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South Hall mega-subdivision matches tax credits for new homebuyers
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Real estate agent Mary Farkas walks through a room inside a Sterling on the Lake home Thursday afternoon as she and other agents tour some homes after attending a conference at the South Hall subdivision.

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Listed as Jennifer Landers, regional marketing director for Newland Communities, talks about Sterling on the Lake’s Tax Credit Program.
Home Buyer Tax Credits: Learn more about the $8,000 and $6,500 tax credits from the National Association of Home Builders

To lure more potential homebuyers to a South Hall mega-subdivision, a developer is offering to double up on homebuyer tax credits offered as part of the federal economic stimulus package.

Until March 31, the 1,000-acre Sterling on the Lake in Flowery Branch and five participating builders are matching any tax credit for which a homebuyer qualifies — $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for "move-up" buyers.

"We started looking at the recent extension of the (credits) and wanted to leverage those,"
said Jennifer Landers, regional marketing director for Newland Communities, Sterling’s developer.

Also, Newland saw the move as a way to "bring guests and buyers back out to Sterling to showcase all the new inventory and model homes we have under construction here right now," Landers said.

"We actually have quite a bit of new construction going on."

The subdivision off Spout Springs Road opened in 2005 initially as a 1,600-home community. Today, plans call for 2,000 homes amid open space, lakes, parks and other amenities.

In 2008, the Flowery Branch City Council approved allowing commercial development off Spout Springs at Sterling’s entrance.

At the time, the recession was beginning to hammer the construction industry, particularly home building.

Patrick Clark, vice president and general manager for Newland’s Eastern region, said in October 2008 that the national economic downturn "certainly has slowed development and sales down considerably."

Business lately, though, has perked up at Sterling.

"We’re actually going very strong here," Landers said in an interview Wednesday. "We have another builder coming on board with us."

Sterling, one of Hall County’s largest residential developments, has about 600 occupied homes, she said.

"We already have sold two homes under the program," which began Jan. 30, Landers said. "We began actively marketing (the program) a week and a half ago."

The IRS has several rules about the tax credit.

First, a first-time buyer is defined as someone who has not owned a "principal residence" in three years.

Move-up buyers must, in the past eight years, have owned and lived in their previous home for five consecutive years, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Also, to qualify for the full credits, single taxpayers must earn no more than $125,000 and married couples, $225,000.

The matching credit amount "can come off the price of the house or (in the form of ) options or upgrades, or at closing," Landers said. Homebuyers "have flexibility there."

"It’s very creative," said Gainesville real estate executive Frank Norton Jr. of the promotion. "I’ve seen other creative marketing all throughout Atlanta, but I have not heard specifically of (this one)."

Norton said to stimulate sales, builders and developers have been paying closing costs, giving away membership or association dues for a certain period of time and including furniture packages, among other incentives.

"I do think that as the market tightens up over the next 12 months, these will slowly go away," he said.

Doug and Dana Carlson are one of Sterling’s first customers to benefit from the Tax Credit Program.

The couple, however, had considered buying in the subdivision anyway.

"It was actually like a bonus," said Dana Carlson in a phone interview Thursday. "... Our builder took (a $6,500 matching discount) right off the sales price."

The Carlsons now live in Lakewood, N.Y., near Buffalo, and are moving here because of her husband’s job transfer. He had been scouting out different places to live and came across Sterling.

Information on the tax credit program was in the initial packet the couple received, "but we hadn’t looked at it real closely," Carlson said. "I (later) saw that and thought, ‘Wow!’ "

"I think it’s a great (idea)," she added. "A lot of times, it’s getting people into buying a home ... sooner than they normally would have. And knowing that they can double that (credit amount), it’s an even better bonus."

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