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By Michelle Jarboe, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Home sales are heating up, as buyers try to lock in their purchases before a federal income tax credit offer expires next week.

In Northeast Ohio, sales of new and previously owned single-family homes were 13.3 percent higher last month than in March 2009, according to data from the Northern Ohio Regional Multiple Listing Service. Condo sales in a 15-county area tracked by the listing service jumped 42.9 percent, compared with a year before.

Reports released today showed that sales rose across Ohio and throughout the country as well last month, as the spring buying season bloomed.

The federal income tax credit — up to $8,000 for first-time buyers and up to $6,500 for some repeat buyers who sign contracts through April 30 — is spurring a small sales boom. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, called the program “a resounding success” today and said that tax-credit buyers have helped shore up home prices, thus “preserving perhaps $1 trillion in largely middle class housing wealth that may have been wiped out without the housing stimulus measure.”

At Montrose Park, a townhouse development in Copley Township, five of the seven purchases last month involved the tax credit. All four units in one building sold to first-time buyers, including Phil Trendell and his fiancee, Lesley Underwood.

Trendell, 25, said the couple had been living together and eventually planned to buy a house. The tax-credit offer encouraged them to buy now. They signed a contract in January and closed their purchase last month. They plan to use part of the $8,000 for furniture and put the rest toward their wedding, scheduled for May 2011.

Montrose Park, off Interstate 77, has been a hot spot for first-time buyers. Prices range from more than $140,000 to nearly $170,000, and builder Pulte Homes has finished about 108 of the 183 planned houses. Last year, nearly 75 percent of buyers in the community were eligible for the tax credit.

To qualify for the credit, buyers must have a home under contract by April 30 and must close the purchase before July. Analysts expect the tax credit to boost home sales figures through the summer, though the market is not likely to see as big an impact as it did last fall.

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Story Courtesy Of The Plain Dealer