Janesville73°

Is housing market primed?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
November 9, 2009
— Realtor Carole Cullen sat in the sunny dining room of a charming two-story on Atwood Avenue in Janesville on Sunday.

She was waiting to show the well-kept house, offered for $169,900.


That price might put it out of the grasp of many first-time buyers, even with government tax rebates of up to $8,000 that Congress recently extended, Cullen said.


However, it's a great second home, Cullen noted, and with a new tax rebate of $6,500 just enacted for people who already own homes, Cullen is hoping for a sale.


Realtors contacted over the weekend said they were hopeful the government stimuli, combined with interest rates hovering around 5 percent, could be a boon.


Not to mention that prices are low.


"I think we've come real close to hitting bottom," said Matt Bonson of First Weber Realtors. " Property values right now are phenomenal. You can really get a good buy."


Cullen agreed, saying that her company, Coldwell Banker, is selling houses at about 10 percent below asking prices.


Could this be the buyer's market to end all buyer's markets?


"Everything is positive. This is the time to buy a house," said George Mark of Midway Realty.


"There are tremendous deals out there," Mark said, noting houses going for $60,000 to $70,000 and some of his new, energy-efficient homes marked down to the $125,000-$150,000 range.


Bonson said it's been a tough 18 months, but there are signs of a possible turnaround, including fewer foreclosure sales.


Bonson said up to half his company's sales this year have been to first-time buyers, and the tax rebates have played a role.


"It certainly has helped a lot of our buyers get into a house," Cullen said.


The program's extension and the new rebate for existing homeowners might stimulate things even more.


And yet, Mark and others said they are battling a fear that the Janesville housing market still hasn't hit bottom, that the final effects of the General Motors plant closing are still to be felt.


"It's still nip-and-tuck to get that first-time buyer to make that decision," Cullen said.


The legislation, expected to receive President Obama's signature soon, will extend the $8,000 credit for first-time homebuyers for sales contracts entered into by April 30, 2010, and closed by June 30.


The program will be expanded to include a new $6,500 credit for owners of existing homes who are buying new principal residences. Existing homeowners can claim the $6,500 tax credit if they have been residing in their principal residences for five consecutive years out of the last eight.


The income-eligibility limits to claim the full credit for both groups of home buyers have been raised to $125,000 for individuals and to $225,000 for married couples.


Happy days are not yet here again, however, for the local housing market.


Mark said he's had a hard time selling his new homes, in part because of a glut of foreclosed houses on the market.


Mark thinks the new rebate for current homeowners could help.


"It is a tremendous benefit to them. They're looking at $6,500 that you can put in your pocket next April. Certainly, if I was in the market for a home, I would take advantage of it."


So just maybe, this is the best of times to buy that bigger home, smaller home or newer home you've been dreaming of.


"Most of my new homes have been reduced, I would say, a minimum of 10 percent, which takes everything out of it for me, and they have the advantage of being new, energy-efficient homes that they don't have to stick 10 percent of the purchase price into," Mark said.


"We're pretty optimistic because there's always going to be a need for housing," Bonson said. "And (with prices so low), it makes it affordable for the next generation that's getting ready to purchase."


Cullen, who remembers interest rates of over 17 percent when she started selling houses during the economic downturn of the 1980s, knows that good jobs are what pay off mortgages. Nevertheless, she thinks this town will turn around.


"We're optimistic," she said.



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