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Real estate pros push tax credit advance for home buyers

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – March 31, 2009 – If a proposal by a coalition of real estate professionals succeeds, state lawmakers will find a way to advance a new $8,000 tax credit to new homebuyers so they can use it to make downpayments.

The $8,000 federal tax credit was part of a recently enacted stimulus law and is good for homes purchased between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 of this year for buyers who have not bought a home in the past three years.

The alliance, which includes home builders, lenders and Realtors, is led by the Consumer Federation of the Southeast. It said it believes that finding a way to get homeowners the cash upfront, rather than when they file their tax returns, could help spur sales and mend the troubled housing market.

Florida Home Builders Association, Florida Bankers Association, the Florida Association of Realtors and the Florida Credit Union League belong to the group, which plans to pressure state lawmakers.

The coalition said in a news release late last week it had not yet devised exactly how the credit would be advanced but would be meeting with lawmakers soon to discuss details.

They estimate as many as 12,000 prospective buyers could benefit from the advance because they have not saved sufficient cash for a downpayment and closing costs. The group also points out that every dollar invested in housing returns $7 to $10 to the broader economy.

Homebuyers have increasingly turned to FHA loans that are guaranteed by the government because they require no more than 3 percent down. A cash advance of $8,000 would allow a borrower with an FHA loan to buy a home for as much as $266,000, although there are other closing costs that have to be paid.

In light of massive foreclosures, lenders in recent years have returned to the old standard of requiring downpayments from borrowers because it ensures that owners have made a cash investment in the home, making it more likely they will pay the mortgage to protect their equity stake. It also protects a bank if the borrower defaults because the bank has a better chance of selling the home for enough to recoup the loan’s unpaid balance.

During the boom, many loans required no downpayments, with some loans even exceeding the market value of the home. Now, some homeowners who owe far more than the value of their home have decided to stop making payments, leading to foreclosure.

Walt Dartland, executive director for the consumer federation, said borrowers would still have to qualify for loans based on good credit scores and other requirements to get the upfront tax credit.

“The money is a rebate, so they would have gotten it anyway,” Dartland said. Under the law, he said, buyers have to close by Dec. 1, leaving little time to take advantage of the credit.

“We have a limited amount of time to make this work. If we don’t, that money disappears.”

Copyright © 2009 The Miami Herald, Monica Hatcher. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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