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Tax Credit Drives Surge In Home Sales

ALAN ZIBEL

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ Extraordinary government efforts to stabilize the housing market are paying off. What happens when the help runs out is anyone's guess.

Sales of previously occupied homes surged in November to the highest level in nearly three years, spurred by federal subsidies for starter homes and a massive Federal Reserve push to drive down mortgage rates.

The strong figures were driven by a race to take advantage of a tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers. The credit has since been extended to next spring, but the government initially planned to end it Nov. 30.

"It was like the end of the world," said real estate agent Stephanie Somers of Re/Max Access in Philadelphia. "All the first-time buyers converged onto that one month."

The pace of home sales is now up 46 percent from its bottom in January and still 10 percent shy of its peak from four years ago, according to data released Tuesday by the National Association of Realtors.

The real estate recovery depends not only on taxpayer dollars but also on the health of the economy at large, which grew at a less robust pace in the third quarter than previously thought.

The economy grew at a 2.2 percent annual pace from July to September, down from an initial reading of 2.8 percent, the government said Tuesday.

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