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THIS IS A RE-POST OF A PODCAST INTERVIEW WE ORIGINALLY POSTED FEBRUARY 2019:
John Walters from LeWalt Consulting Groupe joined me to discuss how tax strategies can help with land and property preservation efforts.
John’s contact information and additional resources:
LeWalt Consulting Groupe, LLC
Tax Codes Referenced:
Historic Preservation Tax Incentives
John is an Enrolled Agent, Certified Tax Coach, Best Selling Author, Instructor and Speaker at the firm LeWalt Consulting Groupe, LLC located in St. Petersburg, Florida.
He is known on LinkedIn as:
“Florida’s Leading Pro-Active Tax and Financial Change Agent for your Diverse needs and Individual Lifestyle”
At LeWalt Consulting Groupe, LLC our PASSION is creating “Tax Alpha” that helps you, as the Entrepreneur and Business Owner, live the “Ultimate” TAX-FREE lifestyle you desire using the complexities written into the Internal Revenue Service Tax-Code to your favor!
After all… We believe those numbers on your TAX FORMS is your “REAL” money, why not protect, preserve, and keep it for you and your family?
How may we Help You Live a Life that is less taxing…?
Announcer: Thank you for tuning into the Practical Preservation podcast. Please take a moment to visit our website practicalpreservationservices.com for additional information and tips to help you restore your historical home. If you’ve not yet done so, please subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, and Sound Cloud, and also like us on Facebook.
Announcer: Welcome to the Practical Preservation podcast hosted by Danielle Keperling. Keperling Preservation Services is a family-owned business based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania dedicated to the preservation of our built architectural history for today’s use as well as future generations. Our weekly podcast provides you with expert advice specific to the unique needs of renovating a historic home, educating by sharing our from-the-trenches preservation knowledge and our guests’ expertise, balancing modern needs while maintaining the historical significance, character, and beauty of your period home.
Danielle: Thank you for joining us on the Practical Preservation podcast. Today, we have John Walters speaking with us about some tax tools that you can use to help preserve buildings. John is an Enrolled Agent, Certified Tax Coach, best-selling author, instructor, and speaker at the firm LeWalt Consulting Groupe, LLC. located in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is known on LinkedIn as Florida’s leading proactive state and financial change agent for your diverse needs and individual lifestyle.
Danielle: “At LeWalt Consulting Groupe, LLC., our passion is creating tax alpha that helps you as the entrepreneur and business owner live the ultimate tax-free lifestyle you desire using the complexities written into the Internal Revenue Service tax code to your favor. After all, we believe those numbers on your tax form is your real money. Why not protect, preserve and keep it for you and your family? How may we help you live a life that is less taxing?”
Danielle: So John, thank you for joining us and sharing your knowledge about the tax code and how that can be used to help us preserve buildings.
John: Well, thank you Danielle. I enjoy talking to people about taxes even though, I’m sure for most, it seems like a boring subject, but it’s one of the most things you’re going to pay all of your life and you might as be able to control it to your best ability.
Danielle: And understand it the best you can. I know I don’t feel I understand everything as much as I probably should. But yeah, I think the protections that people don’t understand that are written into tax code are really interesting because they can help you finance a project, they can help you make sure the building is preserved. Those things, I don’t think people necessarily think that those are tax code things, but they are. So thank you for sharing that knowledge with us.
John: Sure, no problem.
Danielle: I know one of the things that most people don’t either understand or are aware of is the tax conservation easement. If you could talk to us a little bit about that and help us understand. I understand a little bit from a preservation standpoint that the easement means that the outside can’t be changed because it’s protected, but I don’t understand what the tax ramifications of that is.
John: Okay. In the Internal Revenue Code, there’s a section called 170(h) and it talks about land conservation strategies, especially for federal and state taxes. What a land conservation strategy is designed to do is it’s designed to meet basically the tax payer’s – in this case, your client or whoever you’re working for – financial goals and take into heart their charitable desires.
John: In essence, it’s to preserve their properties and realize their most favorable economic outcomes, and actually, you get some tax savings out of it too. You become part of what we call the ready to conserve your assets for individuals and enjoy the related tax savings possible and the income opportunity in the property’s amenities.
John: In essence, what you want to do is let’s say you have a piece of property, but you don’t want it to be built on or you want to preserve it for generations to come and things like that. There are provisions in the tax code under the land conservation easement strategies is to actually give that land away. In essence, you’re giving it away for the purposes of being able to develop it or use it for some other commercial purpose to the government and you have official documents that tell you that you can do that. In turn, there are charitable deductions that you can take for that conservation.
John: With that, your land is preserved. Basically, you still retain rights to it, but you just can’t use it for other purposes, intended purposes.
Danielle: So it almost restricts you? Yeah, it restricts what you do with it. Okay.
John: Exactly. You have basically a deed of restriction, but that land can be used for whatever thing that you set it up for.
John: For instance, let’s say that you have land and you want to preserve it for hunting and you don’t want anybody to build anything on it. You could have a land conservation easement for that property; it could still be used for hunting and you can use for that purpose. You can even build a structure on there like a lodge or something like that and people could use it for hunting, but they wouldn’t be able to use for some other commercial development.
Danielle: [crosstalk 00:06:17] Yeah.
John: Yeah. In turn, when you take that conservation easement, the government’s giving you a tax deduction and it can be up to 50% of your adjusted gross income. Let’s say for every dollar this property is valued at, you go get it appraised and stuff, sometimes you can get to four to five times the benefit. In essence, what you’re telling is, well, if I built it commercially, this is what it would be valued at. But if I-
Danielle: So if you develop the property, that’s why they use as your [crosstalk 00:07:00]
Danielle: Okay, that makes sense.
John: So if I was going to put a housing development on it, it would be worth X. But if I say, “I don’t want to allow that on there,” they’re going to take that value of the housing development, it’s appraised out, subtract what the land is worth right now, and you get the difference in the tax credits.
Danielle: Okay. Okay, and then is that an actual credit onto … I’m trying to think about what I’m familiar with preservation easements. You usually then donate that to a nonprofit, is that correct? Or is the conservation a little bit different?
John: Yeah, it’s actually donated to the government, per se, because it’s under tax code. Now, there’s the charitable contributions fall under the federal tax code, but you can also get state tax credits too, depending on what state you’re in and the property.
Danielle: Yeah, I know. Yeah, the preservation tax credits are very dependent on which state you’re in, how robust they are.
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative), exactly.
Danielle: Yeah. So this benefits the person that’s doing the easement by reducing their taxable income. Is that pretty much what the goal is?
John: Right. You can reduce your actual tax that you would owe by between 30 and 50% of your adjusted gross income.
John: Now, let’s say it exceeds 50% of your gross income in that particular year, those charitable credits can be carried over for many years into the future until you can use them up.
John: Yeah, so typically, if you don’t have a whole lot of income in that particular year, it will just carry over until you can use those up.
Danielle: Use it up, so there’s not a time limit. I was thinking there’s a difference – and now this is telling you what I don’t understand about taxes. There’s a difference between a credit and a deduction, is that correct? So the credit is like just straight money to you, it’s not based on any kind of scale, correct? Is that what-
John: Well, yeah. There are credits that are basically a one-to-one dollar reduction in your taxes. Now, in the credit world-
Danielle: Okay, so [crosstalk 00:09:27] a percentage. Yeah.
John: Exactly. In the credit world though, you have two types of credits. You have what we call non-refundable, meaning that it can reduce your income, your taxes to zero. Then after that, if you still have more credit, you can’t use it anymore. You won’t get additional money back. But if they’re refundable, that means that you could have zero income tax that you owe, and still get a refund back from the government. Now-
Danielle: Oh, okay. Makes sense. Yeah.
John: And with the deductions, they are a percentage, depending on what your marginal tax bracket is. So in essence, a deduction, if you’re in the 25% tax bracket, then you’re going to get 25% or 25 cents back on the dollar for every dollar you deduct.
Danielle: Okay, okay. I know I see, in this area, a lot of conservation easements for farmland.
Danielle: Where the families want to preserve their farms from development but they still want to be able to use them and farm them. The easement doesn’t stop you from being able to use it from how you’ve been using it; it’s how you write the easement. Is that correct?
John: Right. So for an example like that, in farming and ranching, Ted Turner, which we all know from the broadcasting world and everything else, he has huge tracks of land in Wyoming and Montana that he has easements on. He still allows – there’s wild buffalo that run on there. He has cattle that graze and everything so it can still be used for ranching, but no one can actually develop it into a housing development or any commercial purpose.
Danielle: Okay, okay. Very, very interesting. Thank you. So then when you go to do the charitable deduction, then they figure out what the amount would be if they developed and then they give you … Is it the difference? Is that pretty much what your credit is?
John: Yeah. So for instance, let’s say it would be valued, appraised, at a million dollars if it was fully developed, but right now in your hands, ownership, it was worth really only $100,000, per se, in undeveloped land and everything else. So in fact, you could probably get a deduction for the $900,000 difference there.
Danielle: Because you’re not using it to develop it completely. It is a benefit then to the community too. That does make sense to me as to why it would be a tax credit also because you’re agreeing to leave it the way it was. It’s not [crosstalk 00:12:20].
John: Right, yeah.
Danielle: Yeah. So what are the risks to somebody who wants to use an easement or a land conservation easement to preserve their property? What would the risks be to that?
John: Well, a couple risks, not necessarily to the owner of the land. There are people that actually don’t own the land but want to invest in the ownership of that property with the original owner to get these tax credits.
Danielle: Oh, right.
John: So some of the risk there would be basically you may not get the asset protection as a limited partner instead of the ownership of it. Operating reserves set aside at a closing. There may be monies that are needed in excess of that property for the conveyance of it and the deed. Could be additional capital calls if other risks – or not risks but unknowns are known about the property. Maybe there was so encumbrances on the property that you didn’t know about and stuff, so money would have to become available to take those encumbrances away so that deed could be unrestricted.
John: Sometimes there’s a taxation risk basically due to audits because sometimes these things are not put together correctly. Lately, there’s been a little bit of talks in the IRS about making this what they call a listed transactions, where they still allow it, but you would have to list it there of what the transaction was and basically have your, per se, ducks in a row if you wanted to-
Danielle: [crosstalk 00:14:19] yeah.
John: Yeah. Of course, as always, anything in the code is subject to abuse.
John: You may be working with unscrupulous people, a.k.a. crooks, that want to take your money basically and don’t do it properly so the whole deal falls apart.
Danielle: Yeah. That and I know that when we talk to home owners about it, people are nervous about restricting their deeds. I don’t know if you have that knowledge if it … Does it lower the value of the property or is it usually somebody who would be interested in conservation, is that something that would be appealing to them?
John: Oh, it would be very appealing to someone because most of us do have a charitable gift to us or want to do something, either that, preserve it for nature or actually for our legacy and stuff like that. But even if you end up selling the property or whatever, that easement and everything else can convey to the next group of people in ownership.
Danielle: Yeah, it attaches to the deed. Yep. Then they then have to … As far as I know, that is the only preservation tool that actually restricts what you can do because even being on the National Register, that building can still be torn down if you take the appropriate steps and get approval. You know what I mean?
Danielle: So that doesn’t protect it as much as the easement does. I know of a project here in Lancaster that they were going to develop. It was where Thaddeus Stevens had his offices in Lancaster. They were going to tear it down and then the nonprofit that held the easement came forward and said, “No, you can’t. We have an easement on this property.” And they actually ended up, it’s really a cool building to look at now because they incorporated the modern construction around this building. It’s marrying that old with the new, but they had to keep the original building there because they did hold the easement.
Danielle: That’s the only preservation tool that I know guarantees that the building will not change and have to stay the way it has been. So very, very [crosstalk 00:16:51].
John: Yeah, exactly because you are actually accepting a deed of restriction that permanently prohibits some sort of commercial exploitation and rights to the real estate property and stuff. You’re absolutely right. That’s pretty much the most ironclad vehicle there to be able to preserve something.
Danielle: Right, okay. And then I know you had given me some notes. I have that you would talk about the energy efficient property credits.
John: Sure, sure.
Danielle: Those are being extended, which is kind of exciting for people who are wanting to maybe put some green energy to use in their homes.
John: Yeah. The wind and solar credits have actually been extended to 2024 because our government sees the value of doing that and making us less reliant, basically, on fuels like oil and gas and things like that. The interesting thing is for these types of credits, you can qualify up to 30% of the eligible cost, which in fact, I just did one for a client this tax season.
John: They invested in a solar roof. They spent $52,000 on the roof. They ended up getting a $17,000 tax credit back, so it kind of wiped out all of their tax that they owed. Yeah and they’ll actually get to carry some over into the subsequent years because they used up all the taxes that they had this particular year.
John: So yeah, the beauty about theirs is … They were so excited because they started getting checks from the power company. In fact-
Danielle: Oh, that is exciting.
John: Yeah! They got a $400 check back from Duke Energy, which is the provider in the area. They were so elated because now the power company owes them money.
Danielle: Yeah. I know that when we started talking, you and I had started talking about doing this podcast topic, we had just been talking about the Tesla roof material. Those are individual solar cells. They picked all things that would be traditional materials and you can’t tell the difference. I’ll be curious to see how those are embraced, once they do their full roll-out, by the preservation community because those solar panels, the types of [crosstalk 00:19:42] they chose-
John: Oh, the new shingles?
Danielle: Yeah, but they chose slate and tile, those are not inexpensive roofing materials anyway. So if somebody’s going to do that, I’ll be curious to see how it’s embraced by the preservation community because there’s definitely that intersection of green and then traditional-looking materials at least.
Danielle: I think that’s pretty exciting.
John: Yeah. A lot of those things are coming out from the world of the Tesla vehicles and all of that to Elon Musk and producing new types of materials.
John: Yeah, that was the thing is people, they liked the idea of the solar, but they didn’t want to have these what they would consider ugly panels on their roof. So now-
Danielle: [crosstalk 00:20:29], yeah, yeah.
John: Yeah. It’s probably going to be in your world, open up a lot more opportunity and people to want to do that because yeah, now they can more look like the original property that we’re trying to preserve and everything, and get the efficiency out of it of modern energy systems.
Danielle: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s something exciting to definitely keep an eye on.
Danielle: The other thing and something that I think that people know about but it’s kind of like they don’t know a lot about it is the rehabilitation credits. I know the federal government has theirs, and then the State of Pennsylvania has some. There’s not a lot of money in the state. The tax credits here are very new for rehabilitation. I think they’re only a couple of years-old. I know that the federal tax credits have been around for a while and they’ve actually shown good economic development benefits, but if you could talk a little bit about the Rehabilitation Credits in the tax code.
John: Yeah, there’s rehabilitation credits.
Danielle: That’s a tough word.
John: Yeah, I know. That’s under Internal Revenue Code Section 47. There are actually two of them. One, it’s a 10% of the qualified rehabilitation expenditures, or whatever you spend, with respect to the qualified rehabilitated building. Other than a certified – it doesn’t have to be a certified historic structure in this case, okay?
John: You can still get 10% of that. Now, in the second case, you can get 20% of the qualified rehabilitation expenditure, or cost, if it is a certified historic structure. So there, you can benefit even more.
John: Basically, the federal government is telling us, “Look, we understand you want to keep these buildings. They’re great buildings or whatever like that. They just need some tender love and care. We’re going to help you lower the cost to go ahead and rehab these buildings, especially if you’re going to keep them in order, use them for an economic purpose.”
John: So what we’re kind of looking at too is, okay, what’s in it for the government? Well, obviously if you’re going to be able to use that building, rehab it, for its use or just bring it back up to code so you can keep using it, well, they’re going to get more tax money, right?
Danielle: Right, right.
John: Because you’re going to remain in business and use that building. Well, the states, obviously, are still going to benefit because they’re going to get additional property taxes and they’ll probably reassess it on the rehabbed cost of it because, oh, it’s gone up in value because you rehabilitated it. There’s two benefits there.
John: Now, obviously the states benefits aren’t as rich as the federal government because, as we know, our government’s got plenty of money to throw around. Right?
Danielle: Right. Maryland has a really good rehabilitation credit system though. Theirs is, I think if you combined the federal and Maryland’s, you can get up to 50%.
Danielle: Yeah, so some of the states have a really good system.
John: I think it’s great. And so basically, it’s something to take into benefit there if you have a building that would meet those criteria. There again, you might get a little bit if it’s not a historic building, but still, it might be in your benefit to do it.
John: Now, like everything that we do in the tax code, there’s good and bad things. Well, the good thing is, yes, you could get some assistance there for doing it. The bad thing is you might have to jump over some hurdles, some paperwork, this and that, and everything else. But I found that once you do it, it’s well worth it.
Danielle: Yeah, I agree. It is a process to get through that because at first, you have to be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, and then you go. They actually, once they have everything that they need, then they forward it onto the National Park Service for review. But typically, it is a lot of paperwork, but most people can get through it. It’s just having to stay on top of it.
Danielle: I do know one thing that is, and the tax benefits, one thing that’s kind of frustrating to homeowners that this is mostly or it is just for income-producing properties. So you’ve either gotta be a business or a bed and breakfast or rental unit, something like that.
Danielle: One other thing that I learned that’s very interesting is the tax credits on your passive income. Well, most people don’t have a lot of passive income. So I sat through a presentation. I’m like, “Oh, that makes so much sense.” Banks are willing to pay, buy the tax credits from you, because they have passive income and they can use them. The credits are transferrable. I didn’t know that.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Danielle: When I heard that, I was like, “Oh my goodness. I never would have thought to shop my tax credits to anybody,” but there are people who do it.
John: That’s an interesting point that you bring up. You know, a lot of people say, “Well, if I can’t use them, I lose them.” No, they actually have benefit and people are willing to use them. The other thing too is you’ve heard of those called carbon tax credits for pollution and everything else?
Danielle: Yeah, yeah.
John: Well, let’s say you have a business and you get X amount of tax credits, but your business is pretty efficient, non-polluting, and everything else. You get these credits but you don’t use them all the way or whatever like that. Well, there’s certain other businesses that are more polluting and they need more credits than they actually get from whatever they’re producing, so they’ll buy those credits from you and that helps them out too. There is a market for that.
Danielle: Yes, I would have never even thought that until I was sitting in that presentation. I’m like, “That makes so much sense.” Because most people, even if they’re high-income people, don’t have a lot of passive income, but banks do. I thought that was a really, really interesting thing that I learned.
John: Yeah. And the thing most people don’t understand is you have to match up the types of income and losses to be able to take them. For what you’re just saying there, if you have passive income, you have to have passive losses to match up against them. You can’t take income that you earned from your job and actually offset passive income or investment income in there. That’s a key.
John: What we try to do there is if we do have a client that does have lots of passive losses, we try to find some passive incomes. We call it a PIG PAL strategy. Passive activity losses matched up with passive income generations.
Danielle: Oh, okay. Very cool. Yeah, you understand how to maximize these strategies. I thank you for sharing your knowledge with me and our listeners. Could you tell me, unless, did you have anything else you wanted to share or anything that we didn’t care that you wanted to?
John: Well, I think that’s pretty good.
Danielle: Oh, okay. Very good.
John: There’s so much embedded in there.
Danielle: There is.
Danielle: And I’ll definitely, the tax codes or sections that you referenced, on the website resource section, I will definitely put those there so people can go and read them.
Danielle: And your information will definitely be on the website too, but how can our audience get a hold of you if they have specific questions or they want to use your expertise to help preserve their buildings?
John: Well, they can actually call my office if they want. My phone number directly is 727-388-9024. If, by chance, somebody doesn’t answer the phone, leave a message and we get back to you in a short amount of time.
John: You can also go to my website it’s www.lewaltconsultinggroup.com and leave a message there or we have lots of information on the website that you can contact us or find out some other information about the different tax codes. I think you’ll probably put our website on your-
Danielle: I will, yeah, I’ll definitely make sure that gets put on the website too. We’ll have links, and I’ll have the additional information, and anything else that we think that would be good resources for all of our listeners.
Danielle: Thank you so much for joining us today.
John: Okay, well, yeah. It was a pleasure talking here and one last thing.
Danielle: Oh, sure.
John: With the broadness of the tax code, people think, “Oh, it’s just in general,” or whatever. There’s really something for everybody in there, we just have to sometimes dig deep for you. If you employ certain people, there’s tax credits for employing certain groups of people.
Danielle: Right, yeah. We had just learned that we could get a Made in America tax credit because we manufacture. I never even thought about what we do as manufacturing, but it is! There’s always something in there that you might not even think would apply to you.
John: Yeah, so every situation, individual situation, is different. Don’t think that there’s nothing in there for you. There may be, depending on what you want to do. Hey, it’s worth a phone call or a short email conversation. We can see what we can do for you.
Danielle: Okay, very good. Thank you so much again.
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