When discussing 1031 exchanges, the concept of ‘basis’ becomes crucial. But what does it mean in the context of a 1031 exchange? Essentially, the basis of the replacement property acquired in a 1031 exchange is the same as the basis of the relinquished property, subject to certain adjustments. This basis carries over from your old property to your new one, effectively preserving the deferred gain for potential recognition in the future. It’s this ability to defer capital gains taxes through basis transfer that makes 1031 exchanges such a powerful tool for real estate investors.

What is Basis?

Basis is the amount a property is worth for tax purposes. The basis changes over time and can be adjusted, making the concept more confusing. When you buy a property, the price you pay is the starting basis. However, the cost basis also includes acquisition costs, such as title insurance, appraisal, and legal and escrow fees.

The starting basis may increase or decrease over time. If you make capital improvements to the asset, the money spent on those improvements increases the basis. For example, suppose you bought an industrial property for $6,000,000 and had acquisition costs of $200,000, making the initial cost basis $6,200,000. If you then upgrade the facilities and install new machinery at a total cost of $800,000, your adjusted basis would increase to $7,000,000.

Conversely, your basis may decrease. Typically, basis reductions are due to depreciation deductions but may also come from losses like casualty and theft. Using the previous example, with a $6,000,000 value, you can deduct $200,000 annually for depreciation. If you held this industrial property for five years, you would reduce the basis by the claimed depreciation of $1,000,000, resulting in an adjusted cost basis of $6,000,000.

Realized Amount vs. Basis

The realized amount for the relinquished property is different from the basis. The realized amount is the sales price minus any costs of the sale. For instance, if the property sells for $10,000,000 net, that is the realized amount. The realized amount minus the adjusted basis ($6,000,000 in our example) equals the realized gain, which in this case is $4,000,000.

Calculating the Basis for the New Property

Calculating the basis for the new (replacement) property in a 1031 exchange is straightforward: it is the purchase price plus the commission paid. The basis for the new asset must be equal to or greater than the relinquished asset for a successful 1031 exchange. If the purchase price of the replacement property is less than the adjusted basis of the relinquished property, the difference, known as “boot,” is subject to capital gains taxes.

To summarize:

  • New Basis Calculation:

New Basis=Purchase Price of New Property−Deferred Gain+Additional Cash Paid−Cash Received

Basis Adjustment in Estate Planning

Basis adjustment, particularly the step-up in basis, is a powerful tool in estate planning. Here’s how it works and its benefits:

  1. Step-Up in Basis:
    • When an individual inherits property, the basis of the property is “stepped up” to its fair market value (FMV) at the date of the decedent’s death.
    • This means that if the property is later sold, capital gains taxes are minimized because the gain is calculated based on the stepped-up basis rather than the original purchase price.
  1. Example:
    • Suppose a decedent purchased a property for $6,000,000 (original basis) and it is worth $12,000,000 at the time of their death.
    • The heir receives a stepped-up basis of $12,000,000. If the heir sells the property immediately for $12,000,000, there is no capital gain, hence no capital gains tax.
  1. Benefits in Estate Planning:
    • Tax Savings: A step-up in basis can significantly reduce the capital gains tax liability for heirs. This can lead to substantial tax savings when the property is sold.
    • Simplified Record-Keeping: Heirs do not need to track the original purchase price or capital improvements made by the decedent, simplifying their financial records.
    • Maximizing Wealth Transfer: By minimizing taxes, more wealth can be transferred to the heirs.
    • Flexibility: Heirs can sell the property soon after inheriting it without worrying about immediate tax consequences, providing financial flexibility.

What to Look Out For

  • Boot Liability: If the replacement property is of lesser value than the relinquished property, you may have to pay taxes on the boot.
  • Depreciation Recapture: If the relinquished property has been depreciated, the recapture of depreciation can create a taxable event.
  • Sequential 1031 Exchanges: Continuously rolling over properties through 1031 exchanges can defer taxes indefinitely, but it requires careful planning to ensure compliance and avoid penalties.


Understanding basis in a 1031 exchange is crucial for maximizing the benefits of tax deferral in real estate investments. By carefully calculating and adjusting basis, investors can defer capital gains taxes and strategically plan for estate transfers that minimize tax liabilities for heirs. Always consult with a tax professional to navigate the complexities of 1031 exchanges and basis adjustments effectively.