Wichita Realtors: Jobs more crucial than tax credit

Home sales could plummet again if Congress allows the first-time homebuyer tax credit to expire, according to a national survey.

But in Wichita, local agents think there's enough market activity to weather a downturn if the credit expires — if unemployment doesn't increase.

In a survey of almost 1,000 agents by Weichert, Realtors, 92 percent said they expect the market to decline again if the credit is allowed to expire Dec. 1.

The study shows that 71 percent of agents think the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit is the largest factor motivating the 2009 buyers they've worked with.

Even more — 97 percent — favor an extension of the tax credit through 2010. More than a dozen bills have been introduced in Congress to extend the credit, but it appears unlikely the credit will be expanded to all home buyers.

"The tax credit is working to restore confidence and stimulating the overall economy but we still have a long way to go before we return to a normal market," James Wiechert, founder of the company, said in a statement.

"As this survey shows, many in our industry are concerned that we will lose much of the ground that has been made toward a recovery if the tax credit is not extended."

But in Wichita, the crux of the concern about the housing market's future is focused on unemployment.

"Yes, we need a government program. Yes, it's important in Wichita," said Lonn McCurdy, president of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors.

"But do I think it's all-encompassing in Wichita? No. There are still a lot of people out there buying homes who aren't first-timers. A better index for Wichita is our employment stats, in all sectors."

McCurdy and Sharon West, vice president at Wichita's Coldwell Banker Plaza Real Estate, say any downturn in the local housing market will be seasonal — with the "slow season" coming as winter approaches.

"Nothing much has changed," West said. "If it's a turn-key house that's priced right, it's going to sell."

West said Plaza agents remain busy, with first-timers and repeat buyers.

"I think there will always be people wanting to buy a home in Wichita, whether they're first-time, moving up or moving into town," West said.

"We're going into the slower season anyway when we approach the holidays, so there's a natural slowdown there."