Congress votes to extend homebuyer tax credit

WASHINGTON (AP) - Under current law, homebuyers who signed purchase agreements by April 30 have until Wednesday to close on the sale to qualify for tax credits of up to $8,000...

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Homebuyers would get an extra three months to complete their purchases and qualify for a generous tax credit under a bill overwhelmingly passed by the House on Tuesday.

Under current law, homebuyers who signed purchase agreements by April 30 have until Wednesday to close on the sale to qualify for tax credits of up to $8,000. The bill would give buyers until Sept. 30 to complete their purchases.

The extended deadline only applies to people who signed purchase agreements by April 30. The National Association of Realtors estimates that about 180,000 homebuyers who already signed purchase agreements are likely to miss the Wednesday deadline.

“We owe this to the people who have essentially followed the rules who are caught by a closing date,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill passed 409-5. It now goes to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has sponsored a similar measure.

The popular tax credit has helped to stabilize the nation’s slumping housing market. More than 2.6 million taxpayers claimed the tax credit through April – claiming $18.7 billion – according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The Realtors group says the tax credit has generated 1 million new home sales that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

The tax credit for first-time homebuyers was part of President Barack Obama’s economic recovery package enacted last year. In November, Congress extended the credit and expanded it to longtime owners who bought new homes. First-time buyers were eligible for a tax credit of up to $8,000. Current owners who bought and moved into another home could qualify for a credit of up to $6,500.

The Realtors group has been pushing hard in Congress for the extension. Mortgage lenders, the trade group says, have been swamped with borrowers trying to get approved by the end of the month.

Delays with mortgage lending and appraisal companies have meant that home sales are taking far longer to complete this year.

“A lot of lenders weren’t able to handle the influx of loans that came with the tax credit,” said Lucien Salvant, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors.

There have been particularly long delays for buyers of so-called short sales – ones in which banks agree to accept less than the total mortgage amount. In Las Vegas, for example, short sales made up nearly a third of all sales last month.

Many banks “just don’t have the process to the point where they can do it in a reasonable amount of time,” said Jack Woodcock, a real estate agent in Las Vegas. Extending the tax credit deadline, he said, would be a welcome relief to those borrowers, many of whom “made their decision based upon that tax credit.”

Associated Press writer Alan Zibel contributed to this report.

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