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Friday, April 4, 2008

A little relief in the midst of a big problem...

In today's real estate news came this tidbit about a recent ruling from the Michigan Attorney General on Michigan's Property Transfer Tax.

Attorney General Mike Cox issued an important opinion this week clarifying the proper application of an obscure exemption contained in the Michigan Transfer Tax Act. The opinion, arising out of a request from Representative Martin Griffin (D-Jackson), should afford certain home sellers immediate financial relief as Michigan’s real estate market continues its road to recovery.

Exemption “t”, as designated in the Michigan Transfer Tax Act, sets forth that a seller may seek an exemption from paying the state transfer tax if the following criteria are met:

1. The property must have been occupied as a principle residence, classified as homestead property;

2. The property’s State Equalized Value (“SEV”) for the calendar year in which the transfer is made must be less than or equal to the property’s SEV for the calendar year in which the person transfeing the property acquired the property; and

3. The property cannot be transferred for consideration exceeding its true cash value for the year of the transfer.

With property values and corresponding SEV declining due to the struggling economy, home owners and real estate agents first took notice of the exemption’s possible applicability under the state transfer tax. However, absent an official interpretation, there was little awareness of its proper application.

The opinion from the Attorney General uses examples to show how the application would apply.

One example illustrating application provides:
If the SEV of the principle residence when acquired in 2006 is $74,000.00 and the SEV when transferred in 2008 is $72,000.00 then criteria one and two above are satisfied. You can establish the true cash value by doubling the SEV at the time of transfer. In this case the true cash value is $144,000. If the sale price in 2008 is $140,000.00 then the sale does not exceed its true cash value. All three criteria are satisfied and the exemption would apply.

The Attorney General’s opinion provides immediate relief to home sellers already faced with the reality of declining value on their single greatest asset. The opinion also provides a uniform reading of the exemption that is necessary to provide consistent application among the various Registers of Deeds across the state as they are already receiving filings for the exemption.

Sellers should be cautioned that a request for the exemption that fails to meet all three criteria could bring a penalty equal to 20% of the tax assessed in addition to the tax due. Additionally, no similar exemption exists in the County Real Estate Transfer Tax Act.

This opinion would save the home seller about $7.00 per $1,000 of value of the sale. So if a homeowner sold his property for $300,000 and it met all of the criteria above, it would save him/her $2,100. in State transfer taxes. It's not enough to completely dull the pain of selling that house, which was worth $350,000 three years ago when they bought it, but every little bit helps. This relief likely will only get better over the next year or so as SEV's continue their decline.

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