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Thinking about a second home for your second life?

Posted Oct 23 2008 6:17pm

If you are thinking about buying a second home this spring - or you bought one in the last couple of years - you are part of a major transformation under way in the real estate market.

Sm_25_2 The annual number of second homes purchased in the United States doubled between 2000 and 2004, according to new research. The boom is being driven in part by demographics - mainly a flood tide of equity-laden Baby Boomers - and in part by a largely unexpected ricochet effect of tax law changes in the late 1990s.

The latter factor was explained by Keunwon Chung, a statistical economist at the National Association of Realtors, who recently studied a vast pool of federal data on hundreds of thousands of second-home mortgage closings.  When Congress amended the federal tax code in 1997 to permit up to $500,000 (for married couples) and $250,000 (for singles) of gain on the sale of a primary home to be spared from taxation, observed Chung, "homeowners did not have to buy expensive [replacement] homes anymore."  Under prior law, the only way to avoid capital gains taxes was to "roll over" sales gains to progressively larger and costlier homes.

The amended tax code, by contrast, allows primary home sellers to buy "a smaller, less expensive primary [replacement] residence," while using a portion of the $500,000 or $250,000 tax-sheltered gain to buy or make a down payment on a second home - for use either as a recreational property or as an investment vehicle.

Source: Nation's Housing,, March 31, 2006

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