Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why the homebuyer tax credit should be extended

I saw this question on Twitter yesterday and had to post it: Do you think the 1st time homebuyer tax credit should be extended past November?

The credit was approved by Congress last year to try and fix the foreclosure problem. It expires soon, so Congress is debating whether to extend or even expand it to a $15,000 credit.

My answer is it should be extended for another year. Here's why: though some are optimistic the recession is ending, we can't afford another "-less" recovery -- as in "job-less" or "homebuyer-less". The economy needs housing stability to be really strong and that's not possible until people have jobs again. Employment will likely be one of the last things to recover, so without help, people still won't be making major purchases like homes.

Note to haters: I'm NOT suggesting that the government subsidize home purchases for the unemployed. My point is that average people don't judge the economy's strength like economists do; we go by what we see in our checkbooks and what's happening around us. If a lot of my friends are still out of work or being laid off, I'm not likely to be comfortable borrowing a few hundred grand for a new crib.

On the other hand, the one good thing about the recession is that it caused working people to re-evaluate their financial habits. I believe a year from now, many people who weren't previously able to save enough for a down payment and to clean up their credit will have done so, and at that point there won't be a real need for an $8,000 or $15,000 tax credit anymore.

But that's a year from now. Until then, I fear for people like my friend who's home in suburban Cincy has lagged on the market for more than a year without a single offer, despite repeated price drops and an attempted short sale. Congress should renew the credit.