Home Buyer's Tax Credit Changes Possible

Home Buyer's Tax Credit Changes Possible

The first major change to the $8,000 home buyer's tax credit began moving through Congress the last week of September, giving hope to real estate and building groups pushing for extension of the entire program before it expires November 30, 2009.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Congressman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, combined several smaller bills into the "Service Members Home Ownership Act of 2009", with a floor vote expected soon.

The bill is intended to correct a flaw in the original tax credit legislation: By requiring buyers to occupy and own their first home for 36 months to fully qualify for the credit, the program creates serious problems when military, Foreign Service and intelligence agency personnel are transferred overseas.

During their absence, they are not occupants of their houses, and sometimes have to rent them out or sell. Any of these events make them ineligible to retain the $8,000 credit under current law. Ineligible buyers must then repay the credit to the IRS.

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, sponsor of one of the bills consolidated into Rangel's, said "it is absurd that thousands of Americans serving our country, away from friends and family ... must choose between their service work and home ownership."

The Ways and Means committee's bill would waive the repayment requirement when a service member must sell a home within the 36 month period because of a transfer to a new duty station or overseas, and would count service-related absences toward the 36 month requirement.

Another provision in the bill would extend the $8,000 credit for another year for personnel who may have missed out on claiming the credit because they thought they wouldn't qualify due to an overseas posting.

The credit for these individuals would be extended to November 30, 2010 from November 30, 2009, provided the served outside the U.S. for at least 90 days during calendar year 2009.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, could be sent to the Senate for action as early as next week, Congressional sources told Realty Times.

More important for the housing market overall, however, is the precedent set by the bill's extension of the credit for an extra year. It's not a far leap from that position to a general extension of the entire $8,000 credit program to the same date.

The National Association of Realtors, National Association of Home Builders and the Mortgage Bankers Association jointly sponsored an ad campaign aimed at convincing Congress to give the credit program another year.

Written by Kenneth R. Harney