Is there real estate life left after the Federal tax credit expires on April 30, 2010?
Nobody can tell you for sure what happens on May 1. No, that’s not the day on the Mayan calendar when the world is supposed to end. That’s still two years away, so you can relax (a little!) about that.
May 1 happens to be the day after the Federal tax credit expires for home purchases. As a Realtor, I’ve paid a great deal of attention to the various predictions — because its my livelihood — but it has great implications for the health of the financial sector, for the economy in general, and for how quickly the country can climb back out of the hole created by the Bush Administration and the Great Recession. Most pundits I’ve heard or listened to seem to think that the housing market will slow down again, but they seem to divide into two camps based on their reasons.
The first group of gloomy pundits advance the idea that because of the tax breaks, we’ve been borrowing buyers from the future; sucking them into the process sooner, rather than later, and so after April 30 we will have a vacuum of buyers for some length of time. This is the group of people who felt that the automobile program, “Cash for Clunkers,” would do exactly the same thing for the auto market — cause buyers to jump in before they were planning on it. Now, if you look at the recent auto sales and the current stock prices of Ford and GM, you’ll see that simply didn’t happen.
It won’t happen with the housing market, either. Homebuyers do not buy homes on a whim. Its a major investment and it can’t be rushed. This has been true especially because the IRS refused to bow to pressure to make the tax credit available to buyers at the settlement table. That meant the buyer had to have their own cash in hand, qualify for the financing to buy, pay all the normal expenses, and then wait for the tax rebate later. I can’t say that I know of anyone who suddenly decided to accelerate their homebuying schedule because of the government program. I believe the tax credit did coax out buyers who had been on the sidelines for the previous three years, watching home prices slide, and who then — like savvy investors — were poised to come out and land a bargain.
The second group of gloomy pundits might be compared to Marilyn Monroe in All About Eve, when she surveys a room and asks, “Why do they all look like unhappy rabbits?” This group believe that homebuyers are skittish, and as soon as the tax credit disappears, they will all hop back to their rabbit holes and hide.
The latest economic data says otherwise. March consumer spending rose much more than expected, consumer confidence is rising, and the stock market exudes the robust energy that led Newsweek to declare on their cover that “America is Back.” Now, we still have major problems to overcome: unemployment needs to come down, a second wave of foreclosures needs to be effectively softened by Federal programs to help homeowners stay in their homes, and who knows what else might be lurking around the corner. However, I am already working with buyers who knew from the beginning that they would not be able to qualify for the tax credit, and they are buying on their schedule, not the government’s.
Pundits in the early 1990s predicted that the recession we were experiencing then would be long, and deep. They predicted that the entire decade would be swallowed up by slow economic growth and higher than normal unemployment. They were wrong, totally and completely, and the Nineties turned out to be one of the most prosperous decades in our history.
I have no reason to think that today’s pundits are any more qualified or accurate as fortune tellers. So, what can I do for you today?