The passing of the $4500 "Cash for Clunkers" tax credit out of the House got me thinking. First, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that this is serious efficiency legislation- yes, it puts an incentive on deciding upon a fuel efficient vehicle, and that's certainly more palatable than forcing higher efficiencies and limiting consumer choice. But this is about getting auto sales moving more than anything. And as an old car guy (I grew up around my father's Chrysler dealership) I cringe when I hear that the "clunkers" traded in would be "recycled"- it's a certainty that some very serviceable vehicles are going to be taken out of circulation. That means they won't be available for resale to those who can't afford a new car.
Let's compare this incentive to the $8000 first time buyer tax credit, shall we?
Average new-car transaction price has dropped to $27,941, according to The Wall Street Journal. This means that the credit given is 16% of the average price- a pretty healthy incentive, and no restriction on who can buy, other than you have to move up in efficiency.
Compare this with the 2008 US Median Sale Price of $198,100 (per this NAR report) and the $8000 First Time Buyer Tax Credit, and we're looking at an incentive of 4%. Still very nice, thank you, but think what a bump in the tax credit, to say $15,000 could do. Especially if it were paired with revisions making the credit applicable to all buyers of primary residences!
Danielle Hale, a research economist with the National Association of REALTORS(R) put together this analysis that shows each home sale at the median generating $63,101 in economic impact. That's an enormous number, and one that drives activity in all sectors of the economy.
My opinion: The current home buyer tax credit is a good thing, but it would be a much more significant force in helping clear inventory and stabilize values with the changes noted above.