Self-help Law

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How to structure your ownership of a rental or investment property

Introduction

Once you have decided to buy an investment property you should decide what type of "vehicle" you would like to use in order to create an investment that works most to your advantage. You should obtain professional advice from a lawyer and an accountant as to the preferred entity in whose name the property is to be bought, and as to issues such as GST.

The "family vehicle"

Using what is called the "family vehicle" involves ensuring that any income earned from the investment property will accrue in the name of a family member in a lower tax bracket.

On the other hand, you may buy a property knowing that for a few years it may run at a loss, but expecting that it will ultimately produce a profit. In the short term it will be advantageous to put the property in the name of a family member with a higher income, and therefore the resulting loss can be offset against the higher income in a few years' time.

Company

Another traditional "vehicle" that can be used is a company (see How to form a company). A company provides you with considerable flexibility, enabling you to make changes in the ownership of the property by transferring shares without incurring stamp duty and legal expenses. These changes of ownership can be simple accounting arrangements that allow you to remain in the driving seat.

Family trust

Another option for families is to buy the investment property through a family trust (see How to create a trust). Trusts allow you flexibility in distributing capital and income to the parties to whom you wish to apply it. You can also combine a trust with a company and thereby obtain the benefits of both.

Cautionary notes
  • The Inland Revenue Department will allow a property to run at a loss and that loss to be offset against other income, provided there is a real prospect of the enterprise turning a profit within a reasonable time. If the prospect of profit is too far down the track, then you run the risk of the arrangement being disallowed. There are many advantages to be gained from a proper understanding of the tax system, and you should therefore obtain advice on this from a lawyer or accountant.

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