ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Well, now, the opportunity created by the housing crisis for first-time homebuyers. The National Association of Realtors has found that nearly half of those who bought a house last year were jumping into the market for the first time. Prices are down, interest rates remain low, and then there's the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time buyers.
NPR's Jeff Brady met two of them on a tour of one Denver neighborhood.
JEFF BRADY: Brian Chalmers is just back from one of the most important meetings of his life.
(Soundbite of car door)
Mr. BRIAN CHALMERS: Hi, how are you?
BRADY: Hi, I'm Jeff.
Mr. CHALMERS: Jeff, Brian.
BRADY: He just signed the closing papers on a 1950s, single-level brick ranch in Denver's North Park Hill neighborhood.
Ms. ANN CONNELLY (Real Estate Agent): Welcome to Brian's new house.
BRADY: That's his real estate agent, Ann Connelly. Getting to this point was not easy. Chalmers earns about $25,000 a year and saved up that much for a down payment.
Mr. CHALMERS: It's been a five-year struggle, living in very inexpensive apartments, cooking rice every day. I've gone without a cell phone for five years.
BRADY: His new house is in pretty rough shape but at $125,000, he can finally afford to make the jump into homeownership.
Ms. CONNELLY: There was a time back in 2004, 2005 when people were purchasing this same kind of home for, you know, the high 100s, low 200s.
BRADY: Ann Connelly says Chalmers got this house under a short-sale agreement. The lenders accepted about $75,000 less for the property than they'd loaned on it to the previous owner. There are other examples of good deals like this in the neighborhood, too.
(Soundbite of door knocking)
BRADY: Just a few blocks away, Courtney Gross and Rebecca Wolff are preparing to spend a first Christmas in their new house.
Ms. COURTNEY GROSS: Hello.
BRADY: Hi. Are you Courtney?
Ms. GROSS: Jeff? Yeah.
BRADY: I'm Jeff.
Ms. GROSS: Nice to meet you. Come on in.
BRADY: Nice to meet you.
They're in their late 20s, and both are social workers. They paid just over $182,000 for the house last spring. That's $28,000 less than it sold for in 2004. And Wolff says that was before the house was completely remodeled, from the basement to a new roof.
Ms. REBECCA WOLFF: Because the market dropped, everything kind of went under. We were able to get a house that, you know, a few years ago would've - we wouldn't have been able to afford.
BRADY: There was just one thing missing, says Gross: The windows needed updating. That's where the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time buyers came in handy.
Ms. GROSS: So then we turned around and used that tax credit to put in new windows, but then we also get a tax credit on new windows.
BRADY: Their real estate agent, Vicki Porter, says a few years back, foreclosures really pushed down prices in neighborhoods like this. Now, she says, lenders are more interested in working out short-sale deals before a foreclosure is under way.
Ms. VICKI PORTER (Real Estate Agent): So, there's still some great opportunities for any buyer, but especially first-time homebuyers with the tax credit.
BRADY: Back over at Brian Chalmers house, he can't wait to begin work.
Mr. CHALMERS: Ripping up these carpets and throwing them in the trash is the top of the list. They're filthy. They're orange.
BRADY: Even his agent has the remodeling bug. She wants to see the oak floors under that carpet.
Ms. CONNELLY: Hey, what's under this blue carpet here in the hall? Did you look...
(Soundbite of banging)
BRADY: Chalmers reaches down, grabs a corner and rips.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CONNELLY: You - start the demo right now.
BRADY: Chalmers plan to work on his new house over the next month, then move in around February first.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.