The IRS is merciless, and if you don’t understand how real estate investments and the tax laws work together, you could be at a loss. Focus on understanding self-directed IRA’s and the entities you use in the purchase and sale, and don’t just rely on a cheap custodian to help you. This is a great episode!
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John Hyre Real Estate Background:
– Tax attorney, accountant and real estate investor
– 19 years of experience as a tax attorney/accountant and 14 years of experience as a real estate investor
– Investor in low income rentals and small mobile home parks
– 95% of his clients are real estate investors
– Prior to owning his company, he worked for two of the Big Five accounting firms and for several Fortune 500 companies
– Based in Columbus, Ohio
– Say hi to him at http://www.realestatetaxlaw.com
– Best Ever Book: Grit by Angela Duckwork
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Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless, and this is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing. We only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any of that fluff.
With us today, a tax attorney, an accountant and a real estate investor, John Hyre. How are you doing, John?
John Hyre: Very good, thank you much!
Joe Fairless: Nice to have you on the show, my friend. John has 19 years of experience as a tax attorney/accountant and 14 years of experience as a real estate investor. He’s an investor in low-income rentals and small mobile home parks, based in Columbus, Ohio. With that being said, John, do you wanna give the best ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your focus?
John Hyre: Sure. My focus is making sure you keep it, because you earned it. Most of my practice is tax-oriented, it’s mostly real estate investors, small businesses and self-directed IRA investors. I do the attorney part now, I refer the CPA work, meaning the tax returns and the bookkeeping out.
I also invest on the side, just sort of building a little bit of wealth on the side, mostly high cash flow, low income, which is a whole separate podcast and story onto itself. Those are the basics.
The client base is nationwide, and I’ve been at it for a little while now.
Joe Fairless: What’s the typical client hire you for?
John Hyre: That’s a hard one to break down…
Joe Fairless: Top three categories for why they hire you.
John Hyre: The top three categories… I’ll tell you, the self-directive IRAs, the self-directed 401k practice is absolutely exploded over the last three years. I won two tax court cases and word kind of got out there on that. So I do a lot of that work, and a lot of people call in and say “Look at my whole structure, top to bottom.” Entities, books, taxes, everything. And usually we figure out a fixed fee and then I save them a ton of money.
Finally, a very specific question – someone might call in with a very specific, very pointed question, which I will of course keep the discussion to the parameters that they define. I would say those top three define it.
Joe Fairless: What do people hire you for with self-directed IRAs and 401k’s? Because I’m under the impression – but obviously, it sounds like I’m wrong – that you can just go to a custodian, like iPlan or Pensco or something, and then they’ll handle everything for you.
John Hyre: They don’t handle everything. They won’t do planning advice or structuring, or at least they’re not supposed to. If you read their paperwork, it says they don’t do it, and if they do it’s not their fault if it’s messed up. A lot of the people you talk to on the phone there, while they mean well, are also salespeople and also just don’t have the expertise.
I get a lot of referrals from those custodians that send me people. For example, people will ask “We wanna setup a checkbook LLC. Can we lend money to our uncle? Can we invest in such and such project? How do we avoid prohibited transactions?” Those are a lot of the questions that I get, and I’d say about 70% of my referrals come straight from straight from the custodians, questions they really don’t wanna answer.
Joe Fairless: You won two tax court cases… What was the case about, if you can talk about it?
John Hyre: I’ve actually won more than one, and by winning, we didn’t go to trial. The IRS decided instead of going to trial, they would just tell my client they no longer owed them any money, and could we just call it even and walk away… Which I consider a bigger victory than going to trial, because you avoid the expense. The two cases are specifically self-directed IRA cases.
The first time we had a guy that was a rehabber mostly, with his IRA, and he had done some things in there that were questionable; they were grey, but we convinced the IRS that “No, that’s okay.”
I’ll give you an example… His IRA ran out of money on a rehab, so he put some of his own personal money in there, which is usually a no-no, but we managed to show the IRS some rulings and some case law that indicated, “You know, we have a fighting chance. Do you really wanna go to court with this?” so they decided to back off.
The second guy had a very large Roth IRA and did a lot of investing. We’re talking rentals, buy and sell, lending, a private equity investment… He did all sorts of things, so there was a lot for them to look at. We spent a lot more time on that one because of the number of transactions. We went through a lot of different things, but ended up in the same position. It was kind of like the Obi Wan Kenobi moment, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” “These are not the droids we’re looking for” – they agreed with that, and so ultimately we got a very happy ending. There was a half a million in taxes at stake, and we got him out for — I think my fee on that one was in the very low five-figure. He was extremely pleased.
Joe Fairless: Just so I’m clear on that second one… It was the same issue that was being discussed, mixing personal money with IRA money?
John Hyre: That one had a multiplicity of issues. For example, he had a trust that the IRA invested into, that he controlled the trust through a friend who was the trustee, so the IRA was arguing the trust was illegitimate, they argued that you can’t have a friend act as a trustee, which – yes you can, as long as it’s done correctly… They also tried to argue that certain transactions were illegitimate based on the details. Those I won’t go into. Bottom line is we persuaded them that they were wrong.
It took a while. The auditor didn’t wanna listen, the appeals people, who are usually pretty good, didn’t really understand IRAs, which is normal, so we didn’t really get any traction until we talked to the lawyers. I do audit and tax court representation all over the country, but what we do is we bring the cases here to Ohio, we have the trial in Columbus, and the attorneys are actually out of your hometown, Cincinnati. So I know who they are; they come up here, and I’m used to dealing with them. Actually, I have to say, they’re pretty reasonable, the IRS lawyers. They can be aggressive, but they’re pretty reasonable.
The client was in Florida, and ultimately we went through the transactions one at a time until they decided “This really isn’t a good case for us, never mind.”
Joe Fairless: Does that mean that we can mix our own personal money with a self-directed IRA and be okay?
John Hyre: You can, I don’t recommend it. If it’s done, it has to be done in a very specific way. It creates complexity and it creates subtle traps, which is why I recommend people, if they can, just not go there. Keep your IRA and personal investments separate. That’s ideal. With that said, can they be mixed if it’s done in a certain way? Yes. Typically, either an undivided interest, especially if we’re dealing with a note, so maybe the IRA lends 70k, I lend 30k, and it’s 100k total.
I’m oversimplifying… There are some tricks and traps in there that we have to watch for. The biggest one is we have to prove that we did not need the IRA money to enter into a personal deal. You can never use an IRA as assets or income to benefit yourself personally, no matter how small or indirect that benefit. So if you needed the IRA to get into the deal, for example, that would be an example of using the IRA to benefit you, so the first thing we do is try and create a record that “Hey, I could’ve done this deal myself. The reason I brought my IRA in was not because I needed it – I have other sources of money – but because it was a good deal for the IRA.” That’s one example.
Sometimes we’ll do joint investment of personal and IRA money through an LLC. Really, it just depends on the nature of the investment and how much time we’re gonna be in the investment and how much liability there is. For example, I’m more inclined to use an LLC where low-income rentals are concerned, because those are high-liability items. But if there’s a loan, lending money is not really high liability. People don’t tend to trip and fall on notes, so usually just a cheaper joint investment, the same way you might invest in a house as tenants in common is a cheaper, more efficient way to do things. Because we don’t wanna overcomplicate or over-bill the client if it can be avoided.
Joe Fairless: What are some issues that you see your clients or prospective clients have from a tax attorney standpoint that can be avoided?
John Hyre: Tons. That’s two or three podcasts right there.
Joe Fairless: You’re booking me up for the month right now.
John Hyre: Yeah, we’ll fill you up. Let’s see here… In terms of IRAs, it’s not getting help ahead of time, listening to the custodians and being cheap and thinking that you know it. The IRA rules are complicated, and the penalty for the IRA for screwing up is death. The IRA dies if you commit a prohibited transaction; that can be horribly expensive. So usually, even if you do some research, get a little bit of help; get an attorney, talk to them about what you can and cannot do. Put some time in up front.
With general taxes, I would say the biggest issue by far that clients have is horrible record-keeping. They’re entitled to deductions, but they never back it up. They never do what they have to do to make it legit in the eyes of the IRS to be able to prove it. I happen to be married, and I can tell you there’s a big difference between being right and being able to prove to your spouse that you’re right. That second step is where investors mess up. They don’t do what it takes to prove to the IRS that they’re right. Scanning receipts, keeping a good set of books, especially for QuickBooks… And it’s normal; entrepreneurs are normally gunfighter/cowboy/can-smell-a-deal-a-mile-away, and they’ll do the bookkeeping work maniana. And maniana becomes maniana-maniana-maniana, and there’s the issue.
Joe Fairless: I’d love to learn a little bit more about the proving — well, I wrote my notes “Prove to your spouse that you’re right…” [laughs] The intention behind that, which is make sure that we can prove to the IRS that we are right and that we have accurate books… You mentioned scanning receipts and having a good set of books. Let’s say we hire a bookkeeper; he or she is taking a look at our credit card transactions, our bank accounts, and putting them in a spreadsheet. So we have that allocated. What do we need to do with the receipts? And do we need receipts at all if we have them in the credit card statement?
John Hyre: You do need the receipts. In fact, because the IRS has had its budget cut and audit rates are down, they’re getting sneakier and trickier. They’re sending out letters that say “Show me February and May receipts for this business.” And then let’s say you’re missing 60% of them, they just allow 60% of all your expenses on the return. You need to have receipts. The best way to keep them – scan them.
What we do is we pay our children to do it. There’s a tax angle in paying your kids. You get a tax deduction; your kids almost certainly will not pay any tax on the income, because their standard deduction is bigger than what you’re paying them, and if you pay them through not a corporation, so any entity, but something that’s taxed as a corporation… If you pay them through not a corporation and they’re under 18, they also don’t pay social security tax. So you’ve shifted money within the family. You still have indirect control of the money through the kids, you’ve gotten a tax deduction… Once they scan your receipts, save them in three or four different places, and name them by the date. I name my receipts – today would be 030117A, 030117B. I don’t even put what it was for, because I will never look at them again unless I get audited, but I can find them by date. If I get audited, I’m gonna show my QuickBooks to the IRS, and they’re gonna say “Show me February receipts for car expenses”, and I can just pull all the receipts for that month and have a VA or somebody go through the receipts and figure out which ones were for cars, and hand them over to the IRS.
Joe Fairless: Do you use a particular app for that?
John Hyre: I don’t. I probably should, and I suspect that kids are out of the picture… The cheap, easy labor of those kids are my app. I don’t even know what app they use to scan things, frankly. They deal with it. So once I don’t have the kids around, I will probably have to discover one of the better apps. I know there are a ton of them out there. Same thing for tracking mileage. There are a ton of apps that will doing if people would just take the time and implement it.
So once you’ve got the receipts, ideally you keep things in QuickBooks; I’d prefer that to a spreadsheet – it’s a lot better record keeping system. As long as the receipts tie to the QuickBooks that tie to the banks statements – man, that’s gonna be a short audit.
Just last year I had my shortest, cheapest audit ever. I charged a guy $1,300 to do the audit and it made me sick to charge that little. But he had a flipping business — more really an assignment business on the side… So he had a day job, he had a side business on schedule C; he was an engineer, he listened well to directions, he took directions well and he was detail-oriented. That audit lasted about 15 minutes of me showing the IRS agent the receipts, and about an hour and forty-five minutes of me flirting with her and passing the time.
Joe Fairless: [laughs] Let’s say you get the letter that states “We need to see your receipts for February and May” and you don’t have the physical receipts. Have you heard of a case where the IRS is “Well, really? Then how about you show me for the rest of the year, too?”
John Hyre: Absolutely. The whole point of those audits is to see if they’ve got an easy target. The faster and the clearer you respond to that letter, the more likely they are to be done and gone. So first rule with the IRS is “Never lie.” The second rule is “Don’t answer questions that were not asked.” The third rule is “Don’t let the audit metastasize”, and that is precisely what you described, how an IRS will metastasize. They smell blood, they spot weakness, they expand the audit.
Joe Fairless: What was the second rule?
John Hyre: Don’t ever answer a question that wasn’t asked. People do that all the time, that’s why we don’t like clients talk to the IRS. They wanna talk and show the good faith and how innocent and wonderful they are, and the IRS agent shuts his mouth and listens, and gets a lot more information than you want. When they ask a question, no matter how stupid or irrelevant you think the question is, you answer the literal question, with the truth, nothing more, nothing less. You don’t expand.
Joe Fairless: Alright, let’s switch gears to your investing in low-income rentals. What’s the last low-income rental you purchased?
John Hyre: It’s not really a rental… I got one I’m about to flip. The last low-income rental – I bought one if my 401k back in May. I am so busy with the practice I’m not out actively looking, but some of my clients are wholesalers and they bring me things. A wholesaler brought me a low-income rental here in Columbus… It’s not a war zone, but it’s not a beautiful area either… But this was a great deal.
It was 15k. I think he made 5k on it. The lady had been in there for 12 years, the rent is 620/month; it needs about 10k to rehab, but not today. I’ve had this thing now for almost a year, and we’re now getting ready to replace the roof with about how half of my net cash flow.
It’s been a great property. The only real quirk with the property is the tenant has been there so long, she’s hard to train. I have a property manager, because when you have something in an IRA or 401k you don’t wanna run it yourself; there are tax problems with that. You really need to have an outside manager.
For her, the manager needs to show up on the third Thursday of the month, and text her on the third Wednesday of the month. She gets her government check the third Wednesday. You have 24 hours, and she will pay you in cash. If you wait 48 hours, that money will be gone. So you have to show up and pick it up from her. She’s incapable of writing a check. That’s the only real quirk. But if you do the numbers, it’s a sweet deal, and it’s perfect in my 401k. I don’t pay tax on it, I’ll continue to reinvest the money.
Joe Fairless: And you’re using the money from the rental to improve the property? Is your goal to sell it in a certain amount of time, or is this a long time hold?
John Hyre: This is a cash flow property. I could sell it right now in this market for probably 30-35. Maybe if I had a California or a foreign investor maybe 40. It’s funny, I tell my California investors “Be careful, don’t tell people you’re from California, because if they hear that, they charge you more, and you pay.” But no, I’m gonna hold that for the cash flow. I am cash flowing about 5k/year on that property, which if you figure I had 15 in it, that’s great.
For the first four years I’m gonna reinvest about 2,500/year into updating the property. For example, the roof really needs replace. It’s still functional, it’s not leaking, but I can tell it’s gonna go, and I’d rather just deal with it now. Plus, keep her in there. If she’s been in there 12 years, le’s make the place a little nicer. It’s a swell return.
Joe Fairless: Based on your background as a tax attorney, is there a particular reason why you choose to do fix and flips, or low-income rentals versus other opportunities?
John Hyre: You know, some of it is based on the tax law, but some of it — it’s a long story how I got into it. Bottom line is I bought a book called Deals On Wheels by Lonnie Scruggs, almost 20 years ago. And to experiment, I started buying mobile homes really cheap and turning around and selling them on payments, and I got to know the low-income way of doing things. It was a hard lesson… I used to be a really nice person, and dealing with low-income tenants will fix that problem quick.
I learned you have to be really firm, you have to be careful with those guys… But I love the cash flow. I love the cash flow – that’s the real reason I do it. One of these days I may look at other types of rentals, but as long as I can find decent management — because I have learned I don’t wanna manage that. I will probably get arrested if I manage for too long, and they’ll find bodies everywhere. “Who’s the tax attorney that took [unintelligible [00:19:41].13] the water tower in this low income neighborhood?” “Oh, that was Hyre.” So we can’t have that. We make sure that other people manage them for me.
Joe Fairless: [laughs] The number one challenge, at least from what I’ve heard, with low-income rentals is the maintenance and the high tenant turnover. Have you experienced challenged in either of those areas?
John Hyre: Definitely. We’ve gotten better at picking tenants. Now, I’m if Hispanic background. I grew up speaking Spanish, my wife’s from South America, so we do like dealing a lot with immigrant tenants, especially of Latin background. Politically incorrect as it is to say it, the first generation comes here to work, the second generation – not so much. So we really like first-generation… They’re gonna bust their butts, and if you take care of them, by and large they’re gonna take care of you. I do find you get a better result when a woman is present. If it’s all guys, that’s really hard on the property.
You’ve gotta get a feel for their job history and background, are the kids in the local schools…? How itinerant are they? Because they can be very itinerant, but if you take care of them, it’s a good property, they tend to stay, they tend to be very good about referrals… You have to be careful with in particular Latino immigrants. They fix the property up for you — and put that all in quotes, “they fix it up for you”… They think it’s nicer and they think they fixed it up, and you look at it and think, “Oh dear lord, I’m gonna have to tear that down and just start from scratch on whatever it is they did.”
They have a different way of looking at saving money, and they really believe they’re saving you money. And based on my experience overseas, living in Chile, for example, that may work there. That approach just doesn’t work here. You really have to control what they do with the property, drive by it periodically, make sure that half their extended family isn’t living there.
Joe Fairless: John, what’s your best real estate investing advice ever?
John Hyre: Tax-free investing. Don’t pay taxes. Do it through an IRA, an HSA, a [unintelligible [00:21:35].09] savings account, a 401k… There are not deductions that are bigger, and we’ve gotten a reprieve. There was a bill in Congress – in the Senate, specifically – that showed the Democrats game plan for taking apart IRAs. They don’t like Roth’s in particular. And seeing those, how they figured they’re gonna win and they laid out their game plan – everybody was of course surprised by the result – we’ve gotten a reprieve, and we have some time to use this technique and this device before Congress decides it’s losing too much money. It would be lunacy to pass it up.
And I walk the walk. I invest in my properties whenever I can through one of those devices. I don’t wanna pay the tax.
Joe Fairless: With the 1031 exchange you can continue to defer the gains until you die. Help me clarify something… Whoever picks up your property after you die – it can continue to be up until what… Is it 13 million dollars in there…?
John Hyre: We’re mixing taxes, and it’s easy to do. On the income tax side, if you 1031 till you die, which I think is a great strategy, your kids inherit property – or whoever it is that you have inheriting – and you get what’s called “the basis step up”. So let’s say you bought it for 100k, depreciated it like crazy for 28 years or more down to zero. They inherit it, and let’s say when they inherit it it’s work 300. The day they inherit, they have a basis of 300. They can sell it that day and not pay income tax. So that’s the income tax side.
Then what you’re talking about is the estate tax. You can have up to 11 million in your estate with no planning. This is assuming you’re married – otherwise it’s about five and a half million. You can have 11 million with a little bit of planning in your marital estate and not pay estate tax – which is very high. Estate tax is up there around 50%, so you don’t wanna pay any.
Once you get past that 11 million, you need to do some planning in order to not pay estate tax on the remainder.
Joe Fairless: Thank you for clarifying. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?
John Hyre: Hit me!
Joe Fairless: Alright, first a quick word from our Best Ever partners.
Joe Fairless: Best ever book you’ve read?
John Hyre: Let me think a minute. Best ever book I’ve read? I read so much that I’m starting to smoke through the ears. The best most recent book I’ve read, the one that comes to mind – there’s a book called Grit, and it is about persistence and toughness and just pushing through. That was a brilliant book.
Joe Fairless: Best ever deal you’ve done?
John Hyre: Probably that little rental I’ve just described. I really like that deal. I’ve done stuff that’s close to that, but not quite that cheap.
Joe Fairless: What’s the best ever way you like to give back?
John Hyre: Two things: volunteering as a debate coach. I coach kids debate; I teach verbal violence, and it’s just fun to see the light come on and the confidence in their eyes. Second, there’s a school here in Columbus, St. Charles School For Boys that we like to give to. I plan ultimately on funding a scholarship; they’re a wonderful school, they change lives.
Joe Fairless: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on a deal?
John Hyre: Partners. I’ve almost never bought a bad deal, but I’ve gotten involved with bad partners, I didn’t do my due diligence. In one case I didn’t do the due diligence on the spouse, and it turns out that she was two scoop-fulls of crazy, and it caused a lot of problems, big time. It cost me way more money than they property ever could have.
Joe Fairless: I enjoyed the two scoop-fulls of crazy. I haven’t heard of that, I have a good visualization, so thank you for the metaphor. How do you qualify partners and partner’s spouses now for future stuff?
John Hyre: I don’t partner anymore. I don’t have the need to do so, and for now I don’t. If I were to qualify them, I suppose I would do more due diligence, asking around, looking at history, ask for credit record… This one would have been pretty hard to spot. In hindsight, the only way I could have spotted her condition was talk to enough people who dealt with her, because what’s funny is after the feces hit the rotating blade device, a number of people came up and said, “Oh yeah, she’s nuts!” I just wish I would have talked to those people, but it’s the only way I think I could have discovered it, because she was kind of like high-functional crazy. It’s not like I came home and there’s a rabbit’s head boiling on a pot of water on the stove… You really had to dig to figure her out.
Joe Fairless: What’s the best place the Best Ever listeners can get in touch with you, John?
John Hyre: Two places that go to the same website: iralawyer.com or realestatetaxlaw.com. It’s a primitive little website – I’m so busy I haven’t had time to make it nice. One of these days I will.
Joe Fairless: Well, we will have that link in the show notes page. John, thank you for being on this show, thanks for talking through the tax issues and challenges that investors will come across… Keep our receipts, and also the three rules for dealing with an IRS audit – number one, “Don’t lie”, number two, “Don’t ever answer a question that wasn’t asked” and number three, “Don’t let the audit metastasize”, so don’t let it snowball into something; immediately address it.
And the 15k flip, flip/hold that you’re doing, where you’re getting $620/month in rent; it’s worth about 30k, so it’s really not about the money you’re making on the sale, it’s more about the cash flow, and why you invest in low-income producing properties. Thanks so much for being on the show, I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon.
John Hyre: Take care!