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Are you fully knowledgeable about the federal first-time home buyer tax credit to be able to explain it to a consumer who inquires about its provisions?  If not, you should be.  Below are some important points about the tax credit, taken from an article appearing the current issue of Bay State REALTOR® magazine, that every Realtor® needs to know.
  • The bill provides for an $8,000 tax credit available to first-time homebuyers purchasing a principal residence on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.
     

  • The credit does not require repayment and can be claimed on a tax return to reduce the purchaser’s income tax liability. If any credit amount remains unused, then the unused amount will be refunded as a check to the purchaser.
     

  • Any person who has not owned a principal residence in the past three years qualifies as a first-time home buyer.  Also, someone who currently owns rental property or a vacation home that is not their principal residence could still be a first-time homebuyer. 

    Over 300,000 first-time homebuyers are expected to take advantage of this program. For more information on the first-time home buyer tax credit, including FAQs, the required IRS form that must be completed to receive the tax credit, and an informational brochure and posters promoting the tax credit that you can brand for your own use, visit marealtor.com.  You can also view a special webinar on the tax credit with Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® General Counsel Stephen Ryan.


In the latest edition of the report, entitled House Prices in America, the U.S. housing market is described as “slightly undervalued” based on fourth quarter 2008 market data. That’s good news for prospective home buyers because it means home prices have become increasingly affordable over the past couple of years, falling at an annualized rate of 13 percent over the past year nationwide.   It also suggests that the risk of additional future price corrections is easing throughout much of the country. 

In all, 106 metro markets across the U.S., including greater Boston, are now labeled “undervalued,” a term reserved for those areas where prices are considered to be more than 14 percent below historic norms.  Additionally, homes are now considered to be “fairly” valued in 202 metro areas, while 21 housing markets are still cited as “overvalued,” with average home prices 14 percent or more above the norm for that community.   

Within the metropolitan Boston market, average home values in the Boston-Quincy market are 17.3% below norm as of the final quarter of last year, and in the Cambridge-Framingham market home prices are undervalued by 18 percent compared to historic norms.  All other markets of Massachusetts studied in the report were found to be “fairly valued” as of the 2008 fourth quarter, with home prices between 14 percent above or below historic norms.  Prices in Essex County (-8.8%), Worcester    (-7.6%), Springfield (-2.8%) and Providence-New Bedford (-0.9%) were at or below market norms, while homes are still valued above their historic average in Pittsfield (1.6%) and in Barnstable County/Cape Cod (5.0%).   

To view a news release or obtain the full report, click here.   You can also view just released first quarter sales and price data on the detached single-family home and condo markets in the Greater Boston Real Estate Board’s jurisdiction area by accessing GBAR’s latest Real Estate Rewind market report online a gbar.org.

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GBREB is opposing a local option building code that will add substantial new upfront costs to a new home without any immediate and measurable energy cost savings to homeowners.  The “stretch code” in effect mandates that any new home built must exceed Energy Star certification. Before a local building inspector could issue an occupancy permit the home would also need to be certified by a 3rd party Home Energy Rating Standard (HERS) inspector.  According to estimates provided by the Board of Building Regulations and Standards these proposed requirements would add $10,000 to the cost of a new single family home.  

In addition under the “Stretch Energy Code” proposal, every city and town in Massachusetts could vote by local option to adopt a strict new energy efficiency code-over and above the uniform statewide building code.   The State Building Code is a mandatory uniform construction code for all buildings in the Commonwealth.  Prior to the adoption of a uniform statewide building code in 1975, every community in Massachusetts had its own building construction standards.  Local building inspectors were not trained or certified.  The result was chaos, and thus the movement to embrace one code for the Commonwealth gained momentum and became law.

GBREB has expressed its strident opposition to the Stretch Code with the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS), who is currently considering the proposal.   GBREB supports a uniform statewide building code and has expressed concern that the adoption of a local option Stretch Code would be a return to the fragmented system of the 1970’s.  GBREB also expressed concern that it will add an additional economic barrier to homeownership at a time when securing mortgage financing is increasingly difficult.   For a copy of the proposal click here

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On March 30, 2009, Fannie Mae issued Announcement 09-08, implementing the 2009 conforming loan limits for high cost areas ("high-balance" loans above $417,000). The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) raised loan limits for high cost areas for 2009 to the higher of the permanent limits in effect for 2009 or the temporary limits in effect for 2008. In most cases the 2008 limits are higher. The guidelines apply to loans delivered to Fannie Mae starting May 1, 2009.

The Fannie Mae announcement specifies eligibility requirements for high-balance loans, including:

—Loan must be conventional, first-lien mortgages only.

—One to four unit properties are eligible.

—Loans must be fixed-rate or adjustable rate loans (no balloons).

—Loans must meet loan-to-value (LTV) and minimum credit score requirements. For one unit properties with a fixed rate mortgage, the maximum LTV is 90% and the minimum credit score is 700 for LTVs above 75% and 660 for LTVs at or below 75%. For one unit properties with an adjustable rate mortgage, the maximum LTV is 75% and the minimum credit score is 680. For second homes and investment properties, the maximum LTV is 65% and the minimum credit score is 740. Other rules apply to other categories.

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For more than two decades, REALTORS® from across Massachusetts have been making their voices heard among state representatives and senators at the annual REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill.  If you’ve never been, we urge you to attend on June 9 to meet with your current Representative and Senator. 

This free event takes place at the Massachusetts State House beginning at 9:30 a.m. and will feature a keynote address by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.   

Among the legislative priorities REALTORS® will be championing this year are bills aimed at: creating a registry of foreclosed homes and a “second hand metal registry” aiming to keep scrap metal thieves out of vacant homes; giving municipalities the option of selling municipally owned vacant and underutilized properties on the open market; clarifying a landlord’s obligation to pay for the cost of moving and storing tenants’ property during eviction; and prohibiting city/town from restricting rates of development or issuance of building/special permits within specified time frames without a reasonable cause.

MAR opposes transfer taxes in the communities of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  The imposition of this type of new sales tax on homes could have serious implications for the Massachusetts economy and set the wrong precedent for the Commonwealth’s tax policies.  MAR also opposes creating a new tax on all property owners who choose to rent their homes for a short term (less than 90 days).  This new tax would create substantial tax reporting and accounting problems for hundreds of home owners, many of whom may not live in town and be able to vote on an issue that directly affects them.  For a full list of legislative priorities click here.

REALTORS® are encouraged to register by May 22 by calling (617) 423-8700 or visiting www.gbar.org.

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Do you know a colleague or a fellow REALTOR® who exemplifies the service and professionalism most REALTORS® strive for?  Then why not recognize that person by nominating him or her for this year’s GBAR awards?

The awards being presented this year are for Greater Boston REALTOR® of the Year, 2009 Good Neighbor, and the Andrew F. Hickey Distinguished Service Award.   Members may be nominated for one or more of the above awards, with a deadline of July 31st to submit entry forms.  Further more information, including award qualifications and nomination forms, download the 2009 GBAR Awards Nomination packet.  You can also submit nominations online via gbar.org which can be accessed by clicking the title of each award above..  If you have any questions, please contact Christina Meehan at cmeehan@gbreb.com or at (617) 399-7840.

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