Homebuyer tax credit: No e-file and four-month delays

Good news homebuyers: You can file for your $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit again.

Bad news: You still can’t e-file your taxes if you want the cash. And there are long delays.

On Thursday, CNNMoney revealed that buyers who purchased their properties after Nov. 6 were unable to claim the refund because the Internal Revenue Service had yet to release a new form and instructions. But on Friday, the IRS finally posted the new form 5405.

The two-month delay was frustrating to Florida resident Charles Teschke. “We are not broke or anything, but nevertheless we were still counting on getting the tax refund to help pay for the appliances and stuff we needed for our new home,” he said. “The IRS told me they estimate it will take four months for me to get my refund!”

First-time buyers were able to immediately file for the tax credit after Congress approved it last February as part of the stimulus program. All they had to do was file an amendment to their 2008 tax returns (the ones they filed last April) and claim the promised refund of 10% of the purchase price, up to $8,000.

They were able to e-file, and they received their refunds promptly. One reader filed a claim the first week of August, and had the check by the third week in September.

But on Nov. 6 the rules changed. That’s when Congress extended — and expanded — the tax credit, which was originally scheduled to expire on Nov. 30.

Now, the deadline is April 30, by when all contracts must be signed. (Closings must happen by June 30.) Plus, existing homeowners looking to trade up (or down) can qualify for a $6,500 refund.

And these new buyers can no longer file electronically. They have to mail in paper forms, including the new 5405, whether they are amending their 2008 taxes or claiming it on the 2009 taxes that are being filed this spring.

That is going to dramatically slow refunds, but taxpayers can’t blame the IRS. Instead, it’s people scamming the system who are at fault.

For example, in October tax preparer James Otto Price III was the first person convicted of this crime. He falsely claimed the credit for 15 clients.

So buyers must now file documentation with their taxes — including proof of residency, a signed mortgage statement and drivers license — which the e-file system is not equipped to handle.

“Because of the scams, the IRS started sending back the amended returns and asking for proof,” said Mary Mellem of David & Mary Mellem, EAs & Ashwaubenon Tax Professionals. “The system has no way of sending along the documents they’re requiring. Taxpayers must file a paper return instead.”

The IRS points out that taxpayers can still use the electronic forms available on its Web site or consumer sites such as TurboTax; they just have to print them out, attach the proof and mail everything in. And that can take quite a while.

“Taxpayers are looking at another three months before they get their returns,” said Mellem.

Source: CNNMoney, By Les Christie staff writerJanuary 16, 2010

Consider Live-In Stagers for Vacant Homes

Showhomes, a Nashville, Tenn.-based home-management and staging company with eight offices in Florida, provides live-in stagers for vacant homes that are up for sale.

Live-in stagers reduce the chances that the property will be vandalized, and they ensure that the listing is kept in show condition and ready for buyers to tour with just 30 minutes’ notice. They also must vacate the home when it sells; but in return, they pay dramatically reduced rents. Don Vanderhoef, who owns Showhomes’ Fort Lauderdale franchise, says, “A big part of it is psychology. Buyers see food in the refrigerator, clothes in the closet. They see all the signs of life of a regular home.”

While some real estate agents worry that live-in stagers will not keep the home clean or cause problems when asked to move out, Vanderhoef says in-home managers sign contracts and submit to background checks.

In the company’s 24-year history, he says it has worked with only one problem manager. The program’s properties generally spend less time on the market and fetch more money than other vacant listings. The company collects a “success” fee of 1 percent of the list price when a sale is completed and only the upfront money if the home is not sold.

Source: Charlotte Observer, Paul Owers (01/17/2010)

Housing Economists: Sales Are on the Rise

The housing recovery should gain moment in 2010, but the improvement will still be slow, according to a panel of economists speaking at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas.

“It won’t be a strong recovery, but it will be a recovery,” said David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders.

Crowe forecast that sales of new homes will rise by about 33 percent while resales will go up 7 percent. He expects prices to remain stable in most areas, but some cities may see some slight declines.

“I believe we’ve seen the worst of the house price declines … The stage is set for the consumer to return,” Crowe said.

Source: Associated Press, Alex Veiga (01/19/2010)