Ask JPA – When do you choose to sell a rental property?

Ask JPA is an irregularly scheduled question-and-answer series of posts. Have a question for JPA? Send it to john.patrick.anderson@gmail.com. Cheers!

Hi John,
I know this is not a one-size fits all question / answer. When do you choose to sell a rental property? Let’s assume that I own property that is a good area that is appreciating in value, it’s also easy to rent (positive cash flow), and say that I’ve paid it off. When do I choose to sell it? I know that depends on a lot of factors: what would I reinvest etc? Just wondering what some of the models that you use for exit strategy? Maybe never sell – just C/O refi and reinvest in another unit? 

Dear Thinking of Selling,

Deciding when to sell a property will depend on many factors – current market values, current interest rates, needs or plans for the equity in a property, among others. If you generally think you want to sell or tap the equity in a property there are a few major options that I would associate with various motivations:

  1. Sell the property, pay capital gains taxes, and have the funds free and clear for anything. Probably the best bet if you’re tired of owning property and being a landlord or want the money to be liquid and available for travel, spending, or non-real estate investments. Paying taxes isn’t fun, but capital gains rates are lower than ordinary income tax rates which is a benefit.
  2. Do a cash out refinance and use the proceeds to invest in additional real estate, or for other uses. In the current mortgage environment interest rates are very low and you can both lock in very low rates for decades to come and access the equity in the property (up to 70% or 80% loan-to-value) and take the funds to do anything – pay off credit card debt, go shopping, or buy another property. The cash out refinance will increase the monthly mortgage payment so you may want to look at the current property performance and if the property will still cash flow well for you.
  3. Sell the property and do a 1031 exchange. A 1031 has some specific rules to it but basically you sell the property as normal but the funds go to a 3rd party administrator and have to be reinvested into another property within a relatively short time period. A 1031 exchange defers any capital gains taxes, so you don’t have a tax bill until the new replacement property is sold. 1031 exchanges are popular with real estate investors for the tax deferment, and as a tool to scale up in size. If your property has had good appreciation you can take that appreciation and lever it up with a new investment property mortgage. (For example a typical investment property will require 25% down payment so if you have had $100K of appreciation that will allow you to buy $400K of property.)

If you want to continue being a real estate investor I’d highly recommend Option 2 or 3 above. If you don’t, then Option 1 is probably your best bet. Option 3 will be best if you want to grow your real estate investments and Option 2 is better if you’re not sure if you want to invest in real estate or other areas.

I personally plan to keep investing in real estate consistently for many years to come so I would likely do the cash out refinance if there is a good amount of equity in the property, and given the current low mortgage rate environment. I’m not sure where your property is located, but that may also play into the picture as some places like California can have substantial tax benefits to holding a property long term rather than selling and reinvesting in another property.

Hope this helps and thanks for asking!

. – JPA

Some current multi-unit properties for sale in San Antonio, TX (from Redfin website). Scaling up from a single-family home to a four-unit building would be an option for a 1031 exchange.

Published by

John P Anderson

I'm a Kansas native living in San Diego. I enjoy learning about environmental issues and connecting with good people that want to make the world a better place. Cheers!

Leave a Reply