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LEOMINSTER — While the volume of mortgages for local financial institutions is off from its peak a few years back, the first-time home buyer tax credit is helping sell lower-priced homes in North Central Massachusetts.

“The federal tax credit for first-time home buyers has definitely stimulated home sales,” commented Catherine Benoit, vice president, residential mortgage manager, of Workers’ Credit Union. “The majority of mortgage applications have been for first-time home buyers purchasing lower-priced homes, as well as homeowners refinancing because of the lower rates.

According to the National Association of Realtors report, sales of existing homes nationally were up 10.1 percent in October.

Congress recently extended through April 30 the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, authorizing a tax credit of up to $8,000 for qualified first-time home buyers, originally due to expire Dec. 1. “Buyers must enter into a binding contract for a principal residence on or before April 30, 2010 and close on the home by June 30, 2010,” added Benoit.

As part of the extension, a new tax credit, up to $6,500 was added for repeat buyers who want to purchase another home. The home buyer must have lived in the same principal residence for any five-consecutive-year period during the eight-year period that ends on the date the replacement home is purchased.

“The tax credit is really helping,” commented Brenda Rufiange, from Re/Max Property Promotions in Leominster. “We are even seeing multiple offers on lower-priced homes.”

According to David Cormier, owner of Re/Max Property Promotions, overall sales in 2009 are comparable to 2008, but activity level for lower-priced homes is quite robust, especially during the last quarter.

Benoit said some of the activity is also a direct result of programs available through Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MassHousing) and Federal Housing Administration (FHA). MassHousing has several first-time buyer programs as well as a program to assist in the repair and renovation of older homes. FHA offers low down payment financing for all buyers.

Workers’ Credit Union, founded in 1914, is headquartered in Fitchburg. With assets over $700 million, the Credit Union serves more than 65,000 members from fourteen offices in Acton, Chelmsford, Fitchburg, Gardner, Groton, Lancaster, Leominster, Lunenburg, Orange, Townsend and Workers’ Online at wcu.com.