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What the $6,500 homebuyer tax credit means for you

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(Read caption) Jose Rodriguez of Lodi works on the concrete foundation of a home at Westshore new home community in Sacraamento. California homebuilders, buoyed by the demand for an $8,000 homebuyer tax credit that began in March. Now the program has been extended to homeowners with five years in their current residence.

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During the first round of the government's homebuyer tax-credit program, only first-time purchasers could qualify for up to $8,000 in tax credits. But this time, many current homeowners could get in on the deal, too.

On Thursday, the House and Senate passed an extension of the popular homebuyer program that would allow people who have owned their homes for at least five years to buy a new home and get up to $6,500 off their tax bill. Why the switch?

The move may be aimed at luring higher-end buyers into the real estate market, says Kevin Cottrell, a principal and cofounder of Kelsey Cottrell Realty in St. Louis. During the initial incentive program, which ends Nov. 30, over 70 percent of the contracts his firm inked were under $300,000, and 90 percent were under $400,000, the lower end of the real-estate spectrum. By extending the credit to current homeowners, the federal government is aiming to move a more upscale segment of the market into "a more normal cycle of buying and selling," where people might move to a better home every seven or eight years, Mr. Cottrell says. The five-year ownership requirement discourages people from flipping houses the way they did during the real estate bubble.

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