Non-Arm’s Length Transaction: What You Should Know

non-arm's length transaction
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Transactions in real estate fall into two categories: arm’s length and non-arm’s length. An arm’s length transaction is a contract between two parties who do not know each other. While a non-arm’s length transaction in real estate ensues when the buyer and seller have a personal relationship, for example; a deal between friends, family, or coworkers. This article will guide you on how non-arm’s length transaction works and the tax consequences associated with it.

What is a Non-Arm’s length Transaction in Real Estate?

A non-arm’s length transaction in real estate occurs when the buyer and seller have a prior relationship; such as marriage, family relation, friendship, business partnership, or employment. When such a relationship exists, there is a significant possibility that one party may influence the other in some way or that both parties will act together to try to defraud the fair market value of the house. Let’s see this example of a non-arm’s length transaction termed “mortgage fraud”. A ridiculous non-arm’s length transaction.

Assume Peter wants to buy a house. He meets his cousin Jack who has promised to sell his house to him at a cheaper rate of $200,000 in exchange for $200,000 in cash. Whereas the house is barely worth $150,000 in actuality.  Peter, who knows Jack trusts them, is attempting to exploit their cousin’s relationship to increase the buying price of the house and obtain additional money. This type of action is termed mortgage fraud.

What Is Considered an Arm’s Length Transaction?

An “arm’s length transaction” in real estate is one in which the buyer and seller are not in any way related to one another. Each side is free to pursue their own best interests in a transaction of this nature, and there is no coercion or manipulation of any type.

What Is the Difference Between an Arm’s Length Transaction and Non-Arms Length? 

Non-Arm’s Length Transaction Example

Consider the following scenario: a mother wants to sell her car to her son. She may decide to give her son a discount on the car. Even though she could get a better price if she sold it to a third party. The transaction is not at arm’s length in this case because the buyer and seller are already related as family members.

Although this non-arm’s length transaction example is harmless, other examples could be more. Based on what we said earlier, the mother may ask her son to pay $800,000 for her $500,000 car. The child may overpay because he believes the mother’s advice. At this point, the mother has committed mortgage fraud which carries harsh consequences, including imprisonment. Aside from taking advantage of her child. A non-length arm’s transaction exposes either party and the lender to risk. Since the transaction’s terms and price may be skewed in favor of one side or the other rather than an objective sale between both parties.

Another example of a non-arm’s length transaction is this. If a founder of a publicly listed firm participates in favoritism by assigning one of their family members to an important position inside the company; even though other more qualified applicants were available. The company’s shareholders may suffer as a result.

Is Non-Arm’s Length Transaction Illegal?

Non-arm’s length transactions are legal, but because of the possibility of fraud, they are subject to greater scrutiny than arm’s length transactions. When attempting to obtain a mortgage for a home, there are additional government and private lender rules to follow. There are a few things lenders want to avoid in family transactions, and some of them are for your benefit.

Because family or friend transactions can easily become tainted; lenders want to ensure that both the buyer and seller are acting in their self-interest. Accepting a price that is close to market value, and isn’t engaging in mortgage fraud; such as misrepresentation, straw buyers, inflated prices, and so on.

With a non-length arm’s transaction, you risk encountering more difficulties in obtaining a loan due to the additional limitations. However, you may be subject to additional taxes because the IRS will be watching closely to ensure that a fair market value, as well as an interest amount, is paid for the home. If you purchase a home for a lower price and then sell it within a few years, you may be subject to capital gains taxes as well.

Should You Buy A House At A Non-Arm’s Length?

There are numerous advantages to purchasing a property from a friend or relative, but combining home sales and family may be tricky sometimes.

#1. Additional Restrictions

With a non-arm’s length transaction, you risk encountering more difficulties in obtaining a loan due to the additional restrictions. You might be exposed to additional taxes because the IRS will take into consideration the fair market value and interest amount you receive from your home. If you purchase a home for a lower price and then sell it within a few years, you may be subject to capital gains taxes as well.

#2. Relationship Clash

Other family members or acquaintances who are not directly in the transaction may grow envious of the scenario in some cases. For example, if you acquire a house that has been in the family for decades.  While this has no direct effect on the transaction, it may cause some clashes in your relationships. So, when buying a home from a family member or friend, be cautious and conscious of the overall perception.

#3. Financial Shift

The second potential stumbling block is a sudden change in the seller’s financial status. This may prompt them to ask you for additional money on the acquisition; especially if they supplied seller-backed financing instead of a mortgage lender.

#4. Gift of Equity

A gift of equity allows homeowners to sell their homes for less than the market value. This typically facilitates ownership transfers between parents and children. Equity is the difference between the selling price and the fair market value. By documenting the gift of equity, the equity works as a down payment for the buyer. This makes it easier to secure a mortgage to cover the remainder of the cost.

Non-Arm’s Length Transaction Tax Consequences

The existence of a non-arm’s length transaction can sometimes result in significant tax consequences for both parties. When there is inadequate consideration for a transfer of property. The non-arm’s length principle might impact the tax outcome of the transaction.

Despite participating in a non-arm’s length transaction; the parties may face substantial tax consequences if the sale is not at fair market value.

For example, if a seller records a transaction at a price more than the fair market value to capitalize on gains. Or if he documents a purchase at a price less than the fair market value (to potentially avoid double taxation), both parties may be subject to double taxation.

As a result, the Internal Revenue Service closely examines transactions that may fall into this category. This is to ensure that the property rhymes with market standards.

In as much as the transaction may include a gift of equity, the buyer must still declare the fair market value as the sale price and pay taxes on that amount. The reason is that the gift counts against that value. On that basis, given equity may be taxable under federal gift tax laws.

What Is the Difference Between Arm’s Length and Non Arm’s Length?

In arm’s-length transactions, the buyer and seller don’t try to influence each other in any way. However, in a non-length arm’s transaction, also called an “arm-in-arm” transaction, the buyers and sellers already know each other, either personally or through business.

Common Non-Arm’s Length Situations

While non-arm’s length transactions are frequently within family property sales, this category encompasses any sort of intimate relationship, from friends to landlords, coworkers, and others.

Below are common scenarios in which non-length arm’s transactions occur:

#1. Short-Term Sale.

 A short sale occurs when a property owner obtains consent from their lender to sell their property for less than the remaining debt on their mortgage; which has a negative financial impact on the lender. Because the lender is willing to lose money in this type of transaction, they will only do so if they can confirm that it is a typical, non-arm’s length transaction.

#2. Double Closing.

 A double closing happens when two transactions occur back-to-back. This happens when the first transaction is much less than the value of the second transaction that occurs immediately thereafter. The first transaction will be non-arms length since it does not reflect fair market value.

#3. Rent-to-Own. 

As part of a rent-to-own agreement with a loyal tenant, a landlord may set the price of a property below its fair market value. If this is the case, both parties may need to agree on a gift of equity upon the non-arms-length transaction to avoid future tax consequences.

#4. Manipulated Value 

 A buyer and seller may agree to price a home much higher than the true market value to manipulate the property’s future resale value. However, because real estate assesses based on fair market value, this sale will result in taxation problems for both parties.


A non-arm’s length transaction occurs when the buyer and seller already have a personal or professional relationship. While arm’s length has no personal relationship. Both are legal, but most lenders and brokers favor arm’s length transactions since they are simpler and more beneficial for relevant parties.

It is important to distinguish between the two when closing a deal to avoid non-arm’s length tax transaction consequences if they misrepresent their situation. In general, relevant authorities and lenders ensure fair transactions, regardless of the buyer-seller relationship.

Non-Arm’s Length Transaction FAQs

What is non arm's length mortgage?

 A Non-Arm’s Length Mortgage is a loan in which funds from an eligible Self-Directed Plan are lent to oneself or as a co-borrower to a spouse, child, or other related by blood, marriage, or other connection

What is non arm's length income?

Non-arm’s length income is the amount of non-arm’s length revenue including the entire amount, not simply the portion that exceeds the amount that would have been obtained if the parties were dealing at arm’s length.

Can I buy a house jointly with my son?

Yes. Many lenders are happy to approve family members’ joint mortgages. Many parents will apply for a mortgage jointly with their children to assist them in getting on the property ladder.

Does FHA allow gift of equity?

The FHA allows gifts of equity as long as the residence is sold from one family member to another. Because VA and USDA loans do not need a down payment, equity gifts are uncommon.

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