MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Today marks the last day that new homebuyers can qualify for an $8,000 federal tax credit. And a few weeks ago, the Federal Reserve wrapped up a program that was helping to keep mortgage rates low. The government has been trying to prevent another collapse of the housing market. With those measures gone, it'll be time see whether the still-weak market can walk on its own two feet.
NPR's Chris Arnold reports.
CHRIS ARNOLD: In a condo that's for sale in Waltham, Massachusetts, Sheila Doherty is checking out the kitchen and opening the closet doors.
Ms. SHEILA DOHERTY: Oh, it's a good size. (unintelligible)
ARNOLD: This condo is listed at $225,000. Doherty's going over the details with her realtor, Anita Shishmanian.
Ms. ANITA SHISHMANIAN (Realtor): Plus, they have a swimming pool here.
Ms. DOHERTY: Right.
Ms. SHISHMANIAN: So it's pretty reasonable, actually.
ARNOLD: Prices, of course, have been falling and getting more reasonable. Interest rates are still low. The data for April isn't available yet, but it sounds like the deadline for that $8,000 tax credit has definitely been getting some more people to buy homes. Doherty and her broker, Anita, say open houses have been full again, and that nicer properties have been getting multiple offers.
Ms. DOHERTY: Things that are on the market that are nice go under agreement immediately. Like, you see something on the market one minute, I call Anita, and then all of a sudden it's already gone.
Ms. SHISHMANIAN: They'll say, well, we just accepted an offer. So it's instantaneous. It's just amazing.
ARNOLD: Now, that sounds like a big change, even from a couple of months ago.
Ms. SHISHMANIAN: Oh, very. Yeah.
ARNOLD: So all that might sound good for the housing market, and some areas are doing better than others. But the big question is what's going to happen now that the $8,000 tax credit is going away.
Ms. SHISHMANIAN: Hmm. That's a good question.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ARNOLD: There's a lot riding on what happens next. For Anita Shishmanian, during April, all of the homes that she was listing sold within two weeks of coming on the market.
So that's got to be nice for realtors. I mean, all of a sudden, you're making commissions again.
Ms. SHISHMANIAN: Yeah. Yeah. Isn't that nice? A paycheck.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SHISHMANIAN: It's been a long, hard couple of years. I mean, everybody's feeling the positive effects...
(Soundbite of a ringing phone)
Ms. SHISHMANIAN: Oops.
ARNOLD: Shishmanian's phone is once again ringing all the time. And there's all sorts of other businesses that are hoping that it keeps ringing. There's door and window manufacturers, construction workers, electricians, stores like Home Depot. Spending on residential construction and other housing-related services has seen its steepest drop-off in more than 50 years.
Recently, the market's been stabilizing, but it's hard to know how dependent it is on those federal stimulus efforts that are now ending.
Mr. JONATHAN DIENHART (Director, Published Research, Hanley Wood Market Intelligence): It's really only once you kind of take that stimulus away that the curtain's pulled back and it's revealed whether or not you're going to see a drop-off in sales activity.
CHRIS ARNOLD: Jonathan Dienhart is the director of published research with Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, which tracks the housing market. He thinks we might see a bit of a slump after the tax credit expires. Many economists are predicting that prices could keep sliding - perhaps falling by another five percent nationally. But that's a lot less than the 30 percent price drops that we've already seen in many areas.
Mr. DIENHART: There's always the possibility that housing could continue to decline, but it has fallen sufficiently far that I think that even if there is kind of a continual drag along the bottom, we've probably still seeing the worst of the declines. So I'm not concerned that things are going to drop off a cliff later this year.
ARNOLD: But some other experts are concerned that there could be a more serious second dip in the housing market. There are now nearly five million homeowners who are at least 60 days delinquent and heading towards foreclosure. That's a record number of homes, and that could glut the market and keep pushing down prices. So some economists say preventing many of those foreclosures could still make a big difference.
Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.
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