I receive hundreds of emails each week — sometimes hundreds each day — from readers of my weekly column and those who find me in the ThinkGlink.com community or listen to my radio show.
The upshot from my inbox: If you’re planning to buy a house this year, you’re buying because you feel that interest rates are at a historic low (they are!), millions of foreclosures have driven down the prices of homes near you to something much more affordable and because you have a job that you expect to keep over the next few years.
The fact that you might get up to a $15,000 tax credit because you buy this year hasn’t entered a lot of people’s consciousness.
Last year, as part of the prior Administration’s stimulus package, first-time home buyers who purchased a home through June 2009 were given a one-time $7,500 tax credit. Although the $7,500 first-time home buyers’ credit (10 percent of the purchase up to $75,000) may have factored into some people’s decision to buy at the end of the year, a lot of home buyers have written to let me know that it seemed like a big surprise bonus — they had no idea there was anything in the pot for them.
Last year’s $7,500 first-time home buyer’s credit was more like an interest-free loan, requiring a payback at $500 per year over 15 years. But getting that money all at once, when you file your tax return, made it seem like a big chunk that could be used for other things.
Now the pot is much bigger and has a gilt edge. The latest talk about solving the housing crisis has expanded the $7,500 first-time home buyers’ credit into a $15,000 credit (10 percent of the purchase price up to $150,000) that would be available to anyone who buys a primary residence (sorry, real estate investors). Better yet, it would not need to be repaid as long as you stay in the house for at least two years.
The $15,000 tax credit could be a deciding factor for some home buyers who are on the fence and aren’t sure how long they’re going to be staying in their new residence.
I heard from one Atlanta resident this week who is thinking about moving to a Chicago suburb. She’s a transferee, and her company would probably buy her house through its relocation company if it doesn’t sell quickly. She wanted to know if it made sense to buy in her new location.
If she’s only there for four years (her current estimate), there’s a good chance she might not make any money on the property, unless she’s extremely savvy about which home she buys and how much money she pours into improving it. However, getting a $15,000 tax credit could swing the pendulum definitively into the "buy" column, especially if she’s able to use the cash to pay down debt, build equity, or fund needed renovations of the property.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the Isakson-Lieberman home buyer tax credit amendment will increase home purchases by nearly 500,000 homes, create more than 255,000 jobs, and generate more than $12 billion in wages and salaries and nearly $10 billion in business income. The NAHB also estimates that the tax credit amendment will generate federal tax revenues of $6.6 billion and state and local tax revenue of $2.1 billion.
The cost: $19 billion.
The real question members of Congress need to ask: What is the optimum level of home buying that should be taking place? Over the past decade, a significant percentage of home buyers were actually real estate investors buying up condos, town homes and single family houses to fix and flip, or to rent. Lots of people bought homes who couldn’t afford them even in good times, not to mention a massive recession.
Since real estate investors are having a difficult time getting financing, that sector of the market has dwindled dramatically. So 40 percent of homes sold may not be to real estate investors, a level achieved for several years running earlier this decade.
But if the real estate infrastructure is now set for 7 million to 8 million new and existing home sales each year, but the real number of first-time and trade-up buyers is actually more like 4.5 million, increasing the number of buyers this year may wind up siphoning the home buying market in years to come.
Jan. 19, 2009.