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Home Buyers Who Missed 8,000 Dollar Tax Credit Coming Out Ahead

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By Jim Weiker

RISMEDIA, June 29, 2010—(MCT)—Home shoppers who missed the April 30 deadline for a housing tax credit might have the last laugh. For a variety of reasons, they could end up saving more than the $8,000 they could have received from the tax refund.

In some neighborhoods and price ranges, sellers are dropping their prices because buyers are harder to find now that the credit has expired. Builders and real estate companies began offering promotions after the tax credit ended that, in many cases, are worth more than the credit.

Interest rates have dropped enough since the credit deadline that, over the life of a loan, a homeowner could easily save more than the value of the credit. “I think some folks possibly could have benefited from waiting until after the tax credit,” said Joe Jackson, a real estate agent with a brokerage in Ohio. “It would depend on the price point they were buying in and the market they were looking in.”

Home sales leapt in March and April during the waning weeks of the credit, especially for homes priced at less than $200,000, which appealed to first-time home buyers. Since the credit expired, home contracts and building permits have tapered off, leaving sellers with fewer buyers and, in some cases, little choice but to cut their price.

According to real estate website Trulia.com, which tracks price reductions, 30% of central Ohio homes for sale on May 1 had reduced their asking price—more than in April or March. Buyers hope they can take advantage.

Karen Kosnikowski learned days after the tax credit ended that she would have to leave her Victorian Village apartment June 30 because her landlord wanted the place. Her initial frustration at missing the tax credit changed when she started seeing price declines. “I would say five or 10 times a day, something comes in, and half of those are price drops. Sometimes, they are down several thousand,” Kosnikowski said. “So places I’ve seen before are starting to drop, or others are coming into my price range.”

A home in the Clintonville neighborhood she has toured twice, for example, dropped in May from $185,000 to $167,900. Another Clintonville home on her radar dropped from $179,900 to $167,000 after the credit expired, while a Downtown condo she visited went from $189,900 to $169,500.

“None of these went anywhere during the tax credit,” said her agent, Terry Penrod. “So Karen can just wait to see how low they go.” Kathy Shiflet, another agent in Ohio, has found the same thing. She represents a buyer looking for a two-story home in Hilliard. After the tax credit expired, one of two homes under consideration dropped from $156,900 to $149,900 while the other dropped from $154,900 to $149,900.

The tax credit might have something to do with it, but Shiflet thinks the season is a greater factor. “There have been reductions in prices, but traditionally, prices start to come down in June anyway,” she said, “because everyone wants to move in time for school.”

Those shopping for new homes are finding a different kind of bargain as some builders roll out incentives to keep traffic moving.

After the credit expired, Dominion Homes and Fischer Homes launched promotions for free finished basements and/or other upgrades. Either deal would be worth well above the $8,000 credit. “We expected a drop in traffic after the tax credit expired, and we saw that a little bit,” said Jon Jasper, who manages the Columbus division of Fischer Homes. “We anticipated that, and we had strategized to offer some incentives to bring people back. That promotion we’re offering with the free basement is huge in this market.”

Other builders are offering free appliances, trade-in programs, rebates and “sweat-equity” discounts that allow a homeowner to drop the price by painting, landscaping or otherwise helping to finish their home.

Mike Marshall, another agent in Ohio said he represented one buyer who deliberately passed on the tax credit to wait for a better deal on a new home. “They found a new build that was so much better in price with the discounts that they gave up the tax credit,” Marshall said.

Finally, interest rates have dropped nearly half a point since the end of April, saving buyers thousands of dollars over the life of a loan. Buyers of a $180,000 home who borrowed $173,700 in mid-April at an interest rate of 5.125% would have paid $377,442 over the next 30 years—$15,000 more than they would pay if they borrowed last week at an interest rate of 4.75%.

“I know it’s not money in your pocket right away,” said Barb Wilson, the head of mortgage lending at Newark-based Park National Bank, “but the value of the interest rate today is really better than the tax credit.”

Some real estate experts see the central Ohio housing market now settling into a normal rhythm in the absence of the stimulus, which so far has cost taxpayers $18.7 billion.

“At the end of the day, we don’t believe the tax stimulus will put us any further ahead than we would have been otherwise,” said Jerry White, an executive vice president of a real estate brokerage in Ohio.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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