Sales of single-family homes in Maine rose 11.5 percent in December, countering weakness seen in home sales nationally last month, amid strong overall improvement in the state’s real estate industry.

Statewide, 990 homes changed hands last month, up from 888 homes in December 2012. The median sales price rose only 0.15 percent to $170,250, according to Maine Listings, a subsidiary of the Maine Association of Realtors.

Nationally, December single-family existing home sales eased 0.7 percent. The median sales price increased 9.8 percent to $197,000, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales in the Northeast were 3.2 percent higher than one year ago and the regional median sales price rose 3.6 percent to $239,300.

For the full year of 2013, sales in Maine jumped 13.6 percent over the year before. A total of 13,088 homes changed hands during the year, and the median sales price increased 2.94 percent to $175,000.

“Last year started out very strong with buyers hoping to take advantage of historically low interest rates. With low inventory levels, homes that were priced right sold very quickly. This renewed interest sparked multiple offer situations in certain markets and helped increase home prices. Sellers heard of this activity and started listing their homes,” said Angelia Levesque, president of the Maine Association of Realtors.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.39 percent this week, up from 3.42 a year ago, according to Freddie Mac. Though higher than the year-ago levels, interest rates are still lower than rates of more than 6 percent seen before the Great Recession.

“We are currently seeing more first-time homebuyer activity and a bit of an inventory shortage in the entry-level price range,” said Levesque, a Realtor with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate/The Masiello Group in Bangor.

Levesque said she believes the real estate market is off to a good start in 2014, with Realtors across the state fielding calls from sellers interested in marketing for spring.

At the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) annual forecast conference on Thursday, Drew Sigfridson, partner and managing director at CBRE | The Boulos Co., and president of MEREDA, said the improvement in the state’s real estate sector was broad-based and included increased home sales and residential construction, as well as larger commercial leases and sales.

“This is a step in the right direction for Maine – and is just the beginning,” said Sigfridson. “Residential construction will likely lead to even more home sales – which are already on the rise. We also see tightening of office and retail space in downtown markets. That spurs commercial construction projects. Additional new construction will be a big relief for the state’s economy.”

Justin Lamontagne, a broker with NAI / The Dunham Group, said it appears that the great Portland industrial market has fully rebounded from the recession.

“We’re seeing historically low vacancies and increasing lease rates,” Lamontagne said.

The outlook for the Bangor area also looks positive, though areas such as Augusta continue to suffer for high vacancy rates for office space. Brunswick has attracted out-of-state investment, while the Lewiston-Auburn area is seeing growth in multi-use properties, franchise development and redevelopment, real estate executives said.

“Mixed used development in Bangor is hot,” Emery said. “With major developments in retail, hospitality and healthcare, Bangor’s growth is no surprise as the city continues to offer great return on investment as a value market with even more growth potential. And, as inventory shrinks, we expect to see strong opportunities in Hampden, Orono and surrounding areas.” said Tanya Emery, Bangor’s director of community and economic development.

Jessica Hall may be reached at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: @JessicaHallPPH