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Expiring Tax Credit Has Buyers Rushing to Sign Dotted Line

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By Chelsea Conaboy

RISMEDIA, April 19, 2010—(MCT)—Latasha Hall never envisioned herself a homeowner. But by the end of the month, she will be. Just in time.

With the soon-to-expire tax credit for first-time buyers as an assist, the single mother plans to close on a $166,650 three-bedroom house in Clifton Heights, Pa. “If it hadn’t been for the credit, I wouldn’t have done it,” Hall said.

To be eligible for the federal tax credits—up to $8,000 for qualified first-timers and up to $6,500 for certain repeat buyers—houses must be under contract by April 30, with settlement by June 30, 2010.

With those deadlines in sight, some real estate agents say they are relishing their first busy days in months.

For some buyers, a tax credit is an added perk in an already-friendly market with good inventory and low mortgage rates.

For those like Hall, who is working toward her bachelor’s degree in behavior and addictions counseling and who works two jobs, it’s the last piece that fits the puzzle. In January, Hall visited Weichert Realtors for help finding a rental home after her landlord’s lender foreclosed.

Steve Madonna, a loan officer with Weichert, looked at her income (about $54,000) and her credit score (which needed some work, but not much) and suggested she buy instead. Madonna connected Hall with a state loan program that would provide $5,000 of the $8,000 credit up front, for use on closing costs or maintenance on the house. Hall set to work paying off two past-due bills and bugging the credit bureaus—sending weekly faxes and calling often—to update her score quickly. “If I hadn’t heard about this credit, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to get it done,” she said. “This is my time to go out and do what I have to do. I kept thinking about my kids.”

The new Clifton Heights neighborhood is safer, she said, and it’s just two blocks from the school her 9-year-old son attends. The credit has been “a blessing,” Hall said.

To Realtors like Daren Sautter, it’s a relief. “It’s nice to be busy,” he said.

Sautter, of Prudential Fox & Roach in Cherry Hill, N.J., watched showings and Internet leads triple in the first three weeks of March.

He expects to be slammed through the April 30 deadline, then figures he’ll see a lull before the spring market picks up some. “If you don’t sell a house in April,” Sautter said, “you’re not selling it.”

Sellers likely will be thinking the same thing, Realtors said, and listing prices could drop this month.

Sautter recently helped Pat Poole price her four-bedroom Cherry Hill house to sell. At $290,000, it went after just one day on the market. Recently divorced, Poole was looking to downsize. She sold the house to a young couple who used the repeat-buyer credit. Her next task: finding a new house for herself and her 17-year-old son in time to secure her own tax credit. “I’m going to get in under the wire,” Poole said.

A flurry of activity is noticeable in areas with a strong inventory of homes affordable to young families, Realtors said.

But some brokers are seeing a “trickle-up” effect. Would-be buyers are able to sell their homes, aided by the rush for the tax credit, and upgrade to communities with better school systems or more historic charm.

In Haddonfield, N.J., the proximity to Philadelphia and access to the PATCO High-Speed Line were big draws for Jeff Minors and Amy Henry. Minors will commute to his job as a financial-news editor in New York City. The couple, longtime renters, were looking to move to southern New Jersey from Norwalk, Conn., with their 2-year-old son. They recently moved into a four-bedroom home in Haddonfield that cost about $575,000. The first-time-buyer credit was an added bonus, Minors said. “We were more concerned about finding the right house at the right price,” he said. “But it’s definitely a nice benefit.”

(c) 2010, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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