Ownership of two homes in the UK is becoming more commonplace as couples who both own houses marry, houses are inherited, parents buy houses for their children to live in, or people just buy a place in the country, either to let or to escape to at weekends.
Owning two houses does have significant Capital Gains Tax (CGT) implications. When house prices are rising fast, many owners face CGT liabilities. CGT on property is very complex. Here are some of the main planning points, but this is just an outline guide. Always take professional advice before going ahead with any significant transaction.
Once you have two houses, you have two years to make an election regarding which is to be your 'principal private residence' (PPR). This is important since PPRs are exempt from CGT. In general, it is sensible to elect for the property that is expected to rise most in value to be the PPR. A married couple can have only one PPR.
If a house is sold which has been the PPR and was actually lived in at any time, the last three years of ownership are treated as private residence, so if a house has been owned for ten years, lived in for six years and then rented out for four years, only one tenth of the gain will be chargeable. There are a number of other exemptions which apply for periods of non-residence for various reasons.
If your residence has extensive grounds (over 0.5 hectares), a chargeable gain may arise on the land. There is an exemption, where the grounds are ‘required for the reasonable enjoyment of the property’. Where a large landholding is being divided into lots and sold for development, beware of selling the house first and retaining the land, since CGT may then arise when the land is sold.
If you rent out part of your private residence, or use it for commercial purposes, it will normally become chargeable, although (at least) the first £40,000 of the gain will be exempt if the letting was for residential purposes.
Since transfers between spouses are exempt from CGT, where a chargeable gain is expected it can, in some circumstances, make sense to transfer an interest to your spouse before sale. This will make use of both CGT exemptions.
HMRC are likely to challenge a 'principal private residence' election for a second property where it is sold reasonably soon after acquisition and there is a gain chargeable to CGT. In such cases, a demonstration of actual residence will be critical for a claim to succeed.
One common circumstance in which this occurs is when a home is inherited and subsequently sold.
The Government has published guidance on tax on selling property. Such decisions should always be undertaken with the benefit of professional advice.