Didn’t know you could invest in real estate for your Individual Retirement Account?

Last week, we took a quick look at the growing practice of acquiring real estate for a self-directed retirement account. This week, let’s take a peek at a real example of how a forty-something couple got it done.

Terry and Molly Rausch, high-school sweethearts who grew up on a mountain lake and later got married during a huge gathering on its western shore, used real estate IRAs to acquire a large waterfront parcel they knew would appreciate tremendously in the next two decades.

Charley Stevens had lived in a small cabin on the lake’s south shore for as long as anyone could remember. The lake road bisected his property, separating the steep uphill portion above the road from the short waterfront parcel that held his cabin. One day, out of the blue, the property was listed for sale.

The property, with 188 feet of waterfront and a skeleton dock, sat on the market for months, then years. The listing price came spiraling down from $170,000 to $149,000 to $129,500 and finally to $99,500. More and more people came to look but the last price reduction, made in the dead of winter, caught nobody’s attention. Desperate for some cash to renovate her Laramie home, the estate contacted an auction house that specialized in recreational property. The property was placed in the company’s spring catalog for $79,500 – just inside the company’s policy of only accepting properties with a listing price equal to, or less than, 80 percent of the last listing price.

The Rauschs, both 42, were more than well acquainted with the property and had scrambled up its slope as kids. The problem was funds – they didn’t even have enough for a down payment. And if they borrowed the down from another family member, how could they afford the monthly payments on the note given the financial demands of their young family?

What they both had were IRAs. Molly had a mutual fund that was not performing in an all-star fashion, while Terry had some high-tech stocks that were high flyers at the time. The couple had started their IRA contributions at the same time. The approximate value of Terry’s was $37,000, while Molly’s was about $35,500. They had heard about a real estate IRA from a college classmate, and then telephoned a branch of a national lender to inquire about the possibilities. The bank’s trust department did not handle such affairs, yet had “heard” that a smaller, in-state lender had considered real estate IRAs in the past. Terry knew all about the bank. It had a branch, one of 38 statewide, in his hometown and had been in business for more than 50 years.

The auction company then sent a title report and the Rauschs were intrigued to discover how Charley Stevens’ property was divided. The spread had six, separately deeded lots – three on the waterfront side below the lake road and three larger lots comprising the uphill portion. The trust officer at the bank, who also knew of the lake but not the actual site, felt confident there was sufficient value in the land to justify at least a $70,000 purchase price. In order to fulfill a “due diligence” requirement, she requested a market analysis from the Realtor who originally listed the property for sale. That analysis was return with a $129,000 value. 

The trust officer suggested the couple purchase the property by contributing a total of $70,000 from their IRA accounts. Terry would pitch in $37,000 and take three lots while Molly would contribute $33,000 and govern the other three. That way, the property was purchased for all cash, and the taxman would raise no red flags.

The couple had their assets sold and transferred to the community bank. The trust officer provided the couple with compliance documents required by the U.S. Treasury and FDIC for self-directed IRAs. However, the service was not inexpensive – the bank would charge a 1-percent-of-market-value annual fee with a $500 minimum fee on any balance. Because the market analysis had shown the market value to be $129,000 – the couple had to pay $1,290 per year for the service – or $645 per account. In addition, there would be the usual property taxes and association fees.

The offer – $70,000 all cash in 30 days – was quickly accepted by the seller. The couple soon owned 188 front feet of waterfront on a lake they knew would appreciate. In a few months, they conducted a successful lot-line adjustment that gave them two 94-foot-wide, build able waterfront lots (the county minimum was 90 feet) that would share the same drain field.

When the time, and price, is right, the Rauschs will sell the property (perhaps to a family they know will enjoy it) and have the funds reinvested elsewhere. That way, their IRA will be “liquid” for their retirement years.

Tom Kelly’s new book “How a Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment” (McGraw-Hill) was written with John Tuccillo, former chief economist for the National Association of Realtors and is available in local bookstores.


What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to opinion@inman.com.

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