Capital Improvement – Definition

Cite this article as:"Capital Improvement – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated September 17, 2019, last accessed December 4, 2020,


Capital Improvement Definition

Capital improvement refers to the additions made in the form of permanent changes or preservation of some property related elements with a view to increase the overall value of the property, enhance its total life, and bring it in use for exclusive purposes. As per the Internal Revenue System, this form of improvement, upon completion, must continue for more than a year. Businesses including residential and big firms can have different ideas of capital improvement.

A Little More on What is a Capital Improvement

IRS Publication 523 elaborates the meaning of capital improvement. Here are a few instances that talk about capital improvement: adding fresh appliances, adding a bathroom or patio, new flooring, renovations made to the exteriors of a home, etc.

For being considered as a cost-basis rise, the capital improvement must be visible at the time of selling the property. A capital improvement should be an element part of the property that is attached to it on a permanent basis. This means that the removal of capital improvement element would cause a decline in the value of the property.

For instance, if an individual purchases an exclusive hot water heater and an equipment for his home, that are affixed in there permanently, they would be known as capital improvements to his property. Another example talking about the capital improvement of a region would be of a newly built public park in a busy area. Such improvements will enhance the worth of a property, and would be a part of the property on a permanent basis. Such additions, if removed, would reduce the value of the home as well as the property of the region.

The IRS has given a criterion distinguishing capital improvements and repairs. However, if a big project requires repairs like making replacement of all interiors of a home would be eligible for capital improvements. However, repairs that are done on a regular basis to maintain the home don’t come under the category of capital improvements. Examples would be painting walls, fixing any leakages, or substituting damaged hardware.

Key points to remember

  • A capital improvement refers to an enduring structural modification or renovation so as to increase the life of property as well as its overall value.
  • The Internal Revenue System states that capital improvements and repairs are not similar in nature.
  • Besides adding value to the property, a capital improvement enhances the cost basis of the property, which ultimately minimizes the tax on any proceeds on its sale.

A Little More on What is a Capital Improvement

A capital improvement not only enhances the value of a property, but also enhances its cost basis. This means that the amount borne by the property owner to construct the property should also add the total expenses borne at the time of making renovations or any editions to it. This ultimately decreases the amount of tax that the owner needs to pay on capital gains, at the time of selling the property.

In the year 2019, owners of the real estate property are eligible for getting exemptions on capital gains on profits received from the property’s sale. For single homeowners, the value of property at the time of sale is up to $250,000, and for married persons, it is up to $500,000. However, they should give evidence that they were in the same property for a minimum of 2 years of the previous 5 years before the property was sold. In case, the capital gain tends to be more than these amounts, and if the owner possessed the property many years ago, and if there has been a huge increase in the values of real estate property, there can a prominent effect of capital improvements seen on the cost basis.

Example of a Capital Improvement

For instance, an individual buys a home worth $650,000, and further makes an expenditure of $50,000 on renovating the living room. This results in an increase in the cost of the home from $650,000 to $700,000. The owner, who files tax returns and is single, sells his home for $975,000. In case, there have been no capital improvements made, the taxable capital gains would have been $75,000, which is the difference of the sale price ($975,000) and the purchase price ($650,000) and capital gains exclusion ($250,000). In case, the cost of $50,000 is included as capital improvements, the taxable amount of capital gain would reduce to $25,000 ($75,000 – $50,000).

Another example of a capital improvement

The rent provisions of the New York City involve a special provision known as the Major Capital Improvement program. Since the 1970s, it permits landowners to increase controlled property rents by up to 6% on a yearly basis with a view to regain the expenses associated with major capital improvements for those properties. Recently, in Feb 2019, a couple of State Legislature officers initiated a bill to abolish the program. They said that the landowners can misuse the major capital improvements program as per their own convenience. They can have the choice of submitting overstated expenses. Many critics claim that this program is biased and unjust too. A landowner may have to spend once for making capital improvements, but for a tenant, the amount of rent keeps increasing from time to time.

Reference for ‚ÄúCapital Improvement‚ÄĚ ‚Äļ Glossary ‚Äļ C ‚Äļ Home ‚Äļ Home Finance ‚Äļ Housing Assistance

Academics research on ‚ÄúCapital Improvement‚ÄĚ

Capital Improvement Controls as Land Use Control Devices, Deutsch, S. L. (1978). Capital Improvement Controls as Land Use Control Devices. Envtl. L., 9, 61.

Intellectual capital and organizational organic structure in knowledge society: How are these concepts related?, Ramezan, M. (2011). Intellectual capital and organizational organic structure in knowledge society: How are these concepts related?. International Journal of Information Management, 31(1), 88-95.

Equity analysis of capital improvement plans using GIS: Des Moines urbanized area, Sanchez, T. W. (1998). Equity analysis of capital improvement plans using GIS: Des Moines urbanized area. Journal of Urban Planning and Development, 124(1), 33-43. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Fair Housing Act, Affirmative Action programs, and more recently, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and Executive Order 12898 have all attempted to combat discrimination. However, planning decisions continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against certain groups of citizens in urban areas throughout the United States. An example of such discriminatory practices can be seen in the patterns of urban services delivery and capital investment in our communities. A spatial analysis of capital improvement plans using geographic information system technology for the Des Moines, Iowa, urbanized area is presented as a feasible method by which urban analysts can address equity issues.

Working capital management: difficult, but rewarding, Harris, A. (2005). Working capital management: difficult, but rewarding. Financial Executive, 21(4), 52-54.

Energy tax credits and housing improvement, Walsh, M. J. (1989). Energy tax credits and housing improvement. Energy Economics, 11(4), 275-284. This paper investigates whether federal and state tax credits allowed to households who make energy-saving improvements to their residence lead to an increase in improvement activity. A two-period utility maximization model of household behaviour is used to determine the theoretical influence of tax credits, energy prices and other factors on the optimal magnitude of conservation capital improvement. Regressions using various qualitative measures of conservation improvement as the dependent variable are estimated using household level energy consumption and improvement data. Consistent with evidence from earlier surveys, the empirical results do not support the hypothesis that energy tax credits lead to more widespread or more extensive energy conservation improvement activity.

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