Home sales likely rose again in October (7:55 a.m. 11/23/09)
By ALAN ZIBEL
AP Real Estate Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Home resales for October are projected to rise to the highest level in more than two years as first-time buyers, anticipating that a tax credit would soon expire, rushed to beat the clock.
Sales are expected to show a 1.4 percent increase to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.65 million, up from 5.57 million in September, according to economists polled by Thomson Reuters. If accurate, it would be the best month for home sales since July 2007.
The National Association of Realtors’ report is scheduled for release Monday.
The tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time owners was originally set to run out on Nov. 30, but Congress renewed it earlier this month and broadened its reach. People who have owned their current homes for at least five years can now claim a tax credit of up to $6,500 for a home purchase. To qualify, buyers must sign a purchase agreement by April 30.
But sales are likely to drop over the winter as buyers hibernate for a few months without the looming tax credit deadline, said Pat Lashinsky, chief executive of online real estate brokerage ZipRealty Inc.
The new deadline means that “we’re going to see some good activity coming out of the spring,” he said.
Over the summer, the housing market started to rebound from the worst downturn in decades, aided by aggressive federal interventions to lower mortgage rates and bring more buyers into the market.
But experts forecast that prices will fall again. Most say they will hit a new low next spring, perhaps falling another 5 to 10 percent, as more foreclosures get pushed onto the market.
Much uncertainty remains, especially if unemployment keeps rising from the current level of 10.2 percent. And the government’s ability to prop up housing is limited.
For example, the Federal Reserve is likely to curtail its effort to push down mortgage rates next year. If rates then rise too high, it would make home purchases less affordable and dampen housing demand.
“When we do kick those crutches out from under the housing market, will it be able to stand on its own?” said Mark Fleming, chief economist with real estate information company First American CoreLogic. “It’s really hard to tell.”
Foreclosures also are a growing problem. The Mortgage Bankers Association said last week that a record-high 14 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were either behind on payments or in foreclosure at the end of September. Driven by rising unemployment, fixed-rate loans made to borrowers with good credit accounted for nearly 33 percent of new foreclosures last quarter. That compares with 21 percent a year ago.
The worst damage is still concentrated in the states hardest hit from the start: Florida, Nevada, California and Arizona. Together, they accounted for 43 percent of new foreclosures.