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Tax credit end not deterring homebuyers

By Julie Haviv

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Home buyer tax credits have been a boon to the U.S. housing market, but their expiration this week is unlikely to deter home purchasing activity as consumers grow more confident, according to a survey released on Wednesday.

Among consumers shopping for homes, 65 percent said the end of the tax credits will have little or no effect on their interest in purchasing a home, according to the survey, which was conducted by Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services, part of Prudential Financial <PRU.N>.

But 90 percent of the consumers believe that the tax credits have helped both first-time home buyers and the U.S. housing market overall.

Eligible borrowers must sign contracts by April 30 and close on their loans by June 30 to qualify for the tax credits, which include $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for home owners buying a new residence.

Consumers remain unsure about the direction of the housing market, but are optimistic about real estate values, with 46 percent expecting prices in their area to increase over the next year. Just 12 percent expect prices to decline, the survey found.

Over the next five years, 79 percent expect prices to increase, and 20 percent expect prices to increase substantially.

"The survey underscores the key role the federal home buyer tax credits played in stimulating residential real estate market activity and the U.S. economy," James Mallozzi, chairman and chief executive officer of Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services, said in a statement.

"It also shows that most consumers believe the market has hit bottom and are more optimistic about the future," he said.

The survey was of 1,000 Americans between the ages of 25-64 with household income of at least $35,000; it was conducted from April 15-20.

Rising mortgage interest rates and unemployment were cited as the most important factors affecting consumers' decision to purchase a home, along with more stringent lending criteria and fewer mortgage-backed securities purchased by the Federal Reserve.

The expiration of the tax credits ranked the lowest on their list of concerns.

Of those who have recently purchased a home, 61 percent cited low mortgage interest rates as "very important" to their decisions, outstripping those who cited the tax credit or cheaper prices. But 66 percent expect interest rates to rise, underscoring potential headwinds for the market.

"The tax credits clearly helped stimulate the market when consumer confidence was low and housing inventory was high," Earl Lee, president of PRERS, said in the statement.

"While the tax credit expiration is a concern for many, the bigger issues now are the availability and cost of financing as well as if they will have a job," he said.

The Prudential Real Estate Outlook survey was conducted online. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent, the company said.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)

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