How to Find Your New Maine Home
As more and more people discover what you already know about the Pine Tree State, it’s becoming more difficult to find the right home. From finding a real estate agent to the perfect vacation property, here are answers to your questions about how to buy your own slice of Maine.
WHAT SHOULD PROSPECTIVE HOMEBUYERS EXPECT IN 2020?
If you’ve been paying attention to Maine’s real estate market in recent years, the answer won’t surprise you. A low inventory of available homes coupled with high demand will continue to make buying a house a challenge for many people, particularly first-time homebuyers. Tim Fortin of Fortin and MacDonald Real Estate in Hallowell expects Maine will see another year of low inventory and homes going under contract quickly. “There seems to be no shortage of buyers out there,” Fortin says. “This is not just a state of Maine problem; it is nationwide.” In its 2020 National Housing Forecast, Realtor.com predicted that inventory across the country could reach a “historic low level.” “Maine has basically been in a nine-year bull market,” says Chris Lynch, president of Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty. Last year set a record for the number of single-family homes sold and the median price, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. Total sales of single-family homes increased by 1.55 percent, from 17,864 in 2018 to 18,140 in 2019, while the median sales price increased 4.65 percent, from $215,000 to $225,000. Thanks to accolades bestowed on Portland and other communities, the state’s reputation nationally has been rising in the past four to five years, Lynch says, contributing to the demand of would-be buyers. With not much new development, Lynch doesn’t expect Maine’s low-inventory woes to go away anytime soon. On top of that, Bruce Tindal, owner of Tindal Callahan Real Estate in Boothbay, says that, as businesses increasingly accommodate remote workers and as Maine’s broadband network expands, he expects the state will attract even more full-time residents from other states.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE RIGHTREAL ESTATE AGENT?
While it can be useful to keep an eye on Zillow or other multiple-listing services (MLS), a real estate agent can be crucial when it comes to navigating the market and finding the right property. Dava Davin, owner of Portside Real Estate Group in Portland, recommends getting a referral from someone you know and trust and ensuring your and your agent’s communication styles work well together. Story Litchfield of Landvest in Northeast Harbor and Tindal both say you should look for a real estate agent with experience with properties in the region you’re looking at. Although finding the right real estate agent can take more time up front, it will lead to a more satisfying experience in the end, says Scott Horty, owner of Camden Real Estate Company. “It’s very important to work with an agent who’s going to make it enjoyable and efficient, because there are times when this can become a stressful process,” Horty says.
WHEN’S THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO BUY?
Maine’s seasons present different advantages and disadvantages when it comes to buying a house. Between Thanksgiving and the middle of February is typically when you’ll be competing with the fewest number of buyers, but it’s also the time with the lowest inventory, according to Lynch. On the flipside, more houses tend to come on the market in the spring. Litchfield, who sells luxury property in the Mount Desert Island region, sees a lot of sales in the fall after buyers are able to experience summer here. Another advantage to the fall is that sellers tend to be more motivated to sell because they don’t want to heat or weatherize a property through the winter, according to Fortin. Davin recommends buyers give themselves at least a couple of seasons to find the right property, so they’ll know more about the market and the value of what they’re looking for. Regardless of the time of year, though, you should be ready to buy, including having financing in place and knowing how much you can spend. “ With the extremely low level of inventory right now,” says Horty, “the best time to buy is anytime you can find a house you want to buy.”
HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE PORTLAND’S HOT REAL ESTATE MARKET?
The median price of single-family home sales last year in Cumberland and York Counties, $325,000 and $295,000, respectively, dwarf the median price through the rest of Maine. Portland is especially competitive, and it’s typical for houses to receive multiple offers above asking price, sometimes in cash. With very little developable land available, Lynch doesn’t expect that picture to change in the next few years. He recommends working with an agent at a larger firm with experience in the region, because they have a better pulse on what’s coming onto the market. Davin says that, while buyers in Portland need to be patient, they should be in the best buying position possible, including being available for showings, because “there will be more buyers than available inventory.” Lower prices can be found off the peninsula, and condo buyers will find better deals on units in existing buildings, which had a median price of nearly $60,000 less than new construction units last year, according to Davin.
WHAT ARE SOME MORE AFFORDABLE AREAS TO BUY A HOME?
In general, more affordable homes tend to be located outside of town or city centers, according to Horty. In the midcoast, demand is strongest closer to the centers of Rockland, Rockport, Camden, and Belfast, but buyers can find less expensive housing in the more rural towns of Appleton, Hope, and Lincolnville. Horty says the advantage of the three latter towns for parents of school-aged children is that they all feed into Camden Hills Regional High School, and the K–8 schools are all very good.The popularity of Maine’s largest city has led to the surrounding communities becoming more in demand and expensive as people are priced out of Portland, but there is still value to be found in southern Maine. For example, Davin points out that last year the median sales price of a single-family home was $268,000 in Westbrook and $289,000 in Windham, compared to $329,000 in Port-land and $550,000 in Falmouth. While the median price in Cumberland was $480,000, just over in town border in North Yarmouth the price was $383,500. Similar savings can be found in Biddeford ($272,400) over Saco ($325,000) and Bath ($200,000) over Brunswick ($290,500). For a coastal property, Lynch recommends looking in Harpswell, Bristol, and South Bristol, which have “some of the greatest values of real estate in Maine,” thanks to more affordable pricing, lower property taxes, good housing stock, and beautiful views of the water.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE RIGHT VACATION HOME
Start by identifying what you want in a vacation home, whether it’s being on a lake, near the ocean, or close to an airport, and how much you can spend. Litchfield and Lynch suggest describing as many parameters as possible to your broker to help drive the search. You should also ask yourself how you’ll be using it, says Fortin. Will it be a personal getaway or a family gathering space? Renting it out by the week or month can provide some income and build equity if you want to use it for only part of the year, says Fortin. While identifying criteria for what you want is helpful, Tindal says buyers should keep their options open because they can often be surprised with what ends up being the perfect fit. However, the “location, location, location” cliché is especially true for vacation homes, Tindal says. “It is the home’s setting that will deliver daily satisfaction, not a glitzy kitchen or bathroom.”