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Pending home sales rose again, marking eight consecutive monthly gains – the longest streak since measurement began in 2001, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in September, rose 6.1 percent to 110.1 from a reading of 103.8 in August, and is 21.2 percent higher than September 2008 when it stood at 90.9.

The gain from a year ago is the largest annual increase on record, and the index is at the highest level since December 2006 when it was 112.8.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the momentum is understandable. “What we’re witnessing is a rush of first-time buyers trying to beat the expiration of the tax credit at the end of this month,” he said. “Home values will stabilize sooner rather than over-correcting. That, in turn, will mean wealth stabilization for the vast number of middle-class families and lay the foundation for a durable economic recovery.”

Watch a video interview of Yun as he talks about these latest pending-home sales trends.

NAR estimates approximately 3 million renters are now financially well-qualified to buy a median-priced home. “As long as buyers do not overstretch and stay well within their budget, a sizable pent-up demand can be tapped among financially qualified potential buyers,” Yun said. “Although the tax credit is greatly reviving the existing home market, new-home sales may continue to struggle as home builders hold back production to drive down inventory. In addition, there remains an ongoing credit crunch for construction loans.”

The Pending Home Sales Index in the Northeast slipped 2.0 percent to 83.6 in September but remains 16.9 percent above September 2008. In the Midwest the index rose 8.1 percent to 98.2 in September and is 17.8 percent higher than a year ago. In the South, pending home sales increased 4.9 percent to an index of 109.7 and is 22.8 percent above September 2008. In the West the index jumped 10.2 percent to 143.8 and is 23.7 percent above a year ago.

Yun added that strong near-term reports should not be overstated. “We’re clearly not out of the woods because an excess of homes remains on the market despite recent improvements,” he said. “Although current inventory is getting closer to price equilibrium, foreclosures will continue to enter the pipeline. An extended and expanded tax credit would help absorb this incoming inventory.”
— NAR

Expected to contribute approximately $22 billion to the economy, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan measure this week extending the $8,000 home buyer tax credit to April 30, 2010.

The legislation, which is part of a larger bill that also extends unemployment benefits, was signed into law by President Obama today.

More people are now eligible to take advantage of the law, which includes a $6,500 tax credit for buyers who are current home owners and have lived in their home for five of the past eight years.

Income limits for eligible home buyers were also expanded to $125,000 for single buyers and $225,000 for couples, up from $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples. Qualifying home prices are capped at $800,000.

NAR's Government Affairs Division has compiled facts on the changes made to the current tax credit. NAR members sent more than 500,000 letters to leaders in Congress and made nearly 13,000 telephone calls to Senate offices last weekend to encourage support. So far this year, REALTORS® have spent nearly $14 million lobbying Congress, according to federal campaign finance records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican and a former member of NAR, was key in extending the credit, as well as pushing it through initially. Other prominent boosters include the National Association of Homebuilders and the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Listen to NAR President Charles McMillan's podcast announcement.

NAR economists estimate that approximately 2 million people will take advantage of the tax credit this year.

Sources: NAR and The Associated Press, Julie Hirschfeld Davis (11/06/2009)

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