TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Deconstruction Deduction: Home Disassembly and Charitable Donation Rather Than Demolition Yields Big Tax Savings

DemoWall Street Journal:  The Demolition Discount:

Scott and Pamela Weiss paid a little under $5 million for a home in Palo Alto, Calif., last year. Come tax time, they expect to get back about $66,000 for tearing it down.

That's because the Weisses, who are spending more than $4 million to build a new home on the site, took down the original home using a method known as "deconstruction." In this process, a crew carefully dismantles an older property by hand instead of using bulldozers. The process costs more than a straightforward demolition—the Weisses paid more than $20,000 for the disassembly, roughly double what they would have paid for a wrecking crew. But they were able to donate home materials such as lumber, roof tiles and even lamps to nonprofits for reuse.

The donated materials were appraised by an appraisal-and-consulting firm at $159,000, which the Weisses can apply to their tax bill to receive a deduction. Based on the Weisses' tax bracket, Ms. Weiss estimates that will ultimately work out to a savings of around $66,000, or more than three times the cost of the deconstruction.  ...

Deconstruction is a growing trend, as more homeowners try to avoid the wrecking ball when they remodel or tear down and instead find a way to reuse everything from doors to windows to light switches. Spurring the movement is growing awareness of "green" building, as well as more laws restricting the dumping of building materials into landfills. It doesn't hurt that there's typically a big fat tax break attached, either.

While the tax break has been around for decades, deconstruction had mostly occurred in fits and starts in pockets across the country, including a wave in the 1990s. This current surge is centered in wealthy enclaves along the West Coast, in areas such as Silicon Valley and cities including San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Seattle. Many of those locales share a distinctive set of features: populations with eco-friendly mind-sets; an older housing stock ripe for tear downs; strict environmental laws and moneyed residents eager for a substantial tax credit. ...

The ReUse People of America, a nonprofit building-materials salvage and reuse organization with 13 offices nationwide, says it has done 250 deconstructions this year, up 25% from 2008. The largest slice of the deconstructions—about a fifth—took place in California, says ReUse People's president, Ted Reiff. Outside the West Coast, cities such as Chicago and Durham, N.C., also had a sprinkling of deconstructions, he says.

For the tax consequences of the alternative strategy of claiming a charitable deduction for the donation of a home to a fire department for demolition as a training exercise, see:

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If the numbers are accurate then this sounds great. We save 159k of goods from permanent destruction. The cost to society is the deduction- which is obviously less than the value of the goods. Charity gains valuable assets. As a whole we are a richer society for it both in terms of the increased activities by the non-profit. In addition, by not destroying our accumulated capital. Lately, recycling is achieved without force and with all sides gaining monetarily.
Seems like a win win and the more taxpayers do this the more we gain.
Arguably taxpayers should do this even without the charitable deduction being that the cost is 20k and appraisal is at 159k leaving a profit of 139k. This would tend to throw doubt into these numbers. Why aren't taxpayers doing this for profit.
Even they have no way of selling off these pieces why hasn't someone opened a business specializing in this.

Posted by: mike fox | Dec 25, 2012 2:30:46 PM

This reminds me of how absolutely stupid it was to pay for and destroy perfectly good cars in the "cash for clunkers" program.

Posted by: Woody | Dec 26, 2012 7:38:26 AM

If the numbers are accurate, aren'd we rejoicing about saving 159k while the big picture is that we just destroyed nearly 5 million of value (the previous house) to build a new 4mil. one ?

You need a blind spot to see the positive side of a 66k state-deduction sponsorship of this nearly 10-million bonanza.

And are they buying used material to build the new house, providing some demand ?

Posted by: toy | Dec 31, 2012 1:42:14 AM