Ten Questions on the Volatile Housing Market

Great article in today’s WSJ. Recommended and MUST read for existing or prospective homeowners… RD

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Ten Questions on the Volatile Housing Market

-Lower Prices Have Spurred Home Sales, but Looming Foreclosures and High Unemployment Are Clouding the Outlook-

The U.S. housing market has been in a slump for the past four years. When will it ever end?

In recent years, real estate has proven as jittery and unreliable as any other market. The average U.S. home price nearly doubled between January 2000 and April 2006, according to the First American LoanPerformance index. Since then, the average has fallen about 30%. The drop has been 53% in the Las Vegas metropolitan area and 39% in Miami, where about a quarter of all households with mortgages are behind on their payments or in foreclosure. The value of your home might be determined more by whether the neighbors keep their jobs than whether the house has ample light and closet space.

Here is a guide to navigating a fractured and volatile market:

1. Is the housing market getting better?

It has shown some signs of healing this year, but the much-touted recovery is tentative and fragile.

Home sales have increased from the severely depressed levels of 2008. The inventory of unsold homes listed for sale also is down. Bidding wars are breaking out for foreclosed homes in the sorts of neighborhoods (near jobs and decent schools) that attract both first-time buyers and investors seeking rental properties.

But more than 6.7 million U.S. households with mortgages, or about 13%, are behind on their payments or are in the foreclosure process, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Eventually, many of them will lose those homes, sending more supply onto the market. Unemployment has continued to rise, and the housing market is unlikely to show a sustained recovery until job growth resumes.

While the supply of middle-class homes on the market has declined somewhat, it remains ample in most places. And there is a huge glut of high-end houses for sale in many areas. That means prices of high-end homes might still have a long way to fall.

2. When will housing bottom out?

There probably won’t be any clear turning point. Monthly indicators, such as home sales and prices, tend to bounce erratically from month to month, making it hard to discern the underlying trend. And the housing bust will end at different times in different places. House prices already might have bottomed out in the coveted Virginia suburbs with short commutes into Washington, D.C., for instance. But it probably will be years before all of the unsold condos find buyers in parts of Florida.

Generalizations about states or metropolitan areas don’t say much about what is happening in your neighborhood. In Summit, N.J., known for good schools and an easy, 45-minute train commute to Manhattan, the median home price in September was up 1.2% from a year earlier, according to Otteau Valuation Group, an appraisal company. In Atlantic City, N.J., which suffers from too much speculative building of condominiums and weak demand for vacation homes, the median price is down about 12% from a year ago.

3. What signals should I watch to determine whether my local market is improving?

One way to get a sense of supply is to ask a good local real estate agent for stats on how many homes are listed for sale in your town and how many months it would take at the current sales rate to absorb that supply. Anything over about six months generally is considered high, meaning that sellers might have to cut prices. Another way to get a sense of a neighborhood’s health is to count the number of for-sale signs and vacant houses. If there are more than a couple vacant homes in a block, that might be a bad sign, particularly if no one is taking care of them.

The supply of homes listed for sale has fallen very sharply in some areas. But the supply is likely to balloon again in many areas with a renewed surge in foreclosures. Many local newspapers provide information on foreclosure filings.

Demand depends heavily on the job market. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides unemployment rates by metropolitan area. In September, they ranged from 2.9% in Bismarck, N.D., to 30% in El Centro, Calif. State and local agencies provide job-market data, too. Celia Chen, a housing economist at Moody’s Economy.com, says help-wanted signs can be a useful local indicator; if you start seeing more of them around your neighborhood, that is a sign that business in your area could be starting to recover.

4. How can I figure out the value of my home?

You never know for sure what a home will fetch until you put it on the market, and then it is partly a matter of luck. Will the eager buyer who shares your taste in home style and neighborhood show up on day one or day 200?

Some Web sites — including Zillow.com, HomeGain.com and Cyberhomes.com — provide estimates of individual home values. These estimates are largely based on recent sales of nearby homes, and in some cases they are wildly off the mark. But they often provide a ballpark idea of a home’s value.

You might come closer to the real value by talking to a local agent and looking at recent prices for homes that you know are very similar to yours. If you want to be more scientific and don’t mind paying a few hundred dollars, hire a professional appraiser.

5. Does it matter whether I’m “under water”?

At least you have plenty of company. About 20% of owners of single-family homes with mortgages owe more than the current estimated value of their homes, according to Zillow.com.

If you can afford your monthly payment and don’t need to move soon, that might not be a big problem. But it is hard, and sometimes impossible, to refinance a mortgage if you are under water, and you will take a bath if you have to sell the home now. Some people who can afford to make their monthly mortgage payments are deciding it doesn’t make sense to do so because they don’t expect their home values ever to recover to past peaks, and they could rent similar houses for much lower monthly costs.

6. If I lose my home to foreclosure, how long will it take to repair my credit record?

It probably will be three to five years before you can qualify for a home mortgage insured by the government, depending on your circumstances, and that assumes you have re-established a record for paying your bills on time. The foreclosure will remain a blot on your credit record for seven years, likely raising your interest costs even if you do get another loan. If you pay bills on time, keep your credit-card balances low and don’t apply for too many cards, you can make a “slow, gradual improvement” in your credit score, says Tom Quinn, a vice president at Fair Isaac Corp., which provides tools for analyzing credit records.

7. If I’m renting, is now a good time to buy a house?

It may well be. Prices in most areas are well below their peaks, even if they haven’t hit bottom. Don’t kid yourself that you can time the bottom of the market perfectly. But don’t feel any pressure to buy in a hurry, because the supply of housing is likely to remain ample for years in many areas.

Generally, it doesn’t make sense to buy unless you expect to remain in the house for at least four or five years, because the transaction costs — including commissions for real estate agents and mortgage fees — are heavy.

But now is clearly a good time to rent. Many landlords need tenants badly. The national apartment-vacancy rate in the third quarter was 7.8%, the highest in 23 years, according to Reis Inc., a New York research firm. So landlords are cutting rents and offering such sweeteners as free flat-screen televisions or several months of free rent to retain or attract tenants. Some owners of condos will “cut their throats to get some kind of rental income to cover part of their expenses,” says Jack McCabe, a real estate consultant in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

8. Can I get a tax credit if I buy a home now?

Under an expanded and extended program approved by Congress earlier this month, tax credits are available to many people who buy or sign a contract to buy a principal residence by April 30 and complete the purchase by June 30. The tax credit is up to $8,000 for first-time home buyers and $6,500 for people who already have owned a home for at least five consecutive years during the previous eight years. The credit is available for individual taxpayers with annual incomes of up to $145,000 or joint filers with incomes up to $245,000.

9. Can I get a mortgage on attractive terms?

Only if you have a good credit record, a moderate amount of debt in relation to your income and the ability to fully document your income. That last requirement is fairly easy for people who work for a salary and have had the same employer for more than two years, but it can be tough for self-employed people with incomes that vary substantially from year to year.

A borrower with a strong credit score of 740 or higher (on the scale of 300 to 850) and the ability to make a down payment of at least 20% could get an interest rate of about 5% with no origination fees on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, says Lou Barnes, a mortgage banker in Boulder, Colo. But if your credit score is 680, the rate jumps to about 5.5%.

People who can’t make a down payment of at least 20% generally are being funneled into loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. That means paying extra fees for the FHA insurance.

Borrowing costs are steeper at the high end of the housing market. For so-called jumbo loans — those above $729,750 in areas with the highest housing costs or $417,000 in places with the lowest costs — interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages last week averaged 5.95%, according to HSH Associates, a financial publisher.

10. Should I invest in foreclosed homes?

Probably not. A lot of investors chase these properties, and only the most experienced know how to deal with all of the pitfalls. Homes auctioned at trustee or sheriff sales are sold on an as-is basis, and there is no provision for an inspection before you take ownership. If after buying you find out that termites have been treating the floor joists as an all-you-can-eat buffet, that is your problem. You must pay for the full price within a day or two, so you need a lot of cash or access to special short-term loans for investors that come with interest rates of around 18%. This is a pursuit best left to people with a lot of time, nerve, cash and knowledge of the local market.

Source: WSJ.com by JAMES R. HAGERTY


Home prices rise for 4th month in a row

Although this is great news, it does not give a complete picture. Most current sellers need to sell or the property being marketed is bank owned (REO). For those in a position to buy, this is a great opportunity and there certainly will be no shortage of inventory (Short Sales and REOs) during the coming year… Plus the value of standard sales is influenced by the distressed market.

A piece today in the WSJ “One in Four Borrowers Is Underwater“ states that nearly 10.7 million households , or about 23% of homeowners with mortgages had negative equity in the third quarter. It is estimated that more than 520,000 of these borrowers have received a notice of default.

On the bright side, the article goes on to say “Most U.S. homeowners still have some equity, and nearly 24 million owner-occupied homes don’t have any mortgage…” Some experts expect values to drop again in the coming year and it’s likely they will. We should definitely see values flat-line or drop over the next month and into Q-1 of 2010 due to the holidays and extension of tax credits to April 30th. My guidance is, if you’re buying a home and you plan to live there for 5 years or more, it’s hard to go wrong at 5% interest. If you don’t need to sell, don’t. Or consider leasing the property if you can. Speculators’ (flippers’) must understand that smart money is buying at a percentage of replacement cost and has the cash to carry if necessary. RD

PS – Also at WSJ.com, check out “Negative Equity by State” chart. California is actually slightly better off than Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

Home prices rise for 4th month in a row

WASHINGTON – The summer’s trend of rising home prices is flattening as the traditional home shopping season ends, two reports Tuesday showed.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index of 20 major cities rose 0.3 percent to 144.96 in September, the fourth monthly increase in a row. The seasonally adjusted index is now up more than 3 percent from its bottom in May, but still 30 percent below its peak in April 2006.

Another reading of home prices published by the Federal Housing Finance Agency held steady from August to September. Analysts expect prices to dip again this winter as foreclosures increase.

“As long as the unemployment rate stays elevated, you’re going to see pressure on the pace of foreclosures, which are going to find their way back onto the market, depressing prices,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist with Miller Tabak & Co.

Home prices are a key ingredient to rebuilding the economy. Homeowners feel wealthier when their property appreciates in value and are more likely to spend money. Rising prices also help millions of homeowners who owe more to the bank than their homes are worth.

Currently, roughly one in four homeowners are in that situation, according to First American CoreLogic.

While prices nationally are likely to keep rising through November, “we are very worried about the potential for a huge wave of supply next year, both from private sellers and banks,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “Prices could easily reverse their recent gains.”

Home prices rose in 11 major cities with the strongest gains in San Francisco and Minneapolis, according to the Case Shiller report. Prices fell by the most in Las Vegas and Cleveland.

Compared with a year earlier, the 20-city index was down 9.4 percent, the smallest year over year decline since January 2008.

“With housing remaining an albatross around the economy’s neck, nothing would perk things up more than some increases in home prices,” wrote Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors. “That seems to be happening.”

The price reports came a day after the National Association of Realtors said home resales surged by more than 10 percent in October as buyers took advantage of a special tax credit for first-time owners.

Source: Yahoo! News by ALAN ZIBEL, Associated Press Real Estate Writer

October home sales rise 10.1% from September

Obviously this is based on National sales and South Bay in general; the beach cities, Palos Verdes Peninsula and surrounding communities are affected to varying degrees as well, however we are somewhat different when compared to the country as a whole. For instance median home value in Torrance alone is $492k, more than twice the national average. You can nearly double that again for Rancho Palos Verdes. There are currently 24 financially “distressed” properties (Short Sale, REO, NOD) listed on the MLS on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and 102 in the western extreme of the area from El Segundo south to the peninsula. RD

October home sales rise 10.1% from September

From the Associated Press
November 23, 2009 7:40 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Home sales far exceeded expectations last month, surging to the highest level in 21/2 years as first-time buyers rushed to take advantage of an expiring tax credit.

The National Association of Realtors said today that home resales rose 10.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.1 million in October, from a downwardly revised pace of 5.54 million in September.

The tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time owners was originally set to run out on Nov. 30, but Congress renewed it earlier this month and broadened its reach. People who have owned their current homes for at least five years can now claim a tax credit of up to $6,500 for a home purchase. To qualify, buyers must sign a purchase agreement by April 30.

The Realtors report on October home sales reflect offers made before buyers knew the tax credit would be extended. “There was a lot of rush and hurry to complete sales” before the deadline, said Lawrence Yun, the trade group’s chief economist.

But sales are likely to drop over the winter as buyers hibernate for a few months without the looming tax credit deadline.

The new deadline means that “we’re going to see some good activity coming out of the spring,” said Pat Lashinsky, chief executive of online real estate brokerage ZipRealty Inc.

Sales, which were nearly 24 percent above last year’s level, had been expected to rise to an annual pace of 5.65 million, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

The median sales price was $173,100, down 7.1 percent from a year earlier and off 1.6 percent from September.

In addition to lower prices, mortgage rates have been hovering around 5 percent since the spring, largely because of government intervention. That has helped restore housing affordability in large swaths of the country.

The inventory of unsold homes on the market fell about 4 percent to 3.6 million. That’s a 7 month supply at the current sales pace, and close to a healthy stock of about six months.

Nationwide sales are up nearly 37 percent from their bottom in January, but are still off about 16 percent from the peak in autumn 2005.

Over the summer, the housing market started to rebound from the worst downturn in decades, aided by aggressive federal intervention to lower mortgage rates and bring more buyers into the market.

But experts forecast that prices will fall again. Most say they will hit a new low next spring, perhaps falling another 5 to 10 percent, as more foreclosures get pushed onto the market.

A record-high 14 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were either behind on payments or in foreclosure at the end of September, the Mortgage Bankers Association said last week. The worst damage is still concentrated in the states hardest hit from the start: Florida, Nevada, California and Arizona. Together, they accounted for 43 percent of new foreclosures.

Source: The Los Angeles Times

Rates on 30-year mortgages remain below 5 percent

As a point of reference, interest rates on 30-year fixed conventional mortgages went double digit in late 1978 and peaked at nearly 19% in late 1981. It wasn’t until early 1986 that rates dipped (briefly) below 10% again and were not permanently in single numbers until late 1990… RD

Rates on 30-year mortgages remain below 5 percent

The Associated Press – Published: Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 – 8:57 am

McLEAN, Va. — Rates on 30-year mortgages stayed below 5 percent this week but remained above the record set earlier this year, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 4.83 percent, down from 4.91 percent last week, the mortgage company said. Last year at this time, 30-year mortgages averaged 6.04 percent.

Rates hit a record low of 4.78 percent in the spring, and remain attractive for people looking to buy a home or refinance their existing mortgage. Still, credit standards remain tough, so the best rates usually are available only to borrowers with solid credit and a 20 percent down payment.
The Federal Reserve has pumped $1.25 trillion into mortgage-backed securities to try to lower rates on mortgages and loosen credit. Rates on 30-year mortgages traditionally track yields on long-term government debt.

Low fixed rates in the third quarter led to about $1.1 trillion in refinancing activity, saving borrowers about $10 billion in monthly payments over the first 12 months of their new loan, said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates on Monday through Wednesday of each week from lenders around the country. Rates often fluctuate significantly, even within a given day, frequently in line with long-term Treasury bonds.

The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.32 percent from 4.36 percent last week, according to Freddie Mac.

Rates on five-year, adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 4.25 percent, down from last week’s 4.29 percent. Rates on one-year, adjustable-rate mortgages declined to 4.35 percent from 4.46 percent.

The rates do not include add-on fees known as points. The nationwide fee for loans in Freddie Mac’s survey averaged 0.7 point for 30-year loans. The fee averaged 0.6 point for 15-year, five-year and one-year loans.

Source: The Sacramento Bee

New $6,500 federal tax credit for ‘MOVE-UP’ Home Buyers

If you fit the criteria and are considering buying another house in the coming year, you might want to speed up the process and close by the June 30 expiration date.

Reporting from Washington – Take a close, hard look at the new $6,500 federal tax credit for so-called move-up home buyers that passed the Senate and House recently. Though it’s been getting second billing to the original $8,000 credit for first-time purchasers — now extended by Congress through June 30 — the $6,500 credit for current homeowners just might have your name on it.

How does it work? When will it be available?

The new credit is available now. It took effect Nov. 6, the day President Obama signed the legislation that created it. This means that if you fit the key criteria — you’ve owned and lived in your home for a consecutive five out of the last eight years, and your adjusted household income doesn’t exceed $125,000 if you file taxes singly or $225,000 if you are married filing jointly — you can claim the credit as soon as you close on a qualifying house.

That could be next week, next month or next spring. There is no “move-up” requirement in the new credit. In fact, homeowners who plan to downsize into a smaller dwelling may prove to be significant users of the credit, along with people who are moving because of employment changes.

If you fit the criteria and are considering buying another house sometime in the coming year, you might want to speed up the process and sign a contract by April 30 and close by the June 30 expiration date. Think of it this way: If the government is willing to give you $6,500 to act a little faster than you had planned, hey, why not?

Some other key features of the $6,500 credit you ought to know about:

* Whatever you intend to buy, the house cannot cost more than $800,000.

* The replacement house must become your main home. There is no requirement in the legislation that you sell your current home. You could rent it out, turn it into a second home or list it for sale later in 2010 when prices might be higher. If you plan to retain it, however, make sure that you move into the new house on the day you close so that there is no question it was your principal residence at that time.

* Like the first-time buyer credit, the $6,500 version permits a variety of dwelling types for your purchase. These include new or existing single-family homes, condominiums, manufactured or mobile homes, and boats that function as your principal residence. You cannot claim the credit if you are buying a second home or an investment property.

* The Internal Revenue Service is required by Congress to scrutinize claims for tax credits — both for the $6,500 and the $8,000 credits — far more closely in the coming months than it did earlier this year. This is because federal investigators have documented significant instances of fraud — supposed home buyers who were as young as 4, and “sales” that were fabricated. Investigators also found numerous cases of technical violations, such as purchase transactions among immediate family members, which are prohibited.

The revised rules require taxpayers to submit copies of their settlement statements (HUD-1 forms), along with their requests for credits using IRS Form 5405. Congress’ new rules also prohibit individuals under the age of 18 or who are counted as dependents on another taxpayer’s filings from claiming the credit.

* Home buyers in 2009 — those who go to closing after Nov. 6 but no later than Dec. 31 — can claim the $6,500 credit on their 2009 federal tax returns, or amend their 2008 returns. Similarly, eligible buyers in 2010 will be able to file for the credit on their 2009 returns or 2010 returns. Talk to your tax advisor regarding timing decisions.

* If you aren’t sure if you can make the deadlines established for the new credit — a binding contract by April 30 and a settlement by June 30 — do not assume that Congress will provide another extension. All the political and budgetary signs point the other way, and some of the primary authors of the credit insist that this is it — no more extensions next year. Take them at their word.

One consumer resource that answers frequently asked questions about both the $6,500 and $8,000 extended credits is http://www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com, sponsored by the National Assn. of Home Builders.

Source: LA Times.com November 15, 2009 by Kenneth R. Harney

Fannie Mae to allow borrowers in foreclosure to lease back homes

The mortgage giant’s move is part of an attempt by lenders to keep a wave of foreclosed properties from slamming a housing market that has shown some signs of recovery.

Mortgage giant Fannie Mae said Thursday that it would throw a lifeline to some people losing their homes to foreclosure by allowing them to lease those properties back for up to a year at market rental rates.

The move is the latest in a series of steps by lenders trying to manage inventories of foreclosed homes on their books in an attempt to keep a wave of properties from slamming a housing market that has shown some signs of recovery.

The news came as Fannie Mae reported a net loss of $18.9 billion in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a $14.8-billion loss in the second quarter and a $29.4-billion loss in the third quarter last year.

The latest loss pushed Fannie Mae’s government regulator Thursday to request $15 billion from the Treasury Department. It was the fourth time the Washington company had drawn on its federal financial lifeline since Fannie and its sister firm, Freddie Mac, were seized and placed under government stewardship.

By reducing the supply of cheap foreclosures on the market, Fannie Mae’s Deed for Lease Program would add to other efforts by the federal government to aid the housing market, analysts said.

Jay Ryan, Fannie Mae’s vice president of equity investments, said the program would help to stabilize neighborhoods. The firm said Thursday that the program would qualify only those borrowers who had exhausted other options, such as a loan modification.

“If you keep more people in their homes, it’s better for the community, and hopefully fewer vacant homes on the market will help stabilize those communities,” Ryan said. “If someone still wants to live in their home, be it for the kids wanting to stay in the school district or the family wanting to remain embedded in their community, this gives them another opportunity.”

The program also would allow Fannie to produce some income from the properties — many worth less than their mortgages, or “underwater” in industry terms — as it waits for home prices to recover.

“This is a very wise business decision because these loans are underwater, and they are not going to get all of the money,” said Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. “Fannie has an incentive to keep the homes reasonably maintained because they are going to want to sell them one day.”

Bruce Marks, a housing activist and critic of the lending industry, said the program was a distraction from efforts to push lenders to modify loans.

“Their mission is to provide homeownership and yet now they want to get into the landlord business. It is outrageous,” said Marks, executive director of the housing nonprofit Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America. “The issue has to be to force these banks to restructure mortgages, not let them off the hook.”

Fannie didn’t say how many homeowners it expected would qualify for the program. To participate, a borrower must agree to convey all interest in a property to the lender. The company recorded 1,996 people agreeing to such a transaction in the first nine months of the year, according to a filing Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In California, Fannie held $475 billion in loans at the end of the third quarter, of which 5% were “seriously” delinquent.

The home must be a borrower’s primary place of residence. A borrower-turned-tenant would have to document that the new market rental rate is no more than 31% of his or her gross income and be released from any subordinate liens on the property.

The efforts mirror a program by Freddie Mac of McLean, Va., which offers month-to-month leases to people who have lost their homes to foreclosure. Tenants must agree to allow the home to be shown to potential buyers and allow the company to market it for sale.

Fannie’s program isn’t for everyone. Some borrowers would be better off pursuing loan modifications or other solutions.

Scott Hempel, 38, said he was underwater on a home he owns in Riverside but he has kept up his mortgage payments. Hempel, a production manager for Dow Jones&Co. in Dallas, said he was forced to relocate to his new job in October 2007. He tried to sell his Riverside home but the plunge in home values made it impossible. Hempel said he would like to conduct a short sale — selling the home for less than the value of the mortgage — but was told by Bank of America that Fannie guidelines required him to be in default.

“I could walk away and do what everybody else is doing, but I am trying to get out of the house without doing that,” Hempel said.

To make matters worse, he said, he will lose his $90,000-a-year job as the plant he works at winds down its operations.

A Bank of America spokeswoman confirmed that Hempel was denied a short sale based on Fannie Mae’s guidelines.

Complaints that lenders won’t negotiate with borrowers unless they go delinquent on their mortgages have been common during the unfolding housing bust and economic meltdown. The loan modification plan sponsored by the Obama administration this year was designed to encourage lenders to reach out to borrowers heading for trouble before they actually defaulted.

Source: LA Times, November 6, 2009 by Alejandro Lazo

Federal Homebuyers Tax Credit EXTEDNDED!


Who Gets What?

First-Time Homebuyers (FTHBs): First-time homebuyers (that is, people who have not owned a home within the last three years) may be eligible for the tax credit. The credit for FTHBs is 10% of the purchase price of the home, with a maximum available credit of $8,000

Single taxpayers and married couples filing a joint return may qualify for the full tax credit amount.

Current Owners: The tax credit program now gives those who already own a residence some additional reasons to move to a new home. This incentive comes in the form of a tax credit of up to $6,500 for qualified purchasers who have owned and occupied a primary residence for a period of five consecutive years during the last eight years.

Single taxpayers and married couples filing a joint return may qualify for the full tax credit amount.

What are the New Deadlines?

In order to qualify for the credit, all contracts need to be in effect no later than April 30, 2010 and close no later than June 30, 2010.

What are the Income Caps?

The amount of income someone can earn and qualify for the full amount of the credit has been increased.

Single tax filers who earn up to $125,000 are eligible for the total credit amount. Those who earn more than this cap can receive a partial credit. However, single filers who earn $145,000 and above are ineligible

Joint filers who earn up to $225,000 are eligible for the total credit amount. Those who earn more than this cap can receive a partial credit. However, joint filers who earn $245,000 and above are ineligible.

What is the Maximum Purchase Price?

Qualifying buyers may purchase a property with a maximum sale price of $800,000.

What is a Tax Credit?

A tax credit is a direct reduction in tax liability owed by an individual to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In the event no taxes are owed, the IRS will issue a check for the amount of the tax credit an individual is owed. Unlike the tax credit that existed in 2008, this credit does not require repayment unless the home, at any time in the first 36 months of ownership, is no longer an individual’s primary residence.

How Much are First-Time Homebuyers (FTHB) Eligible to Receive?

An eligible homebuyer may request from the IRS a tax credit of up to $8,000 or 10% of the purchase price for a home. If the amount of the home purchased is $75,000, the maximum amount the credit can be is $7,500. If the amount of the home purchased is $100,000, the amount of the credit may not exceed $8,000.

Who is Eligible fort FTHB Tax Credit?

Anyone who has not owned a primary residence in the previous 36 months, prior to closing and the transfer of title, is eligible.

This applies both to single taxpayers and married couples. In the case where there is a married couple, if either spouse has owned a primary residence in the last 36 months, neither would qualify. In the case where an individual has owned property that has not been a primary residence, such as a second home or investment property, that individual would be eligible.

As mentioned above, the tax credit has been expanded so that existing homeowners who have owned and occupied a primary residence for a period of five consecutive years during the last eight years are now eligible for a tax credit of up to $6,500.

How Much are Current Home Owners Eligible to Receive?

The tax credit program includes a tax credit of up to $6,500 for qualified purchasers who have owned and occupied a primary residence for a period of five consecutive years during the last eight years.

Can Homebuyers Claim the Tax Credit in Advance of Purchasing a Property?

No. The IRS has recently begun prosecuting people who have claimed credits where a purchase had not taken place.

Can a Taxpayer Claim a Credit if the Property is Purchased from a Seller with Seller Financing and the Seller Retains Title to the Property?

Yes. In situations where the buyer purchases the property, even though the seller retains legal title, the taxpayer may file for the credit. Some examples of this would include a land contract or a contract for deed.

According to the IRS, factors that would demonstrate the ownership of the property would include:

1. Right of possession,

2. Right to obtain legal title upon full payment of the purchase price,

3. Right to construct improvements,

4. Obligation to pay property taxes,

5. Risk of loss,

6. Responsibility to insure the property, and

7. Duty to maintain the property.

Are There Other Restrictions to Taking the FTHB Credit?

Yes. According to the IRS, if any of the following describe a homebuyer’s situation, a credit would not be due:

• They buy the home from a close relative. This includes a spouse, parent, grandparent, child or grandchild. (Please see the question below for details regarding purchases from “step-relatives.”)

• They do not use the home as your principal residence.

• They sell their home before the end of the year.

• They are a nonresident alien.

• They are, or were, eligible to claim the District of Columbia first-time homebuyer credit for any taxable year.(This does not apply for a home purchased in 2009.)

• Their home financing comes from tax-exempt mortgage revenue bonds. (This does not apply for a home purchased in 2009.)

• They owned a principal residence at any time during the three years prior to the date of purchase of your new home. For example, if you bought a home on July 1, 2008, you cannot take the credit for that home if you owned, or had an ownership interest in, another principal residence at any time from July 2, 2005, through July 1, 2008.

Can Homebuyers Purchase a Home from a Step-Relative and Still be Eligible for the Credit?

Yes. As long as the person they buy the home from is not a direct blood relative, the purchase would be allowed.

If a Parent (Who Will Not Live In The Property) Cosigns for a Mortgage, Will Their Child Still be Eligible for the Credit?

Yes, provided that the child meets the other requirements for the tax credit.

Source: Andre Hemmersbach, Mortgage Planner at American/California Financial Services, Inc. (310) 792-7539