Reporting the sale of a principal residence during 2023 - Akler Browning LLP

March 8, 2024by Akmin

While owning one’s own home brings with it many intangible benefits, home ownership also provides some very significant financial advantages. Specifically, it provides the opportunity to accumulate wealth through increases in home equity, and to realize that wealth on a truly tax-free basis.

Anyone who was fortunate enough to purchase a home more than 10 or 15 years ago likely now owns a property which has a current market value of many times more than the original purchase price. The real benefit of such asset growth, however, is found in the way such increases in value are treated for tax purposes.

The Canadian tax system is a very comprehensive one, and there are very few sources of income, property or investment income which escape the tax net. Home ownership is one of those few exceptions. Under general Canadian tax rules, where an asset is sold, the increase in the value of that asset over its original purchase price is treated as a capital gain, 50% of which must be included in taxable income and taxed as such. However, where a family home is sold, any increase in value (that is, any gain) is exempt from tax, regardless of the amount of such gain. For example, a homeowner who paid $200,000 for a home in 2000 and sold that home in 2023 for $1,000,000 has a gain of $800,000. Assuming that the property was lived in and used as a home (a “principal residence” in tax parlance) for the entire 23 years of ownership, the full $800,000 gain can be received tax-free. If that gain were treated as a capital gain, and taxed as such, approximately $200,000 of the gain would have to be paid in capital gains tax.

The tax-free status of gains made on the sale of a family home is known, for tax purposes, as the principal residence exemption (PRE) and has been available to Canadians for many decades. For many years after the introduction of the PRE there were no changes made to the rules governing the availability of the exemption, or the reporting requirements for claiming it. In the last eight years, however, and especially in 2023, the rules with respect to the availability of the exemption have been tightened.

The need for changes arose out of a perceived change in the way the housing market operated, resulting from unprecedented increases in the price of residential properties over a relatively short period of time. While there are have always been individuals or companies who purchased properties with the intent of reselling them, perhaps after undertaking renovations, most purchases of residential real estate were made by individuals or families intending to live in them. However, it became possible, over the past 10 or 15 years, to purchase a property and re-sell it relatively soon thereafter for a very substantial profit. And, where the PRE was claimed on that sale, the entire profit would be received tax-free.

These changes in the housing market led to what the federal government perceived as a situation in which housing was being bought and sold as a commodity rather than for its traditional purpose of providing a home, and that the PRE was being used to avoid the payment of profits made from the “flipping” of properties in a way that was never intended. A secondary effect of such “commodification” of residential real estate was to drive up the price of properties, putting home ownership further and further out of the reach of the average Canadian.

For both these reasons, the federal government moved, in 2016 and again in 2023, to make changes to ensure that the principal residence exemption was being used for its intended purpose, and only by those who were entitled to claim it.

The first such change, which took effect as of January 1, 2016, was an administrative measure which required taxpayers, for the first time, to report any transaction for which the PRE was being claimed. Beginning with the 2016 tax year, individuals who are claiming the PRE for a property sale which took place during the year are required to complete Schedule 3 on their tax return for the year, confirming that fact and indicating the tax years for which the exemption is being claimed.

The second change made by the federal government with respect to the PRE was much more substantive, and aimed directly at those who, in the government’s view, are misusing the PRE. That change, which is effective as of the 2023 tax year, provides that anyone who sells a property which they have owned for less than 365 days would be considered to be “flipping” properties. Where that is the case, 100% of any gain made on the sale of the property would be included in income and taxed as business income. In other words, not only would the seller of the property not be eligible for the PRE, the gains made on the sale of the property would not be treated as a capital gain (only half of which is included in income for tax purposes) but as business income, the entirety of which is included in income and taxed as such.

The difference in the tax result is best illustrated using the example above. An individual who purchases a property for $200,000 and sells that property for $1,000,000 has a gain of $800,000. The result of the different possible tax treatments of that gain is as follows:

  • Where the sale is fully eligible for the principal residence exemption, the total tax payable on the gain is $0;
  • Where the gain is treated as a capital gain, the total tax payable on that gain is about $200,000; and
  • Where the property sale takes place after 2022, the property was owned for less than 365 days, and the transaction is treated as property flipping, the new rule will apply and the total tax payable on the gain will be about $400,000.

Of course, while most Canadians who purchase a home to live in as a principal residence don’t intend to sell within a year of purchase, life’s circumstances can sometimes dictate a different outcome. Consequently, exemptions from the new tax consequences of selling within 12 months of purchase will be provided for Canadians who sell their home due to certain specified life events.

The rules require that anyone who sold a principal residence during the 2023 tax year must report that sale on page 2 of Schedule 3 of their return for 2023. In that section, the taxpayer is required to designate the property which has been sold as his or her principal residence, and to indicate whether that property has been their principal residence throughout the period of ownership. Where, as in most cases, the number of years of ownership will be identical to the number of years that the property was used as a principal residence, the entire gain realized on the sale of the property will qualify for the principal residence exemption and therefore be non-taxable.

Less often, a taxpayer will have sold a principal residence during 2023 within 12 months of having acquired it. Where that is the case, an additional section of Schedule 3 must be completed, to determine whether the sale does or does not constitute “property flipping”. That section, found on page 3 of Schedule 3, asks the taxpayer to indicate whether he or she sold a housing unit during 2023 within 365 days of acquiring it. Where the answer to that question is “yes” the taxpayer can indicate whether the sale was “due to, or in anticipation of” any one or more of nine different “life events”.

That listing of “life events” is quite extensive, and includes such things as job loss, having an elderly parent come to live with the taxpayer (or the taxpayer moving to care for an elderly parent), illness, and insolvency. And, in addition, it is not necessary for such circumstances to have actually occurred prior to the sale; it is sufficient that the sale have taken place “in anticipation of” the particular life event or events. Where these criteria are satisfied, the sale of a property within 365 days of its acquisition will be considered to not constitute property flipping, and any gain realized on the sale will be exempt from tax under the principal residence exemption (assuming that the taxpayer actually lived in the property during the year he or she owned it).

More information on the rules governing the sale of a principal residence and claiming the exemption on the 2023 tax return can be found on the CRA website at

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.