Just 5 percent of Americans planning to buy house within a year

Associated Press / November 11, 2009

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NEW YORK - Just one in 20 Americans say they plan to buy a home within the next year, and they are most likely to be 34 years old or younger and living in the South or West, according to a survey released yesterday.

Roughly a quarter of potential buyers said the top reason they would buy now is because prices appear to have bottomed out - not because of bargain-priced foreclosures, worries about rising interest rates, or the wide selection of homes.

The survey, conducted for, a real estate listings site, shows the percentage of buyers thinking of jumping into the market was down slightly from a March survey, but up about 1 point from a poll in June.

Recent housing figures and homebuilder earnings reports support the idea the housing market is stabilizing, and concerns about the expiration of a federal home buyer tax credit are moot after Congress last week extended and expanded the credit.

Buyers who have owned in their current homes for at least five years are eligible for tax credits of up to $6,500, while first-time homebuyers - or anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years - would still get up to $8,000. To qualify, buyers have to sign a purchase agreement by April 30 and close by June 30. The poll was done before the credit extension.

And JPMorgan Chase & Co. said it sees a need for more housing-related staffers: It will hire 1,200 mortgage loan officers by the end of next year, a 60 percent increase in its sales force.

They are needed as the company goes after new home mortgage business and customers refinance home loans. New loan officers will work at bank branches in 23 states and in key cities such as Boston, New York, Chicago, and Washington.

In related news, the Obama administration’s mortgage relief program has reached one in five eligible homeowners, the government reported yesterday, but most of those struggling borrowers are on temporary plans that have yet to be made final.

As of the end of October, more than 650,000 borrowers, or 20 percent of those eligible, had signed up for trials lasting up to five months, the Treasury Department said. The modifications reduce monthly payments to more affordable levels.

To make the changes permanent, though, borrowers must complete a stack of paperwork and show they can pay on time. At the beginning of September, only about 1,700 permanent modifications had been made.

“We’re seeing some early indications that the servicers haven’t done enough to get all the documents in,’’ said Michael Barr, an assistant Treasury secretary.

Consumer advocates say banks aren’t doing enough. Alan White, a law professor at Valparaiso University, said the government will have to “crack the whip or consider firing some of these servicers.’’

Some economists doubt the administration can reach its goal of helping 3 million to 4 million borrowers in three years.