California bill would extend tax credit on new homes

Larry Doss Wednesday, September 9, 2009

California bill would extend tax credit on new homes

A popular state tax credit of up to $10,000 that helped sell hundreds of new houses throughout the Sacramento region earlier this year appears to be coming back.

A plan to extend the state tax credit to another 4,285 buyers of new, unoccupied homes in California – possibly as many as 500 in the capital area – is expected to receive a vote in the Legislature by Friday’s end of the session.

The buyer tax credit began March 1 and unexpectedly sold out by July 2 as many first-time California buyers combined the state credit with an $8,000 federal tax credit.

Statewide, Roseville ranked eighth among cities where new house buyers received the state credit. Sacramento ranked ninth, the state Franchise Tax Board reported.

"It was used very extensively," said Dennis Rogers, a government affairs executive with the Roseville-based North State Building Industry Association. He and others in Sacramento’s struggling building industry said the credit helped prod buyers off the fence before it ended in July.

"We’ve definitely seen a lot of interest from homebuyers coming into the sales environment because of the program," said Pulte Homes spokeswoman Jacque Petroulakis. Pulte is the capital region’s largest home builder.

The original tax credit also helped area builders clear an excess inventory of homes finished or nearly finished, but not yet sold.

Builders and buyers now in the sales process hope to see the bill pass the Legislature this week and be signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That’s considered likely by many close to the legislation. The governor was a force behind the original tax credit, calling it a job generator for the construction industry and larger California economy.

Statewide, 10,659 California buyers got the homebuyer credits, which allowed tax breaks of up to $3,333 per year for three years, the Franchise Tax Board reported Aug. 31. Buyers are expected to be notified by Friday about the amount of credit allocated or denied.

The tax agency stopped taking applications July 2, assuming that it had reached the program’s $100 million limit. Original expectations were that most people could claim the entire $10,000. Then a newer FTB sample of taxpayers approved for the credit based on "their 2007 income tax liabilities, and incorporating 2009 tax law changes" showed most people won’t owe enough state taxes to claim an entire $10,000 credit over three years.

"It’s estimated that most people will get about $7,000," said FTB spokeswoman Brenda Voet. She said those who qualify for the entire $10,000 will still receive it.

The new FTB liability estimates means an estimated $30 million in credits could go unclaimed under provisions of the original tax credit bill passed in February.

Assembly Bill 765, by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, reauthorizes the tax credit under the new estimates. New credits would be available upon the bill’s signing and run through March 1, 2010. Builders must apply on behalf of buyers within one week of closing escrow.

The new bill, however, won’t help capital-area buyers who closed escrow after the FTB’s July 2 deadline. They’ll be ineligible for the tax break because they closed escrow during a time when the law, if it passes, was not in effect.

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