Tax credit moves homes

Jeremy Willits

In the 72-hour rush before the federal home-buying tax credit expired last month, 207 local buyers found themselves a place to call home.

That figure represents more than one-fourth of people who bought homes during April, when sales surged 50 percent, according to new figures from the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

It also demonstrates the tax credit's powerful draw during a slow economic recovery period when unemployment remains high and home prices have yet to stabilize.

The subsidy expired April 30.

"What remains to be seen is what happens now that the tax credit has passed," said Jeremy Willits, the association's president and a local commercial real estate agent. "There's concern the market will pull back, but some comfort can be found in that ... some buyers weren't relying on those tax credits."

The credit -- $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for some trade-up buyers -- has been claimed by at least 27,000 South Carolina buyers, according to the Internal Revenue Service. But an informal survey by the Realtors group found that for most members, tax credit-related transactions made up less than half their business.

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"A lot of buyers are making purchases even if they don't qualify," Willits said. "So the tax credit has gotten a lot of people out into the market looking around, and I think what people are discovering is there's a lot of good value out there."

April's home sales in the tricounty jumped 50 percent over the same month last year to 784 transactions. Year-to date, residential real estate sales for the area are about 25 percent higher than the first four months of 2009.

The median sales price remained steady at $180,174 compared to 2009. That's down considerably from the 2007 peak of $209,742. Last year, the typical Charleston home sold for $179,208.

The number of homes on the market remains near record highs. As of Monday, 9,605 properties were listed on the association's Multiple Listing Service database.