Oct. 27 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senate leaders moved closer to an agreement replacing an expiring $8,000 tax credit for first- time homebuyers with a smaller one that would expand access to so-called step-up purchasers, two people familiar with the matter said.

The deal would reduce the size of the tax credit to 10 percent of the sale’s price, capped at $7,290, the people said. The credit would be available on home purchases that are under contract by April 30, and borrowers would have 60 days more to close the sale. The existing credit is due to end Nov. 30.

The new agreement, which is still being negotiated and may change, would grant the credit to borrowers who have lived in their current home for at least five years. Lawmakers want to keep home sales from slipping as the economy struggles to recover from the worst drop in home prices since the Great Depression.

The demand for new homes and condominiums may increase by “more than two times because you’re allowing step-up buyers into the equation,” said Andrew Parmentier, a managing partner at Height Analytics, a research firm in Washington. “ You just opened up a whole new pool of people who can buy into those empty homes and empty condos that were built out.”

The income eligibility for first-time homebuyers would remain the same at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples. The income criteria for step-up buyers would be $125,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

The credit would be limited to homes costing $800,000 or less. There is currently no price cap on home purchases.

Unemployment-Benefits Bill

Lawmakers are trying to attach the legislation, which is also being considered by leaders in the House, to a bill extending unemployment benefits under debate on the Senate floor, said Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.

Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, told reporters yesterday of the tax credit that “we should be able to extend that later this week.” Nelson was traveling with President Barack Obama on Air Force One to a speech in Jacksonville, Florida.

Lawmakers are also considering pairing the new homebuyer credit with a broader tax benefit for businesses with net operating losses, and passing that as a separate bill. The tax break, a priority for homebuilders, would allow companies to apply losses incurred in 2008 and 2009 to amend up to five years worth of earlier tax returns to get a refund of taxes paid in years when they were profitable.

That provision, along with the step-up, would be “extremely positive for the homebuilders,” Parmentier said.

A version of the benefit was included in February’s economic stimulus bill, though it was limited to companies with receipts under $15 million. Business groups, including the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers and National Association of Home Builders, lobbied unsuccessfully to have the benefit expanded to larger companies.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dawn Kopecki in Washington at dkopecki@bloomberg.com; To contact the reporters on this story: Ryan J. Donmoyer in Washington at rdonmoyer@bloomberg.net.