Sales of existing single-family homes in Maine rose more than 17 percent in May, outpacing the national rate of 12.7 percent.

The growth in Maine was driven largely by activity from first-time homebuyers, according to industry sources.

A total of 1,214 homes were sold last month, compared with 1,035 homes in the year-ago period, according to Maine Listings, a unit of the Maine Association of Realtors.

The statewide median sale price was roughly flat – up only 0.28 percent — to $178,500. The median sales price indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

“First-time homebuyers continue to be a driving force in most areas of the state, due to continued low interest rates and relatively stable inventory,” said Bart Stevens, president of the Maine Association of Realtors. “This allows existing homeowners to move forward with their real estate changes, which had been placed on hold for several years.

“The strong market in other areas of New England is now allowing those buyers the opportunity to pursue their dream property here in Maine,” he said.

The gains in May exceeded the 14 percent year-over-year growth seen in April.

Inventory of available homes “continues to tighten in many areas of the state, particularly at many first-time buyer price points,” said Stevens, an owner and broker with Century 21 Nason Realty in Winslow.

The growth in Maine topped the 12.7 percent growth seen nationally in May.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the national median sale price rose 15.8 percent to $208,700. Single-family existing home sales in the Northeast were up 8.3 percent and prices jumped 12.3 percent to a regional median price of $269,600.

For the three-month period from March 1 through May 31, statewide sales rose 13.6 percent over the same period a year ago. York County saw a jump of 13.5 percent in sales, while Cumberland County sales rose 16.1 percent. Sagadahoc County saw the biggest percentage gain of 31.8 percent, while Waldo County saw a drop of 1.6 percent.

“This spring has been a boom,” said Tina Lucas of Lucas Real Estate in Portland. “There’s a bigger pool of buyers at a variety of price points. People who had been waiting for a while to put their houses on the market have finally come into the market.”

In addition to rising sales of existing homes, permits for construction of new single-family homes also have been on the rise this year.

As of April 30, 677 new-home permits had been issued statewide this year, a rise of 18 percent from 574 permits issued in the same period a year ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Portland area had an even bigger jump. As of April 30, 336 permits had been issued in 2013, up nearly 24 percent from the 272 issued a year ago.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com