The tax incentive for buying real estate has made it out to the public. It is a credit or a loan. It has to be paid back, or not. It can used in 2008, 2009, or both. Simply put, it may or may not, you can or can not, you do or you do not, maybe.
If you didn't own a house for three years prior to the closing date of your new property, you get to claim either the credit or the loan, but not both. You get the loan if you took ownership in 2008. You get the credit if you took possession in 2009 before some date in November, but if you sell this property before that last day of the next thirty-six months, the government comes after you.
Possession means living in, even if you haven't closed yet. So anyone who started in 2008 on a lease option, or renters who were already living in the property and then bought from a landlord, or buyers who got to move in, in 2008 but didn't close until 2009, are all in the 2008 category. That would be the loan version. Apparently.
Those who close and move in, in 2009 before November sometime, and who have not owned another property they called their primary home in the previous 3 years, get the credit. Unless they sell the property they claim the credit for in the next 36 months. Then Uncle Obama will knock on the door with his hand out.
But wait, there are income restrictions. If your adjusted gross income (one of the lines on an IRS form) is above specific levels, you can't claim either the whole loan or the whole credit. And, if you are above another level of income you get squat. Inherited property, property transferred between family members, non-citizens' purchases are also not eligible for either the loan or the credit.
But, if you can claim the credit because you took possession in 2009 before November something, you do get to claim the credit on your 2008 taxes. For some that would mean amending your 2008 taxes. However, if your income went down in 2009, claiming it on the 2008 return might not maximize the dollars you can get.
See, it's simple!