Questions About The Foreign Investor In Real Property Act “FIRPTA”

There are some things you should know about FIRPTA if you are buying real estate from a “foreign person” or you are a “foreign person” selling a U.S. real property.

Following are questions and Answers that will help you understand FIRPTA.

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Who Is Responsible For Complying With FIRPTA?

While the seller is the party subjected to the tax, it is up to the buyer to withhold the appropriate percentage of the sales price when purchasing U.S. real property from a “Foreign Person.” In the event the buyer does not properly withhold, the buyer may be liable to the IRS in an amount equal to the amount of taxes that should have been withheld, plus interest and penalties.

While the buyer has the ultimate liability to the IRS, the collection and disbursement of funds to the IRS as part of the closing process creates a responsibility and potential liability for the settlement agent if the matter is not properly handled and documented. Accordingly, it is important that your file reflect specific written direction from the buyer if anything other than fifteen 15% is being withheld. For example, if a buyer elects to waive the withholding or withhold a reduced rate, settlement agents should obtain an affidavit from the buyer setting forth the buyer’s decision and, if applicable, the facts that entitle the buyer to the exemption or reduced rate along with an acknowledgement that the buyer has been given the opportunity to obtain independent tax or legal advice.

Requirement of TIN’s (Taxpayer Identification Number).

IRS regulations require all buyers and foreign sellers of U.S. real property interests to provide their TINs, names, and addresses on withholding tax returns, applications for withholding certificates, notice of non-recognition, and other related IRS documents when disposing of a U.S. real property interest. The best practice id to have TINs for all parties at the time of closing but it is possible to close without the TINs if you follow the following guidelines:

  • If the buyer does not have a TIN, the buyer must remit the proper withholding forms within 20 days after closing; however, the buyer will also need to remit, to a separate address in a separate package, a properly completed application (Form W-7) for a TIN simultaneously with remitting the withholding forms. Please refer to the instructions for each form for further instructions and mailing addresses.
  • If the seller does not have a TIN, the buyer must remit the proper withholding forms within 20 days after closing, but the seller’s TIN information will be left blank. While the TIN is not necessary for closing, it should be noted that the seller will have to obtain a TIN in order for the IRS to process the funds and, in fact, upon receipt of the withholding documentation, the IRS will follow up with the seller instructing the seller to apply for a TIN. For this reason, many settlement agents provide the friendly advice that the seller submit its separate application for a TIN by the time of closing.

You can get more information in the IRS publication entitled “ITIN Guidance for Foreign Property Buyers/Sellers,” which is available at

Submitting The Withholding.

Generally, the funds withheld must be forwarded, together with IRS Forms 8288 and 8288-A, to the IRS within 20 days after the closing date. However, if an application for a withholding certificate is submitted to the IRS before the date of a sale and the application is still pending with the IRS on the closing date, the correct withholding tax must be withheld, but does not have to be reported and paid immediately. The amount withheld (or lesser amount as determined by the IRS) must be reported and paid within 20 days following the day on which a copy of the withholding certificate or notice of denial is mailed by the IRS.

What If There Are Otherwise Insufficient Proceeds For Withholding In A Short Sale?

There are times, such as short sales, when the proceeds from the sale are insufficient for withholding under FIRPTA. However, FIRPTA withholding requirements are based on the sales price, not the seller’s proceeds, so there is no automatic exemption for transactions in which the seller is receiving zero or insufficient proceeds. In these cases, the seller will need to apply for an exemption or reduced withholding from the IRS. As with applying for a TIN, this process can take some time, so it is imperative that the settlement agent raise these issues with the foreign seller as early as possible in the process.

What Happens When Less Than All Sellers Are “foreign Persons”?

The analysis of whether the buyer must withhold funds under FIRPTA must be undertaken with respect to each seller separately, even if the seller is a married couple. Generally, withholding is required for each Foreign Person based on such person’s percentage of ownership. For example, if there are four joint owners, each owning a 25% interest, and one of the sellers is a Foreign Person, then the buyer is required to withhold only 25% of the required withholding. If the seller owns the real property interest as a married couple, the IRS deems each spouse to own 50%. In this case, if only one spouse is a Foreign Person, then withholding only as to such spouse’s one-half interest is required.

For more information about how Monarch Law & Title can assist you with your FIRPTA transactions, please contact us by calling
(407) 377-5585 or click here to contact us.

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