Who pays property taxes on a land contract?

Jennifer Park
Published: May 18, 2023 | Updated: March 10, 2024

Navigating the intricacies of land contracts can often be a daunting task for both buyers and sellers. One of the common questions that people considering purchasing or selling a land contract often ask is: “Who pays property taxes on a land contract?“. Read on to find out everything you need to know about property taxes in land contracts, as well as other fees and costs.

who pays property taxes on a land contract

First, How Does A Land Contract Work?

So, what is a land contract? A land contract is an alternative to normal mortgage, and can be a good option for buyers who are unable to get traditional financing. In a land contract, the buyer makes monthly payments directly to the seller until they have paid the full amount specified in the contract. In return, they can live in and use the property right away, just like if they had purchased the home with a regular mortgage. The seller retains the legal title until the final payment. So, within this framework, who is responsible for property taxes?

Land Contract vs Mortgage

The primary difference between a land contract and a mortgage centers on the transfer of property ownership and the involvement of a lending institution. In a land contract, the seller essentially acts as the lender, providing financing to the buyer, who makes payments directly to the seller in installments. Ownership of the property does not transfer to the buyer until all agreed-upon payments have been made, keeping the title with the seller as a form of security.

In contrast, with a mortgage, a buyer typically obtains financing from a bank or financial institution and gains immediate ownership of the property upon purchase. The lender holds a lien on the property as security for the loan, which is lifted once the mortgage is fully paid off.

Who Pays the Taxes on a Land Contract?

In a land contract, the buyer is generally the one responsible for paying property taxes. This is because, despite not holding the legal title, the buyer essentially steps into the shoes of the homeowner. From the moment the contract is signed, they live on the property, use its facilities and benefit from its equity growth. Therefore, the cost of property taxes, which are tied to the benefits and responsibilities of home ownership, usually falls on the buyer. 

The buyer is also responsible for other financial obligations tied to the property like home insurance premiums and maintenance costs. This requirement is usually stipulated in the contracts the seller presents to the buyer during the initial stages of the transaction. Now, why does the land contract buyer have to pay these costs?

When the buyer makes these payments, they’re investing in the property—almost like a rent-to-own situation. Even though the legal title remains with the seller until the final payment, the buyer behaves like the homeowner from day one. As such, they are usually expected to cover the costs associated with home ownership, including property taxes.

land contract property taxes

What About the Seller?

The seller, who holds the legal title until the final payment, has a vested interest in making sure the buyer keeps up with the property taxes. If the buyer defaults, the unpaid taxes could become a lien on the property, which would complicate the final transfer of the legal title.

A land contract usually spans several years, with the purchase price being paid off in monthly installments. The final payment, often larger and known as a balloon payment, completes the purchase and transfers the legal title from the seller to the buyer.

Until this final payment, the seller and buyer must ensure that property taxes are up to date. This is part of the broader responsibility that land contracts require the buyer to accept from the outset.

The Importance of a Title Search and Title Insurance

Before you either buy or sell a land contract, it’s essential to conduct a title search. This search reveals any existing liens or issues with the property’s title that could potentially interfere with the transaction. It’s also advisable to purchase title insurance to safeguard against any future legal claims regarding the property’s ownership.

land contract taxes

Key Takeaways

Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, understanding the intricacies of land contract law is crucial to a successful transaction. It is always advisable to consult with a seasoned real estate firm or a law firm to guide you through the process, and to ensure that all parties involved understand their roles and responsibilities.

Choosing a land contract when selling your property can come with some significant benefits. It helps broaden your potential pool of buyers since not everyone can get approved for traditional financing. It can also be more profitable in the long run, since land contracts generally have a higher interest rate than traditional mortgages. 

However, many people may not be prepared to collect payments or deal with the consequences if the buyer defaults. If you would prefer to receive a lump sum, like in a traditional home sale, then you can sell your land contract to a qualified mortgage note buyer who will pay you cash and take over the contract. A direct buyer like AmerinoteXchange can help you through every step of selling your mortgage note. Because we have our own in-house funding platform, we can fund privately held contracts in as little as 15 business days with no hassles and no commissions. Reach out to get a quote today!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I sell my house on land contract with a mortgage?

Selling your house on a land contract while it has an existing mortgage can be complicated. The key issue is the “due on sale” clause found in most mortgage agreements, which requires the full loan balance to be paid if the property is sold or transferred. Selling on a land contract essentially transfers interest in the property to the buyer without fully paying off the existing mortgage, potentially triggering this clause.

However, it’s not impossible to proceed with such a sale; it typically involves obtaining permission from the current mortgage lender. The lender may agree under certain conditions or may refuse, in which case other financing arrangements must be considered.

Is buying land tax deductible?

Generally, buying land itself is not tax deductible in the sense that you cannot deduct the cost of the land purchase from your personal income taxes immediately in the year of purchase. However, there are related expenses and scenarios where the cost of land can contribute to tax deductions over time. For instance, if the land is used for business purposes, such as farming or rental properties, certain costs associated with its purchase and development can be depreciated or deducted as business expenses.

Similarly, if you build on the land and use it for income-generating activities, some of the costs associated with the land can be part of the property’s depreciation. Additionally, property taxes paid on the land can often be deducted.

Is land contract tax reporting necessary?

Yes, tax reporting is necessary when involved in a land contract transaction, both for the seller and the buyer. For the seller, the income received from the buyer, including interest on the installment payments, must be reported as income for tax purposes. The seller may also be eligible to report any capital gains from the sale, depending on the details of the transaction and how long the seller held the property before selling it.

For the buyer, the interest portion of the installment payments may be tax-deductible, especially if the land is used as the site for a primary residence or for business purposes. Both parties should maintain accurate records of all payments made and received, as well as any other expenses related to the transaction. Consulting with a tax professional is crucial to ensure that all tax implications are properly addressed and that both parties comply with tax reporting requirements according to the laws and regulations governing their jurisdiction.