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Buying Real Estate With Your IRA and a Non-Recourse Loan

Image of a miniature house on stacks of cash with the text "Buying Real Estate with Your IRA and a Non-Recourse Loan."Your IRA can buy real estate using its own cash and a loan/mortgage to acquire the property. Whenever you leverage your IRA with debt, however, you must be aware of two things. First, the loan your IRA obtains must be a non-recourse loan. And second, your IRA may be subject to a tax known as unrelated debt financed income tax (UDFI/UBIT). This comprehensive webinar explains the non-recourse loan requirements, as well as the non-recourse loan options and goes into detail on how UDFI tax may be applied and how it is calculated. Below are the slides from the presentation as well as the recorded video presentation of the webinar. Note that page 27 in the pdf slides below was up-dated from the webinar as I made a calculation mistake on the debt owed. The final tax numbers were still correct though. Thanks to Roger St.Pierre, Sr. VP at First Western Federal Savings Bank for co-presenting the topic with me.

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Comprehensive Webinar: Buying Real Estate with Your IRA and a Non-Recourse Loan Mat Sorensen from Mathew Sorensen on Vimeo.

Contingency Clauses in Real Estate Purchase Contracts

Contingency clauses are some of the most important components of a real estate purchase contract, and can provide significant protections to buyers of real estate. A contingency clause typically states that a buyer’s offer to buy property is contingent upon certain things. For example, the contingency clause may state, “The buyer’s obligation to purchase the real property is contingent upon the property appraising for a price at or above the contract purchase price.” Under this contingency, the buyer is relieved from the obligation to buy the property if the buyer obtains an appraisal that falls below the purchase price. Because contingency cPhoto of a signpost with different directions with the text "Contingency Clauses in Real Estate Purchase Contracts."lauses provide the buyer a way to back-out of a contract they can be excellent tools for real estate investors who make numerous offers on properties.

Contingency Clause Examples

Here are some contingency clauses to consider in your real estate purchase contract.

1. Financing Contingency. A financing contingency clause states something like, “Buyer’s obligation to purchase the property is contingent upon Buyer obtaining financing to purchase the property on terms acceptable to Buyer in Buyer’s sole opinion.” Some financing contingency clauses are not well drafted and will provide clauses that say simply, “Buyer’s obligation to purchase the property is contingent upon the Buyer obtaining financing.” A clause such as this can cause problems as the Buyer may obtain financing under a high rate and thus may decide not purchase the  property. However, because the contingency only specified whether financing is obtained or not (and not whether the terms are acceptable to buyer), the clause can be unhelpful to a buyer deciding not to purchase the property. Some financing clauses are more specific and, for example, will say that the financing to be obtained must be at a rate of at most 7% on a 30 year term and that if the buyer does not obtain financing at a rate of 7% or lower then the buyer may exercise the contingency and back out of the contract.

2. Inspection Contingency. An inspection contingency clause states something like, “Buyer’s obligation to purchase is contingent upon Buyer’s inspection and approval of the condition of the property.” Another variation states that the Buyer may hire a home inspector to inspect the property and that the Seller must fix any issues found by the inspector and if the Seller does not fix the items specified by the inspector then the Buyer may cancel the contract. Inspection clauses are very important as they ensure that the Buyer is obtaining a valuable asset and not a money pit full of defects and repair issues.

Other important contingency clauses are clear and marketable title clauses, approval of seller disclosure documents, and rental history due diligence information (e.g., rent rolls, lease copies, financials, etc.).

Contingency Clause Issues

When using contingency clauses buyers should pay attention to a few key terms. I’ve personally seen many disputes arise as a result of one of the following issues.

1. What Happens to the Earnest Money. One important consideration that is often vague in real estate purchase contracts is what happens to the buyer’s earnest money when the buyer exercises a contingency. Does the buyer receive a full return of the earnest money? Does the seller keep the earnest money? If the contract is silent and if you as the buyer exercise a contingency, don’t count on the seller agreeing to a release of the earnest money as they are often upset that you are not going to purchase the property. Make sure the contract clearly states something like the following, “If Buyer exercises any contingency, Buyer shall receive a full return of any earnest money deposit or payment to Seller.”

2. Contingency Deadlines. Another important contingency clause issue is the date of the contingency clause deadline.  Most contingency clauses have expiration dates that occur well before closing. Those dates should typically be somewhere from 2 weeks to 2 months from the date of the contract, depending on the purchase and seller disclosure items and the type of property being purchased. For example, single family homes will typically have a shorter window as financing and inspection can occur more quickly than would occur under a contract to purchase an apartment building. Whatever the deadline is, make sure that the deadline is set far enough out so that you can complete your contingency tasks. You need to make sure you have enough time to obtain adequate financing commitments, to properly inspect the property, and that you have enough time to review the seller’s disclosure documents. Setting a two week deadline is sometimes done but two weeks is usually not enough time to complete financing commitments, inspection, and due diligence activities that are necessary to determine whether you are going to commit to purchasing the property. If contingency deadlines are approaching and you need more time, then ask the seller for an extension before the deadline arrives. If the Seller refuses an extension, then exercise the contingency you need more time to satisfy.

3. Exercise You Contingency in Writing. If you do exercise a contingency and decide to back-out of the purchase of the property, make sure you do it in writing. Don’t rely on telephone calls or even e-mails (unless the contract permits e-mails as notice). Additionally, make sure that the reason for the contingency and that the date of the contingency are put in writing and are sent to the seller in a method where the date can be tracked in accordance to the notice provisions of the contract. For example, if the contract requires a contingency to be noticed by fax or hand delivery, don’t rely on an e-mail to the seller or the seller’s agent as such communication will not invoke the contingency.

Once the deadline to exercise a contingency has passed, the buyer is obligated to purchase the real property and may be sued for specific performance (meaning they can be forced to buy) or at the least the buyer will lose their entire earnest money deposit. Contingency clauses are the best defense mechanism to a bad deal and should always be used by real estate buyers. Keep in mind that until you close on the property, the only investment you have is a contract and if you have a bad contract, then you have a bad deal.

IRAs and the UBIT/UDFI Tax Exception for REITs

Photo of shiny high-rise buildings with the text "IRAs and the UBIT/UDFI Tax Exception for REITs."An IRA may invest into a real estate investment trust. Real estate investment trusts (“REIT”) are trusts whereby the company undertakes certain real estate activities (e.g. own or lend on real estate) and returns profits to its owners. An IRA may invest and be an owner in a REIT. As many self directed IRA investors know,  a form of unrelated business income tax (“UBIT” tax) known as unrelated debt financed income tax (“UDFI” tax) can arise from real estate leveraged by debt.

Many REITs engage in real estate development activities and/or use debt to leverage their cash purchasing power and as a result may cause a form of UBIT tax known as UDFI tax to IRA owners. Most REITS will not pay corporate taxes and as a result will not be considered exempt from UBIT tax as a result of having paid corporate tax. However, income from REITs is still typically exempt from UBIT and UDFI tax because the definition of a “qualified dividend” in a REIT has been defined to include dividends paid by a REIT to its owners. IRS Revenue Ruling 66-106. Qualified dividends from a REIT are exempt from UBIT and UDFI tax. REITs can be publically traded or private trusts but are not easy to establish. They require at least 100 owners and must distribute at least 90% of their taxable earnings to their owners each year. Despite the general application of exception to UBIT/UDFI tax for REITs, a REIT may be operated in a manner that will not allow for qualified dividends to be paid and therefore income from the REIT would not be exempt from UBIT/UDFI tax. If you’re investing into a REIT with an IRA, make sure you know whether the REIT intends to be exempt from UBIT/UDFI tax or not. As discussed, most will be exempt from UBIT/UDFI tax but some REITs may choose to operate in ways that will not qualify for the exception. Because UBIT/UDFI tax is about 39% at $10,000 of annual income this is something every IRA should understand before investing into a REIT.

 

Asset Protection for Self-Directed IRAs

Photo of large bank vault opened with the text "Asset Protection for Self-Directed IRAs"When analyzing asset protection for self directed IRAs we must consider two types of potential threats. First, we must analyze how a creditor can collect against an IRA when the creditor has a judgment or claim against the IRA owner personally. Secondly, and most importantly for self directed IRA owners, we must analyze how a creditor can collect against an IRA or its owner when the IRAs investment incurs a claim or judgment.

There has been much written on the protections to retirement plans that prevents a creditor of the IRA owner from collecting against the IRA to satisfy their judgment.  Various federal and state laws provide this protection which prohibits a creditor of an IRA owner from collecting or seizing the assets of an IRA or other retirement plan.  For example, if an individual personally defaults on a loan in his or her personal name and then gets a judgment against them the creditor may collect against the individual’s personal bank accounts, non retirement plan investment accounts, wages, and other non-exempt assets but is prohibited from collecting against the IRA or other retirement plans of the individual. Even in the case of bankruptcy a retirement plan is considered an exempt asset from the reaches of the creditors being wiped out. U.S. Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. §522. Because of these asset protection benefits retirement plans are excellent places to hold assets outside the reach or creditors.

The second asset protection issue and the focus of this article is to consider how an is IRA protected from claims arising from the IRA’s investments and activities? This issue is one that is particularly important to self directed IRA accounts since some self directed IRA investments are made into assets that can create liability to the IRA and the protections preventing a creditor of the IRA owner against the IRA assets does not apply to liabilities arising from the IRAs investments. In other words, if the IRA has a liability the IRA is subject to the claims of creditors. For example, if a self directed IRA owns a rental property and the tenant in that property slips and falls the tenant can sue the self directed IRA who owned and leased the property to the tenant. Consequently, the IRAs assets are subject to the collection of the creditor including the property the IRA owned and leased to the tenant as well as the other assets of the IRA. But what about the IRA owner and their personal assets, are their personal assets also at risk?

Let’s analyze this issue further and look at whether a creditor/plaintiff against the IRA can also sue the IRA owner personally if the IRA’s assets are not sufficient to satisfy the judgment against the IRA. IRC § 408 states that an IRA is a trust created when an individual establishes an IRA by signing IRS form 5305 (this form is completed, with some variations, with every IRA) with a bank or qualified custodian. Courts have analyzed what an IRA is under law and have stated that they are a trust or special deposit of the individual for the benefit of the IRA owner. First Nat’l Bank v. Estate of Thomas Philip, 436 N.E. 2d 15 (1992). In other words, the IRA is not a separate entity or trust which would be exempt from creditor protection of its underlying owner. Since the IRA is a trust that is revocable and terminated at the discretion of the IRA owner, each investment in fact is truly controlled by the IRA owner as her or she could terminate the IRA at any time and take ownership in their personal name. As a result, the IRA is akin to a revocable living trust used for estate planning which trust is commonly understood by lawyers and courts to provide no asset protection and prevention of creditors from pursuing the trust creator and owner from liabilities and judgments that arise in the trust. Following this same rationale, a self directed IRA would likely be subjected to a similar downfall in the event of a large liability which is not satisfied by the assets of the IRA. As a consequence, the personal assets of the IRA owner may be at risk.

As a result of the asset protection liabilities for self directed IRAs, we recommend that self directed IRA owners consider an IRA/LLC for the asset protection reasons that many individuals use LLC’s in their personal investment and business activities. Simply put, an LLC prevents the creditor of the LLC from being able pursue the owner of the LLC (in this case the IRA). An IRA/LLC is an LLC owned typically 100% by the IRA and the LLC would operate and take ownership of the investments and the liabilities similar to an LLC used by an individual. For example, instead of the IRA taking ownership of a rental property directly and leasing it to a tenant the IRA/LLC would instead take title to the property and would lease the property to the tenant. When the IRA/LLC owns and leases the property any claims or liabilities that arise are contained in the LLC and as a result of the LLC laws a creditor is prevented from going after the LLC owner (in this case the IRA, or the IRA owner).

There are certain types of self directed IRA investments that benefit greatly from the asset protection offered by an IRA/LLC. Rental real estate owned by an IRA achieves significant asset protection benefits from an IRA/LLC since rental real estate can create liabilities to their owner. Other self directed IRA investments such as promissory note loans, precious metals, or land investments do not have the same asset protection issues and potential to create liability for the IRA and as a result an IRA/LLC isn’t as beneficial from an asset protection perspective for these types of investments.