It's crunch time


POSTED: Sunday, October 11, 2009

Debbie Au, a teacher at Sacred Hearts Academy, has stepped up her efforts to buy a single-family home before the first-time home buyer tax credit expires.

Au is just one of the hundreds of first-time home buyers in Oahu's market who are hoping to close by Nov. 30 to qualify for a federal tax credit that returns as much as $8,000.

While available data does not break out Hawaii, the National Association of Realtors reports that 1.4 million first-time home buyers have gotten tax credits through August with another 600,000 expected to sneak in before the deadline.

But unless the buyers find properties in the coming week or Congress extends the deadline, they might miss opportunities.

“;I've been looking since June, but I don't see a lot of things that I would want to jump on,”; Au said.

Despite Au's efforts and those of her real-estate team, East Oahu Realty's Walt and Arla Harvey who send her twice daily listings, she hasn't found the right property under $550,000.

While first time home-buyers have dominated Oahu's real estate market since the first of the year, several factors have made their search challenging, including tightening inventory and the residual impacts of the credit crunch and distressed properties.

“;There were only 234 listings island-wide in Debbie's price range that fit her criteria,”; said Arla Harvey, adding that only 17 of these were in Au's driving range.

While Au is willing to look from Hawaii Kai to Aiea, she said she doesn't like traffic.

“;I might be able to find something in Mililani or Ewa,”; Au said. “;But that's a really long drive.”;

Tory Jones, a first-time home buyer who closed on a Westloch Fairways townhouse in August, leaves at 4:30 a.m. to get to yoga and work, but has no regrets.

“;My boyfriend, Luke Reynolds, and I actually really love it out there,”; she said.

The couple, who received the $8,000 credit, are using it to renovate the property.

“;We are pulling up all of the carpet and putting in new floors and new vanities and faucets in the bathrooms,”; Jones said.

Au qualifies for a conventional mortgage and does not need the tax-credit to make the purchase, but wants it to offset expenses. “;It would be really helpful, but the market is really limited,”; she said.

Inventory in the $300,000 to $700,000 has tightened as first-time home buyers flooded the market, said Chason Ishii, president of Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties. Strong demand for midrange properties has turned that category into a seller's market, Ishii said.

“;Availability for single-family homes is almost 38 percent below last year,”; he said, adding that September's 542 single-family homes and 682 condominiums pending sales will keep demand high to December.

Nationwide, pending sales through August increased for the seventh-straight month, the longest run since 2001, the NAR said.

“;No doubt many first-time home buyers are rushing to beat the deadline for the $8,000 tax credit, which expires by the end of next month,”; said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.

First-time home buyers, who completed 49 percent of the sales at Prudential Locations LLC through August, have nearly tripled their activity for the year, said Dan Tabori, Prudential Location LLC's executive vice president of business operations.

Market conditions in the midrange category, largely caused by the run-up of first-time home buyer activity, prompted S.L. “;Sam”; Pirtle to make a full-priced offer on a condominium in Pawaa near Ala Moana. “;I knew that other people were interested,”; Pirtle said.

Despite having to pay full-price for a condominium in a down market, Pirtle said she considers herself lucky. “;The very next day, the owner got a full-priced cash offer,”; she said.

In addition to low inventory, the down economy and distressed housing market are also taking a toll on first-time home buyers, Walt Harvey said.

The credit crunch has made it more difficult for first-time home buyers to get financing for condominiums and fixer-uppers, once considered main entry points into the market, Harvey said.

The distressed market also has narrowed availability for first-time home buyers, Harvey said. “;Some sellers can't afford to sell because they have no equity so where would they go,”; he said.

Some distressed property owners have put them on the market as short-sales, but at this late date most are not viable options for first-timers, Harvey said. “;The lenders are taking too long to make decisions,”; he said.

First-time home buyers Drew Kadokawa and his girlfriend made an offer on a Waikele townhouse in July, but are still waiting for the lender to approve the short-sale.

“;We are trying to close in time to get the credit,”; Kadokawa said.

The credit spurred Kadokawa to think about moving out of his parents home, but losing it won't be a deal breaker, he said.

“;I knew it was a risk making an offer on a short-sale, but this is the right property for us,”; he said. “;Either way, it's a good investment.”;





        At a glance:

» 1.4 million first-time home buyers bought from January through August.


» 2 million first-time home buyers are expected to buy by year's end.


» First-time home buyers could account for four out of every 10 U.S. real estate transactions in 2009.


» As many as 350,000 to 400,000 first-time home buyers probably would not have bought in 2009 if the credit were not available.


» Each first-time home buyer transaction pumps about $63,000, the equivalent of a new job, into the economy.


Source: National Association of Realtors