What Are Opportunity Zones and How Can They Help Real Estate Investors?

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What Are Opportunity Zones and How Can They Help Real Estate Investors?

Posted by on Sunday, April 28th, 2019 at 1:56pm.


Opportunity Zones and How They Work

Are Opportunity Zones the talk of the town in your local Real Estate circles?  No?

While it’s no surprise that this part of the tax code is not yet well known, many savvy investors are jumping at the opportunity of the tax savings that it can provide.

What is an Opportunity Zone?

According to the IRS.gov website, “An Opportunity Zone is an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment….”  Examples of local Opportunity Zones include certain sections of Delray Beach just south of Atlantic Avenue, west of Federal Highway, sections of the west Atlantic Avenue corridor east of Interstate 95 west of Swinton Avenue.  Click here for more about these areas. 

These opportunity zones were designated through coordinated efforts between State and local governments in identifying these economically-distressed areas.

Opportunity zones were added to President Trump’s “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” in December 2017. Specifically the “Investing in Opportunity Act” created the Opportunity Zones.

This Act aims to help reinvigorate these economically depressed areas. Being part of Trump’s plan, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the intent of this program is to recruit private capital investment for this purpose.

Who Can Benefit from Investment in Qualified Opportunity Zones?

Entrepreneurs and investors in any asset class can benefit from investing in a Qualified Opportunity Zone. 

This is different than a 1031 exchange (where you can only defer tax on real estate investment gains). Opportunity zones allow for investment into real estate and businesses in Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZ)

Let’s take three common scenarios that plenty of investors or entrepreneurs may have experienced in the past year.

  1. Eight years ago you invested $100,000 in the stock market. Since then the stock has made significant gains and you find yourself with a new portfolio value of $1,000,000. You have a capital gain of $900,000. Dividends are ok, but you’d like to cash out of this market but you hate to pay tax on that gain.
  2. You’re a Real Estate Investor who has a portfolio of properties. Your planned investment horizon is fast approaching and you’re going to cash out to maximize your return. You will have a significant capital gain of $2 million when this occurs.
  3. You’re an Entrepreneur who has been building a marketing company for the past 10 years. Out of nowhere, you’re approached by a major media company who offers to buy you out. It’s an offer that you can’t refuse. You’ll walk with a $15 million capital gain after the sale.

Writing that check to the IRS can be painful! Investing in opportunity zones affords several benefits if you follow the rules. If you want to get the full benefit, this is a long term investment.

Here is a broad overview of those benefits.

  • Tax deferment on your invested capital gain until the earlier of which the investment is sold or  December 31st, 2026.
  • For purposes of determining gain or loss, you’ll get a 10% step up in tax basis for investments held at least 5 years prior to December 31st, 2026.
  • An additional 5% step in tax basis for investments held at least 7 years prior to December 31st, 2026.
  • Investments in a QOF that are attributable to capital gains held for at least 10 years get a step up in basis to the fair market value of the investment on the date of sale or exchange.

Yes, read that last one again. That last one is big. Follow these guidelines and you can reap the benefits of investing in a Qualified Opportunity Fund.

There are rules involved, of course. First, you must create a qualified opportunity fund (QOF). 

  • To become a Qualified Opportunity Fund, an eligible corporation or partnership self-certifies by filing Form 8996, Qualified Opportunity Fund, with its federal income tax return.
  • Next, you must invest in a QOZ within 180 days of realizing the gain that you wish to defer tax on.
  • You’ll also need to significantly improve the asset you purchase within 30 months. This applies to the basis in the improvement only, not the land. You’ll essentially have to double your basis in the improvement.

We’re just scratching the surface above. It’s critically important to consult your tax advisor before you go out and buy property in a QOF. If you do have a significant gain and want to take full advantage of the opportunity inherent in this program, you’ll need to purchase your investment before the end of 2019. 

Communities Benefit from QOF Investment 

The QOZ program aims to drive private capital into communities to help reinvigorate them. Many of these communities could be in your own backyard. 

Before you go ahead and jump in consult your tax advisor, and make sure that you have an experienced local real estate agent on your side that can help guide you through picking out a QOZ property or business.

Looking for more information about Opportunity Zones or other real estate investment opportunities?  Contact us today:


“IRS Provides Much Needed Guidance on Opportunity Zones through Issuance of Proposed Regulations.” Gibson Dunn, 22 Oct. 2018, www.gibsondunn.com/irs-provides-much-needed-guidance-on-opportunity-zones-through-issuance-of-proposed-regulations/.

“Opportunity Zones Frequently Asked Questions.” Internal Revenue Service, www.irs.gov/newsroom/opportunity-zones-frequently-asked-questions.

Graphic image courtesy of Balch & Bingham LLP. 

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