Bidding Wars Return to the Real Estate Market

First-time buyers take advantage of $8,000 tax credit before Nov. 30 cut off.

ByABC News
October 17, 2009, 2:05 PM

Oct. 19, 2009 — -- As the deadline looms for first-time home buyers to take advantage of the government's $8,000 tax credit, struggling real estate markets around the country are in the throes of a phenomenon they haven't experienced in years: bidding wars.

Lower-priced homes on the market in many once-beleaguered areas from Portland, Ore., to Brookline, Mass., are seeing a flood of offers, say real estate brokers. Though the tax credit is good on homes sales completed by Nov. 30, because home deals can take months to complete, new buyers are rushing to sign contracts so they don't miss out on the credit.

"It's a welcome change from the way things have been around here," says Carrie Novotny, a realtor in Edina, Minn., outside Minneapolis. She says a recent open house for a two bedroom, craftsman style home listed at $213,000 drew several dozen prospective buyers and more than five serious bidders.

The home eventually went into contract for $217,000, Novotny says. "It's been a bit crazy," she says. "People really want to nail down a sale to cash in on the tax break."

The tax credit, part of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill passed in February, allows first-time homebuyers to reduce their federal income taxes by 10 percent of the price of a home, up to a maximum of $8,000. The credit is set to expire Dec. 1.

The National Association of Realtors, along with the Mortgage Bankers Association, estimates that home sales to first-time buyers have increased by 25 percent in 2009 and now account for 50 percent of all sales.

The groups say that first-time buyers are often at the lower end of the market and that the tax credit is helping to reduce the inventory of foreclosures.

Lawmakers in Washington are currently trying to extend and expand the tax break that real estate professionals and economists regard as an important prop for the struggling economy.

A Senate proposal lead by Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate's banking committee, would not only extend the credit to June 30, 2010, but would remove the first-time homebuyer requirement.