The difference between purchase price and fiscal value when buying or selling real estate

Anyone who wants to invest in property in Spain could imagine that the price at which he acquires the property must coincide with the value declared in the official document the acquisition is drawn up with. However, throughout history, we have been faced with a variety of situations, depending on the economic environment and the changing behavior of the tax authorities.

Those who bought property before the explosion of the housing bubble in 2008 have surely heard at some point in the process of acquisition a proposal about the possibility to declare in the official title deed of sale (in the „Escritura“) a value for the property lower than the price actually paid for it. This practice was very common in order to reduce the tax for both seller and buyer: the buyer pays less for the property transfer tax (Impuesto de Transmisiones Patrimoniales), he has to pay as the purchaser, as the basis for calculating this tax is the declared price of the transmission; the seller also pays less, since the gain on the sale becomes less, and the lower the profit, the lower the income tax (Impuesto de la Renta de las Personas Físicas), he has to pay as the transferor.

Today, times have changed and, surprisingly, we find ourselves in the reverse situation. The current catastrophic situation of the property market may lead to buyers and sellers to specify a higher value than the value actually paid in order to avoid undesirable inspections by state tax authorities. Regardless of the price we pay for real estate, the reference value for the State Tax Agency is a fixed a priori value, the so-called “taxable value”. This value can be calculated for each case, based on the value assigned by the Cadastre, depending on numerous objective factors. In the Golden Years prior to 2008, some municipalities have updated the cadastral value of the property in its territory, raising it under the spectacular rise in prices in the housing market. Once the cadastral values of a community are changed, a new modification is not so simple, and, in addition, legal deadlines must be respected, which can delay the update for many years. For this reason, now we meet occasionally with cadastral values updated before the bubble burst in the housing market, and therefore, the minimum taxable values obtained from them are higher than the average market price.

If these taxable values are not considered at the moment of the formalization of the purchase contract in a public document with tax transcendence, the risk to face a tax audit is very high and it will be difficult to prove that in fact we did not have to pay more for the property which we have acquired, although the price we have indicated in the title deed was really the one we paid for.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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