They may know that the federal tax credit is available for homes purchased from January until the end of November of this year, but they may not realize that they’ll need to have a home purchase in the works long before the Dec. 1 deadline rolls around.

Potential first-time home buyers who are wondering whether they should get into the market to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit shouldn’t wait much longer.


They may know that the federal tax credit is available for homes purchased from January until the end of November of this year, but they may not realize that they’ll need to have a home purchase in the works long before the Dec. 1 deadline rolls around.


That’s because it typically can take six to eight weeks from the moment a buyer signs an offer letter to the time of a closing, when the buyer can move in to the new house (and claim that tax credit).


Realistically, that means a buyer who is seeking the credit would want to sign a purchase-and-sale agreement by mid-October, according to John Karcher, president of the Massachusetts Association of Buyer Agents. Typically, Karcher said, there’s a 10-day window between when an offer is signed and when the purchase-and-sale agreement is signed. That gives the prospective buyer time to arrange a home inspection and have an attorney look over the P&S documents.


That means you’ll probably want to be serious about buying a specific house by the beginning of October if you want to be sure you can take advantage of that $8,000 tax credit (which, depending on the kind of loan, could be used to help with the down payment).


You also need to be a first-time home buyer (or someone who hasn’t owned a home for the past three years). You need to earn less than $75,000, or less than $150,000 as a married couple, to be eligible for the full credit.


Karcher said he hears there’s some movement in the real estate industry to push Congress to extend the program beyond Dec. 1, and possibly even open the tax credit program up to a much wider range of buyers. For now, Karcher considers the program to be an unqualified success: The Hanover-based real estate agent said his last dozen home transactions have all involved people who are looking to take advantage of the tax credit.


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