There is a little know law that exempts a seller from having to pay the normal transfer tax (approx $8.50 per 1K of sale price) at closing if your tax assessment is less at the time of sale than when you purchased the property.

MCL 207.526 (t) provides an exemption from State Transfer Tax for the following written instruments:
A written instrument conveying an interest in homestead property for which a homestead exemption is claimed under either the school code of 1976, Act No. 451 of the Public Acts of 1976, being sections 380.1 to 380.1852 of the Michigan Compiled Laws or the state education tax act, Act No. 331 of the Public Acts of 1993, being sections 211.901 to 211.906 of the Michigan Complied Laws, if the state equalized valuation of that homestead property is equal to or lesser than the state equalized valuation on the date of purchase or on the date of acquisition by the seller or transferor for the same interest in property. If after an exemption is claimed under this subsection, the sale or transfer of homestead property is found by the treasurer to be a value other than the true cash value, then a penalty equal to 20% of the tax shall be assessed in addition to the tax due under this act to the seller or transferor.

Attorney General Mike Cox issued an important opinion this week clarifying the proper application of an obscure exemption contained in the Michigan Transfer Tax Act. The opinion, arising out of a request from Representative Martin Griffin (D-Jackson), should afford certain Home sellers immediate financial relief as Michigan’s real estate market continues its road to recovery.

Exemption “t”, as designated in the Michigan Transfer Tax Act, sets forth that a seller may seek an exemption from paying the state transfer tax if the following criteria are met:

  1. The property must have been occupied as a principle residence, classified as homestead property;
  2. The property’s State Equalized Value (“SEV”) for the calendar year in which the transfer is made must be less than or equal to the property’s SEV for the calendar year in which the transferor acquired the property; and
  3. The property cannot be transferred for consideration exceeding its true cash value for the year of the transfer.

With property values and corresponding SEV declining due to the struggling economy, home owners and real estate agents first took notice of the exemption’s possible applicability under the state transfer tax. However, absent an official interpretation, there was little awareness of its proper application.

The opinion from the Attorney General uses examples to show how the application would apply. One example illustrating application provides:

If the SEV of the principle residence when acquired in 2006 is $74,000.00 and the SEV when transferred in 2008 is $72,000.00 then criteria one and two above are satisfied. You can establish the true cash value by doubling the SEV at the time of transfer. In this case the true cash value is $144,000. If the sale price in 2008 is $140,000.00 then the sale does not exceed its true cash value. All three criteria are satisfied and the exemption would apply.

The Attorney General’s opinion provides immediate relief to home sellers already faced with the reality of declining value on their single greatest asset. The opinion also provides a uniform reading of the exemption that is necessary to provide consistent application among the various Registers of Deeds across the state as they are already receiving filings for the exemption.

Sellers should be cautioned that a request for the exemption that fails to meet all three criteria could bring a penalty equal to 20% of the tax assessed in addition to the tax due. Additionally, no similar exemption exists in the County Real Estate Transfer Tax Act.