Deadline Looms for Home Buyer Tax Credit

The looming deadline for the government's home tax credit has started to make prospective buyers "panicky" about missing out on the deal so many others have taken advantage of.

The $8,000 credit for first-time buyers has given the sagging housing market the boost government officials were hoping for. The National Association of Realtors estimated that 44 percent of home buyers would not have closed the deal last month without it.

First-time home buyer Toni Austin, a 30-year-old hairstylist, made an offer on a Washington, D.C.-area home last week. If the house passes inspection she will finally be a homeowner -- something she's dreamed of for years.

"It's a big step, so the nerves are definitely present," she said. "The tax credit is very important to me."

Across the country, many more prospective buyers are hoping they, too, can squeak in under the deadline.

"For the last three to four weeks we've definitely noticed that buyers are getting panicky," Atlanta realator Charlotte DeMarco said.

In Texas, realtor Sean Parsons said he's also seen the credit inspire more activity in the Dallas area.

The real estate industry has been lobbying Washington to extend the tax credit once again, but so far Friday's deadline remains.

Rising home prices and increasing mortgage and interest rates have some concerned that renewed stength in the housing market may be a temporary trend.

Though it's not too late to take advantage of the tax credit, prospective buyers need to move fast.

Experts gave three tips to get the deal in before Friday's deadline.

Put your best foot forward when making an offer, meaning no low-ball offers. If offering below the asking price, do so within reason.

Request your attorney put an expiration clause in the offer so that if it is denied or the deal is called off, you can move onto another property before the deadline.

Make the offer "mean and lean." Keep it simple since there is no time left to haggle over whether small items like the chandelier will come with the house.

Cheap Prices, Low Interest Rates Make for a Fantastic Buyer Market

Cheap prices, low interest rates and favorable lending terms have made this one of the best buyer markets ever. The government reported April 23 that sales of newly built homes in March saw the single biggest monthly increase -- nearly 27 percent -- in 47 years.

Pending home sales, a number that measures intent to buy based on the number of contracts signed, rose 8.2 percent in February compared with January, and jumped a whopping 17.3 percent from a year ago.

A rise in pending home sales usually means a comparable gain in closings a month or two later, according to the NAR. "The rise in buyer contact activity may signal the early stages of a second surge of home sales this spring," says NAR's chief economist, Lawrence Yun.

The home buyer tax credit was first introduced in 2008 as a way to prop up the crumbling housing market. It offers first-time buyers -- technically, those who haven't owned a home in three years -- a bonus worth 10 percent of the purchase price, up to a maximum of $8,000.

It was originally set to expire on Nov. 30, 2009, but due to popular demand, Congress extended it to Friday. At the time, lawmakers also expanded it beyond first-time home buyers to include a $6,500 bonus for repeat buyers who have been in their existing home for more than five years.

While buyers must have signed purchase agreements by April 30 to qualify for the credit, they have until June 30 to close.

Lending Hurdles

Tighter lending standards after the credit crunch are probably buyers' biggest hurdle.

Buyers are being turned down because they no longer meet banks' stricter requirements, says Rodney Anderson, a morgtage lender in Dallas. Anderson says his volume is down 40 percent from a year ago, simply because most buyers don't qualify for a loan.

To quantify the problem, Anderson conducted a survey of buyers between October 1 and December 31, and found that almost 22 percent of people who had qualified for a mortgage at the beginning of the period no longer qualified by the end.

"People want to take advantage of the tax credit, but because of the tighter lending guidelines they can't," he said.

Here are some additional tips from "Good Morning America's" personal finance contributor, Mellody Hobson:

Under the home buyer's tax credit extension, you need to:

Purchase a home for less than $800,000 between Nov. 6, 2009 and have a binding contract in place by April 30, 2010 (the sale must be completed by June 30, 2010);

Meet certain income requirements: Single filers must have a modified adjusted gross income of less than $125,000, and for married filers the figure must be less than $225,000. Those who earn above these amounts may qualify for partial credit.

Additionally, to be eligible for the first-time home buyer credit, you cannot have owned a home for the three consecutive years prior to your purchase.

To claim the new home buyer's credit on your 2010 tax return, you would have had to complete Form 5405.

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