understanding principal residence exemption

It’s not uncommon for families to own more than one property at the same time. Additional properties can be used as a source of income, or possibly be a vacation home. Whatever the purpose for your additional properties, there are tax laws that govern what taxes you will owe upon the sale of any property. The Principal Residence Exemption is a tax privilege given to Canadians to protect them from capital gains tax when they sell their principal residence.

What is the Capital Gains Tax?

Capital gains tax is accrued when you sell a property for more than what you bought it for. You will be taxed on the profits of the sale which can be quite a large amount depending on the difference in the purchase and sale price. This becomes problematic when a house that was purchased decades ago for a now nominal amount, sells for considerably higher than the purchase price because over time the property value has increased significantly. The average home price in Calgary in 1996 was $176,305; the average home price in 2016 was $453,936, representing 157% average growth. The CRA offers extensive detail on how to calculate capital gains taxes on all eligible property.

Principal Residence Exemption

Even if you do own multiple properties, whichever house is designated as your principal residence is safe from capital gains taxes upon sale, thanks to the Principal Residence Exemption. The Canada Revenue Agency states that the Principal Residence Exemption can be used by a family unit once per year. The family unit is described as the taxpayer and their spouse and any minor and unmarried dependents. This means that under the principal residence exemption, a family could move once a year and not pay capital gains on any earnings from the sale of their principal residence. Capital gains tax comes into play when additional properties are sold that are not designated as the principal residence of the family unit.

Strategic Planning

If you own multiple properties and are planning to liquidate your real estate in the near future, speak to your financial advisor on how to approach each sale and receive advice on how to possibly avoid paying capital gains taxes.

The principal residence exemption is not designed to protect house flippers who buy and sell a house in the same year with the sole intentions of turning a profit. It is designed to be a tax break for families who may need to buy and sell in the same year for whatever personal or work reasons may arise. Talk with your financial advisor if you are worried about, or would like more information on capital gains taxes, the principal residence exemption, or tax planning and tax optimization.