Now that Washington State Senate Bill 5998 has been signed into law, our local real estate excise tax—the tax paid when you sell a property—will be getting a facelift in 2020. The flat rate of the past will make way for a new tiered system which gives owners a tax cut on the first $500,000 of home value, keeps the current tax rate on the next $1 million of value, and then increases it sharply after $1.5 million.
The good news is that taxes will go down for the vast majority (~93%) of sellers in King County. Sellers of luxury homes that fetch more than $1.56m, however, will be paying more—much, much more in the case of multi-million dollar home sales.
Wondering how the changes might impact your bottom line when it comes time to sell? Scroll down or check out our quick reference worksheet…
DETAILS & BACKGROUND
The previous flat state REET tax of 1.28% (1.78% after the 0.5% local portion is added) will be replaced on January 1, 2020, by the following rates (total REET after King County local portion is shown in parenthesis):
1.1% (1.6%) – Portion of selling price less than or equal to $500,000
1.28% (1.78%) – Portion of selling price greater than $500,000 and equal to or less than $1.5 million
2.75% (3.25%) – Portion of selling price greater than $1.5 million and equal to or less than $3 million
3.0% (3.5%) – Portion of selling price greater than $3 million
These thresholds may be adjusted again in 2022 and every four years after that using a formula for calculating value trends.
The current state real estate excise tax rate has been the same since July 1, 1989 while the local portion of the rate has been managed by each jurisdiction individually. You can find the full details in this Real Estate Excise Tax historical rates chart provided by the Department of Revenue.
The state provides a summary of the history and use of the real estate excise tax in Washington State detailing changes over the years. Currently, the bulk of the estate tax (92.3%) goes to the General Fund. Beginning January 1, 2020, and ending June 30, 2023, revenue distributions must be as follows: 1.7 percent must be deposited in the Public Works Assistance Account; 1.4 percent must be deposited in the City-County Assistance Account; 79.4 percent must be deposited in the general fund; and the remaining amount must be deposited in the Education Legacy Trust Account. Beginning July 1, 2023, and thereafter, revenue distributions to the Public Works Assistance Account increases to 5.2 percent. You can find the full law and definitions in Chapter 458-61A WAC (Washington Administrative Code).
SO WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?
If you sell for $1,561,258 or less in King County, you will pay the same or less (up $900 less) in REET after 1/1/20. This is great news for most property owners in King County and across the state. Because the rate states the same on the portion of the selling price greater than $500,000 and equal to or less than $1.5 million as it currently is, all the savings comes in the portion below $500,000. This begins to whittle away as you creep above $1.5 million and into the higher tax rate of 2.75% (3.25%).
If you sell for more than that amount, you’ll be paying more–often much more. You can see from the quick reference chart below that the seller of a $2.5 million property will pay an additional $13,800, while a $5 million sale will cost an extra $55,550 and a $10 million sale a whopping $141,550 more.
Everyone will have a different take on the new tax rate, but if you have a valuable property and contributing more to the state’s coffers isn’t part of your charitable giving strategy, selling in 2019 might offer significant savings. On the other hand, selling in 2020 and beyond funds education and public works at greater levels than ever before, and that benefits everyone.
EXCISE TAX QUICK REFERENCE WORKSHEET
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Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While he was talking about fire safety, I think it applies equally well to home maintenance. One weekend of prevention this fall can save you many headaches (and a lot of money) down the road. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Gutters top to bottom: Water in the wrong spots can do a lot of damage. Start by ensuring that gutters and downspouts are doing their job. (You may want to hire a professional, especially if you have a two-story house with a steep roof.) If your home is surrounded by deciduous trees you may need to clean out your gutters a few times a year, especially in the fall. Check to make sure your gutters are flush with the roof and attached securely, repairing any areas that sag or where the water collects and overflows. Clean out the gutters and downspouts, checking that outlet strainers are in good shape, and are firmly in place. Finally, check that your downspouts direct water away from your house, not straight along the foundation.
Check for leaks: The best opportunity to catch leaks is the first heavy rain after a long dry spell. Check the underside of the roof, looking for moisture on joints or insulation. Mark any spots that you find and then hire a roofing specialist to repair these leaks. If you wait until spots show up on your ceiling, insulation and sheet rock will have also been damaged and you could have a mold problem too. You can find tips on how to solve roof & gutter issues in this great article from http://FamilyHandyman.com.
Don’t forget the basement and the caulking around windows & doors. Check your foundation for cracks, erosion and gaps in window and door weathering. Make sure to properly seal any leaks while the weather is nice. This will ensure materials dry properly.
Pest Prevention: Rodents are determined and opportunistic, and they can do tremendous amounts of property damage (and endanger your family’s health). As temperatures cool, take measures to prevent roof rats and other critters from moving in. Branches that touch your house and overhang your roof are convenient on-ramps for invaders, so trim back branches so they’re at least four feet from the house. If you do hear scuttling overhead or discover rodent droppings in your attic, crawl space or basement, take immediate action. The website http://www.thisoldhouse.com has several helpful articles on the topic.
Maintain your heating and cooling systems: Preventative maintenance is especially crucial for your home’s heating and air-conditioning systems. Fall is a smart time to have your systems checked and tuned up if necessary. Don’t wait for extreme temperatures to arrive, when service companies are slammed with emergency calls. Between tune-ups, keeps your system performing optimally by cleaning and/or replacing air filters as needed.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, a professional inspection and cleaning will help prevent potentially lethal chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Even if you don’t use your fireplace often, it’s a good idea to keep a supply of dry firewood or sawdust-composite logs so you have a backup heat source in an emergency. Gas fireplaces should be serviced about every 2 years to lengthen their lifespans.
Insulate & seal: Insulating your home is a cost-efficient investment, whether you’re trying to keep the interior warm in the winter or cool in the summer. Aside from more major improvements like energy-efficient windows and insulation, there are some quick fixes that do-it-yourselfers can tackle. If an exterior door doesn’t have a snug seal when closed, replace the weather stripping; self-adhesive foam stripping is much simpler to install than traditional vinyl stripping. If there is a gap under the door (which can happen over time as a house settles), you may need to realign the door and replace the vinyl door bottom and/or door sweep. Air also sneaks inside through electrical outlets and light switches on exterior walls. Dye-cut foam outlet seals placed behind the wall plates are a quick and inexpensive solution.