to work with an Exclusive Buyer Agent who will protect the buyer’s interest in the transaction. Make sure you ask any agent you contact what their “agency relationship” is to you. Each state has different forms of agency and many agents do not work for the benefit of the Buyer.
  • In the United States, real estate agents need licenses to operate. The licensing laws of each state differ regarding how much education is required, the type and depth of licensing examinations, and whether continuing education courses are required once an agent becomes licensed. The licensing system was designed to ensure real estate agents are qualified to guide consumers through the maze of finding, evaluating and financing real estate.

Foreign buyers will also want to give consideration to issues such as currency exchange rates, international wire transfers, banking systems, multi-national taxation and accounting issues, and import/export restrictions regarding currency and household goods. It is recommended that you consult with an accountant and attorney before finalizing any transaction.

Foreign buyers are eligible to buy single-family homes, condominiums, duplexes, triplexes, quadru-plexes and townhomes. Housing cooperatives or co-ops often have rules prohibiting foreign ownership. That’s because co-ops generally require that a buyer’s source of income be from the United States and that most of the majority of the buyer’s assets be kept in the U.S.

Financing or Paying Cash?

Qualified foreign buyers with a 30 to 40 percent down payment can often obtain financing for their U.S. real estate purchases. MANY BANKS REQUIRE FOREIGN BUYERS to have a specific amount ($100,000 or more) on deposit with the bank while others set loan limits of $1 million to $2 million. You may also be required to present a minimum of three months of bank statements.

The U.S. home loan market offers an array of safe, affordable mortgages, including some that will allow Muslims to buy a home without violating Islamic laws against paying interest.

Before applying for a U.S. mortgage, you must first establish credit and earn a good credit score. You can start building your credit score by opening U.S. bank and credit card accounts. You’ll also want to be sure to report all income on your tax returns. Lenders use this income information to determine how much money they’re willing to loan you to buy a home.

While you don’t necessarily need to be a citizen or even have a green card to buy a home in the U.S., you will need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

All cash purchases are permitted, but U.S. law mandates that cash transactions over $10,000 be reported to the federal government. The requirement for reporting involves everyone connected to the transaction (purchaser, real estate agents, attorneys and title companies). The government wants to know how you earned the money and that it was legally obtained. Cash buyers can potentially save money on mortgage application fees, loan origination fees, appraisals and title insurance.

Should I purchase U.S. property in my name?

Foreign investors can purchase property directly – in their own names – or through some sort of business entity, such as a domestic corporation, foreign corporation, limited partnership, joint venture, real estate investment trust or limited liability company.

How the property will be used should play into your decision. Additionally, the structure through which you purchase your property can have dramatic tax consequences. Your real estate attorney and accountant should be able to provide counsel concerning your options.

Do I have to travel to the U.S. for the closing?

While you may very well want to attend your real estate closing, it is not necessary. In the event that you cannot or choose not to attend your closing, you must execute a “Power of Attorney.” This is a written document authorizing another person to represent you and sign on your behalf.  Some lenders may require that you be present in the US to sign their loan documents.  This is something you should inquire about when selecting a lender if you do not plan on traveling for the closing.

How will a U.S. real estate purchase affect my taxes?

A foreign property owners’ tax liability in his home country will vary depending upon where the purchaser is from and whether that country has a tax treaty with the United States. Consult a tax attorney familiar with your home country’s treaty to get answers to tax-related questions.

The United States government requires that foreign nationals pay U.S. income taxes (state and federal) on any net income (rental revenues less expenses) received from rental property. If tax returns are not filed in a timely fashion, a tax of 30 percent of the gross rental income may be assessed. Even if you’re incurring losses in the early years of your investment and you don’t owe any taxes to the government, you still must file your tax returns in a timely manner or be subject to financial penalty.

What is FIRPTA?

FIRPTA refers to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980.  This ruling authorizes the United States to withhold income tax when property is sold, exchanged, gifted, transferred or liquidated by a foreigner. The Internal Revenue Service takes 15 percent of the proceeds and the state government will also take a percentage (if applicable). When a US tax return is submitted reporting the capital gains tax, if there is any refund due, that money will be refunded to the filer.

If the buyer of the home from the foreign national investor will reside in the home more than 50% of the time and the home sales price is under $300,000.00, the purchaser is not obligated to retain the 15% tax.