How to Manage a Real Estate IRA

Question: How do I manage expenses and cash flow in an IRA, particularly when I reach retirement age and have to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)?

Planning for investment cash flow needs is critical for any investment strategy, particularly when investing in illiquid assets like real estate. Annual contribution limits can vary greatly between retirement accounts, so the investor needs to determine how much cash will be needed and how much will be available.

When you reach retirement age, you need to take RMDs. This is sometimes tricky for people who only have real estate in their IRA—they’re faced with the prospect of distributing a massive asset, which may incur a lot of tax, to meet the RMD requirements.

Many of our clients choose to own more liquid assets in addition to real estate, such as cash, securities or other alternative assets. Clients also sometimes set up a reserve for unexpected expenses. This allows them to be more flexible, particularly when it comes time to distribute their assets yearly. It is also possible to take incremental “in-kind” distributions of the property itself to satisfy the RMD requirement. This is done by re-titling the real estate each year showing an increasing personal ownership. Although this option may seem complicated it is done.

In addition, real estate is unique in that it can generate cash flow for your IRA. By renting the property to tenants, some clients can generate enough income to offset their RMD requirements.

Don’t forget that RMDs apply to Traditional IRAs and regardless of what type of asset you hold, it’s only smart to have a plan for how to accommodate these distribution requirements.

If you come across a situation where your IRA cannot afford any incurred expenses, then you should make plans to sell it, bring in other investors, liquidate other assets or make contributions. It is important that you only use IRA funds for all expenses associated with the property including taxes, repairs and insurance. You are not allowed to use personal funds to cover these costs; if you do, your IRA may be disqualified by the IRS.

Like all investments, due diligence is required to decide what will work best for your IRA and its investments. New Direction Trust Company can help with the administration and bookkeeping of your IRA.

To learn more about a real estate IRA or self-directed investing in general, feel free to send us an e-mail at or give us a call at 877-742-1270.