Good news for the real estate market. Buy a home before May 1 and collect up to $6,500 from the government. If you’re a first-time home buyer, get up to $8,000.

As part of the government’s efforts to encourage people to spend money to help revive the economy, the House voted 403-to-12 to expand a popular tax credit for home buyers.

First-time home buyers have been getting tax credits of up to $8,000 since January as part of the economic stimulus package. But with that housing program scheduled to expire at the end of November, the House voted to extend it into the spring – and to expand it to many people who already own homes.

Buyers who have owned their current homes at least five years would be eligible, subject to income limits, for tax credits of up to $6,500. First-time home buyers – or people who haven’t owned homes in the previous three years – could get up to $8,000. To qualify, buyers have to sign purchase agreements before May 1 and close before July 1.

The credit is available for the purchase of principal homes costing $800,000 or less, meaning vacation homes are ineligible. The credit would be phased out for individuals with annual incomes above $125,000 and for joint filers with incomes above $225,000.

The first-time home buyers’ tax credit that’s already in effect has boosted sales, much in the same way the Cash for Clunkers program increased auto sales last summer by paying car buyers as much as $4,500 for exchanging their old gas-guzzlers for new, more fuel efficient models.

The expanded housing credit will help stabilize housing markets during typically slow sales months in the winter. Today, many would-be buyers are still worried that home values could drop further, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

“Once the consumer fear factor disappears, then housing can move into a sustainable recovery,’’ Yun said. “I think we will be there by the middle of next year.’’

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