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How do controlling interest transfers in companies with real estate interests trigger taxes in Washington State?

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What is a controlling interest transfer?

The WACs define a controlling interest transfer as follows: “In the case of a corporation, either fifty percent or more of the total combined voting power of all classes of stock of the corporation entitled to vote, or fifty percent of the capital, profits, or beneficial interest in the voting stock of the corporation; and in the case of a partnership, association, trust, or other entity, fifty percent or more of the capital, profits, or beneficial interest in such partnership, association, trust, or other entity.”

Why does this matter?

In Washington State, the transfer of a controlling interest in an entity that has an interest in real property in this state is considered a taxable sale of the entity's real property for purposes of the real estate excise tax under chapter 82.45 RCW.

Examples

Example #1 (Non-Taxable).

Able and Baker each own 40% of the voting shares of a corporation, Flyaway, Inc. Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Frank each own 5% voting shares. Charlie acquires Baker's 40% interest, and Delta's and Echo's 5% interests. This is a taxable acquisition because a controlling interest (50% or more) was acquired by Charlie (40% from Baker plus 5% from Delta and 5% from Echo). However, if Charlie, Delta, and Echo were to transfer their shares (totaling 15%) to Able, those transfers would not be taxable. Although Able would own 55% of the corporation, only a 15% interest was transferred and acquired, so the acquisition by Able is not taxable.

Example #2:

Anne, Bobby, Chelsea, and David each own 25% of the voting shares of a corporation. The corporation redeems the shares of Bobby, Chelsea, and David. Anne now owns all the outstanding shares of the corporation. A taxable transfer occurred when the corporation redeemed the shares of Bobby, Chelsea, and David.

When does the tax apply?

Generally, in order for the tax to apply when the controlling interest in an entity that owns real property is transferred, the following must have occurred:

(a) The transfer or acquisition of the controlling interest occurred within a twelve-month period.

Effective May 1, 2010, solely for the purpose of determining whether a transfer or acquisition pursuant to the exercise of an option occurred within a twelve-month period, the date on which the option agreement was executed is deemed to be the date of the transfer or acquisition;

(b) The controlling interest was transferred in a single transaction or series of transactions by a single person or acquired by a single person or a group of persons acting in concert;

(c) The entity has an interest in real property located in this state;

(d) The transfer is not otherwise exempt under chapters 82.45 RCW and 458-61A WAC; and

(e) The transfer was made for valuable consideration.

How much in taxes is the transfer going to cost?

Like all other things, it depends. The measure of the tax is the "selling price." For the purpose of this rule, "selling price" means the true and fair value of the real property owned by the entity at the time the controlling interest is transferred.

(a) If the true and fair value of the property cannot reasonably be determined, one of the following methods may be used to determine the true and fair value:

(i) A fair market value appraisal of the property; or

(ii) An allocation of assets by the seller and the buyer made pursuant to section 1060 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended or renumbered as of January 1, 2005.

(b) If the true and fair value of the property to be valued at the time of the sale cannot reasonably be determined by either of the methods in (a) of this subsection, the market value assessment for the property maintained on the county property tax rolls at the time of the sale will be used as the selling price.

Examples

(i) A partnership owns real property and consists of two partners, Amy and Beth. Each has a 50% partnership interest. The true and fair value of the real property owned by the partnership is $100,000. Amy transfers her 50% interest in the partnership to Beth for valuable consideration. The taxable selling price is the true and fair value of the real property owned by the partnership, or $100,000.

(ii) A corporation consists of two shareholders, Chris and Dilbert. The assets of the corporation include real property, tangible personal property, and other intangible assets (goodwill, cash, licenses, etc.). An appraisal of the corporation's assets determines that the values of the assets are as follows: $250,000 for real property; $130,000 for tangible personal property; and $55,000 for miscellaneous intangible assets. Chris transfers his 50% interest to Ellie for valuable consideration. The taxable selling price is the true and fair value of the real property owned by the corporation, or $250,000.

(iii) An LLC owns real property and consists of two members, Frances and George. Each has a 50% LLC interest. Frances transfers her 50% interest to George. In exchange for the transfer, George pays Frances $100,000. The true and fair value of the real property owned by the LLC is unknown. There is no debt on the real property. A fair market value appraisal is not available. The market value assessment for the property maintained on the county property tax rolls is $275,000. The taxable selling price is the market value assessment, or $275,000.

I need a lawyer, don’t I?

If you want to do it right and pay the appropriate amount of taxes, then yes, hiring a lawyer is a good idea. We can help.


Schedule your appointment to discuss how to structure your sale or acquisition of investment properties, your merger & acquisition, or your business purchase and sale.

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