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Realtors differ on tax credit impact

by Alecia Warren
| April 30, 2010 9:00 PM

Prospective homeowners, the window is closing fast on government-provided savings. Midnight tonight marks the expiration of the federal $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers.

Prospective homeowners, the window is closing fast on government-provided savings.

Midnight tonight marks the expiration of the federal $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers.

Some local real estate professionals say the deal, provided in the Worker, Home Ownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009, has been crucial to stabilizing the housing market.

"It's had a great impact," said Pat Krug, managing broker of the Coeur d'Alene Windermere Realty office. "I think that the tax credit, the low interest rates and the plentiful inventory we've had have combined to open the doors for many first-time home buyers that probably wouldn't have entered the market otherwise."

Windermere has seen significant numbers of first-time home buyers at all three of its Kootenai County offices, Krug said, and she attributes the tax credit to significantly increasing the company's market share.

Krug added that the $8,000 tax credit was more successful than the $6,500 tax credit offered to repeat home buyers, expiring at the same time tonight.

"I think that those people (repeat home buyers), they enter the market because they need to or want to. They are not as impacted by a $6,500 tax credit," she said. "Whereas first-time home buyers, there were loans available where they could use that ($8,000) as a down payment."

John Beutler, owner and broker with Century 21 and Associates, said he thinks the tax credit made only a nominal difference.

He pointed out that the 1,132 homes under $200,000 the company sold last year in Kootenai County was a letdown compared to the 2,302 sold in 2004, a normal market year.

"I would think the tax credit would have gotten us at least to 1,600 home sales, and it didn't," Beutler said. "If you look at the number of sales, you see it hasn't had an impact."

He believes that's because consumers are still waiting for prices to bottom out.

"People aren't going to buy a $200,000 home that's only worth $150,000 just to get an $8,000 tax credit," he said. "The tax credit was a bonus for people who were going to buy anyway. Personally I think it helped about 20 percent of the market at most."

Joel Elgee of Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Real Estate said the $6,500 tax credit fizzled because consumers learned about it too late.

"People found out at the beginning of December, which meant they would have had to put their house on the market, sell it and purchase a new home by April," Elgee said. "It was asking people to do in a few months what can take years to plan and execute."

He agreed with Krug that the $8,000 tax credit, however, propelled activity in the market for homes below $175,000 in Kootenai County.

He added in the duration of the tax credit, Coldwell Banker saw an increase from 20 to 40 percent in monthly sales contracts compared to last year.

"It created a sense of urgency we haven't seen in the marketplace," Elgee said. "We've seen a huge spike in activity, though only in that specific market segment."

Krug isn't worried about the local market now that the tax credit is expiring, she said.

"Every agent I've talked to has clients they're working with that are of the mind that if they can take advantage of the tax credit, great, but they're not going to make a decision based solely on that," she said. "It's going to be a stable market here for the next few months."

Elgee said that even though the push in demand might slow for the first-time buyers, it won't cease entirely.

"Ultimately, there are things that happen - a baby coming or getting married, those life decisions will still take place that lead to buying a home," he said. "What we saw was people who were in that planning stage were forced to push themselves to see that they got that tax credit."