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Depreciate property improvements correctly with cost segregation

Most commercial building owners are grossly overpaying 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. 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.

Cost Segregation Study Benefits
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 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 cannot thoroughly research this highly specialized field to understand the myriad 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.

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 ownership to the real estate is titled in 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 20% - 25% 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 20% - 25% 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 costs detail 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 0,000 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.


About the Author: Patrick O'Connor, MAI, is president of O'Connor & Associates. The firm, in business since 1974, specializes in state and federal tax reduction services, real estate appraisals and research and consulting nationwide. With offices in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Newport Beach, the firm employs more than 130 people. Patrick O'Connor is frequently acknowledged by national publications as a respected source of information on real estate trends.


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