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  • Writer's pictureP3 Accounting LLC

Maximizing Your Rental Property Investment: Understanding the Difference Between Repairs and Improve


As a rental property owner, you are more than versed in making repairs and improvements to your property. You may not always identify them by improvements or repairs though. Understanding the difference between repairs and improvements is essential to maximizing your investment returns. At P3 Accounting, we are committed to helping our clients navigate the complex tax implications associated with real estate investments.


In this blog, we will explain the difference between repairs and improvements on your rental property and how it can affect your overall investment.

What is a Repair?

A repair is any expense incurred to keep a property in good operating condition. Repairs are typically deductible expenses and can be written off in the same year they are incurred. Common examples of repairs include fixing leaky faucets, repairing a damaged roof, or replacing a broken window. What is an Improvement?


An improvement is any expense that adds value to a property or extends its useful life beyond one year. Improvements are not considered deductible expenses and must be capitalized and depreciated over several years. Examples of improvements include adding a new deck, installing a new heating system, or replacing the roof with a longer-lasting material.

Why Does it Matter?

Understanding the difference between repairs and improvements is crucial for minimizing your tax liability and maximizing your after-tax cash flow. Repairs can be fully deducted in the year they are incurred, while improvements must be capitalized and depreciated over time. This can have a significant impact on your tax liability and overall cash flow for the property.


At P3 Accounting we want to ensure our clients understand how the system can work for them or against them.


How to Determine a Repair or an Improvement?

When determining whether an expense is considered a repair or an improvement for tax purposes, there are various factors to consider. Here are five examples of factors that can influence the classification of an expense:

  1. Nature of the work performed: The nature of the work performed on the property is a significant factor in determining whether an expense is considered a repair or an improvement. Repairs generally involve fixing or maintaining a property's existing condition, while improvements involve enhancing or changing the property's condition.

  2. Extent of the work: The extent of the work performed on the property is another factor to consider. Generally, if the work is minor and routine, it is more likely to be classified as a repair. However, if the work is substantial or significant, it is more likely to be classified as an improvement.

  3. Effect of the work on the property: The effect of the work on the property is another factor that can influence whether an expense is considered a repair or an improvement. If the work is intended to maintain the property's existing condition, it is more likely to be classified as a repair. However, if the work substantially enhances the property's value or extends its useful life, it is more likely to be classified as an improvement.

  4. Cost of the work: The cost of the work performed on the property can also be a factor in determining whether an expense is considered a repair or an improvement. Generally, if the cost is significant and extends the property's useful life or enhances its value, it is more likely to be classified as an improvement.

  5. Intention of the property owner: The intention of the property owner can also be a factor in determining whether an expense is considered a repair or an improvement. If the property owner intends for the work to improve the property's value or extend its useful life, it is more likely to be classified as an improvement. Conversely, if the property owner intends for the work to maintain the property's existing condition, it is more likely to be classified as a repair.

At P3 Accounting, we are knowledgeable about the various tax codes and regulations related to rental property investments, including the determination of whether an expense is considered a repair or an improvement. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you navigate the tax implications of your rental property investments.

The Gray Area of Repairs and Improvements

Roger Jacobson bought a four-unit apartment for $30,000 (about $80,000 in today’s dollars). One tenant lived in the four-plex. The building was in poor shape at the time of purchase. Mr. Jacobson spent $6,247 (about $16,000 in today’s dollars) with a contractor to

  • remove tree limbs that were rubbing on the roof;

  • repair water damage;

  • repair electrical wiring;

  • clean the carpet, floors, and exterior;

  • repair the front porch;

  • install new cabinet doors; and

  • install new countertops.

During an audit, the IRS incorrectly said that all the work, the entire $6,247, was an improvement. Mr. Jacobson disagreed and looked to the courts for a more favorable opinion.


The Tax Court allowed $5,000 as repair deductions.


The court made Mr. Jacobson capitalize $1,247 for the new cabinet doors and new countertops.


Siding with Mr. Jacobson on the repairs issue, the court noted that

  • there was a tenant in residence,

  • the presence of the tenant meant that the property was commercially active, and

  • $5,000 in repairs was not a major number compared to the $30,000 Mr. Jacobson paid for the property.

You have to love the court’s statement that the cost of the repairs was not a major number compared to the price of the property. Mr. Jacobson paid $30,000 for the property, and you have to think some chunk of that is for the land. Ignoring the land, the $5,000 Mr. Jacobson spent on deductible repairs is 16.67 percent of the cost of the property.

Maximizing Your Deductions Through Documentation

If you are renovating the property and making both repairs and improvements, it's important to segregate the costs of each to ensure you are deducting only the repairs. To make sure your repairs are properly deductible, it's recommended to have a tenant in the building when the repairs are made. This can establish the fact that the repairs were necessary to maintain the property for rental purposes.


Another way to ensure the deductibility of making repairs is to get a separate invoice for the repairs, especially if they are being done at the same time as improvements. If the repairs are part of a general plan of rehabilitation, they may be considered improvements by the IRS and have to be depreciated instead of being expensed. Having a clear definitive difference is important.


It's also important to document the event that created the need for the repair. For example, if a broken water pipe requires repair, make sure to document the date and details of the event. This documentation can help establish the fact that the repair was necessary and prevent the IRS from classifying it as an improvement.


When making repairs, it's recommended to fix small parts of the property rather than replacing entire walls, roofs, or floors, as this may be considered an improvement. Additionally, using similar, comparable, or less expensive materials will establish that the repairs were done to restore the property to its original state, rather than to add value or prolong its life.


Ultimately, making repairs to your rental property can provide significant tax benefits and help you save money. Just make sure to properly distinguish between repairs and improvements, document the event that created the need for the repair, and get a separate invoice if repairs are being done at the same time as improvements.

Maximizing Your Rental Property Investment with P3 Accounting


Our experienced team of tax professionals can help you navigate the tax implications associated with repairs and improvements, develop a depreciation schedule, and identify other tax-saving opportunities for your rental property investment. We can also provide guidance on how to structure your real estate investments to minimize your overall tax liability.

Consult with P3 Accounting

Navigating the tax implications of repairs and improvements for your rental property investment can be complex. That's why it's important to consult with a professional. At P3 Accounting, we have years of experience working with real estate investors to optimize their investment strategies and maximize their returns.


Contact us today to learn how we can help you navigate the tax implications of repairs and improvements for your rental property investment. We can provide you with personalized advice and guidance on how to structure your investments to minimize your tax liability and maximize your after-tax cash flow. Let us help you take your rental property investment to the next level.


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