Buoyed by low interest rates, pent-up demand from a cold winter and an influx of retirees, sales of existing single-family homes in Maine jumped by 14 percent last month, outpacing activity nationwide.
In June, 1,513 homes changed hands according to Maine Listings, a subsidiary of the Maine Association of Realtors. The median sales price was $185,000, essentially flat compared to June 2013, up just 0.54 percent.
“People feel good about the market and good about the economy in general,” said Angelia Levesque, a Realtor with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate/The Masiello Group in Bangor and president of the Maine Association of Realtors “Pent-up action that we didn’t have because of the cold winter weather has contributed to a nice increase.”
Sales are the hottest, she added, on the low and high ends of the market, as first-time buyers snap up homes priced at $150,000 to $200,000, and well-heeled buyers flock to properties with price tags of $1 million or more.
The June numbers cap a strong quarter for real estate activity. In April, May and June – a period the Maine Association of Realtors terms a ‘rolling quarter’ – there was a 10 percent increase in the number of existing single-family homes sold compared to the same period of the previous year. The median sales price inched down 2.23 percent in that time. The strong sales were driven in part, brokers said, by low interest rates. The national average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.13 percent in June compared to 4.37 percent in June 2013, according to the mortgage loan-guarantee corporation Freddie Mac.
The upward trend in Maine bucks what’s happening in the region and nationwide. Sales of existing single-family homes dipped by 2.9 percent across the U.S. in June, and 3 percent in the Northeast, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median sales price of homes across the country was $224,300 last month, up by 4.5 percent over June 2013. The price of homes in the Northeast edged down just 0.1 percent to $269,800.
Local real estate brokers said that they’re seeing increased demand from the swell of retiring baby boomers as well as young professionals who want to raise their families in Maine and are able to telecommute to jobs out of state.
“The market is extremely hot,” said Tom Ranello, a broker with Keller Williams Realty in Portland. “People are really concerned about quality of life. They’re realizing that when you live here you can easily be on a mountain, in a boat or on a lake even while you have great access to an airport and the train.”
Across the state, the biggest gains in recent months were in Piscataquis, Franklin and Androscoggin counties. Realtors in those areas said they’re busier than they’ve been in years.
“We feel like we’re in the real estate boom again,” said Patsy Mallett, a real estate broker and co-owner of the Mallett real estate agency in Dover-Foxcroft.
Dolly Perkins, a Realtor in Brownville, said she’s seeing increased demand from people who are searching for a rural lifestyle.
“People want a simple life, a little bit of land and a little bit of freedom that’s still affordable and available here,” she said.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said in a statement that nationwide, housing fundamentals are moving in the right direction as inventories hit their highest level in over a year, and prices ease.
“This bodes well for rising home sales in the upcoming months as consumers are provided with more choices,” he said.
Yun also noted that stagnant wage growth is holding back what should be a stronger pace of sales.
“Hiring has been a bright spot in the economy this year, adding an average of 230,000 jobs each month,” he said. “However, the lack of wage increases is leaving a large pool of potential homebuyers on the sidelines who otherwise would be taking advantage of low interest rates. Income growth below price appreciation will hurt affordability.”
Other recent reports have signaled an improving economic picture. In Maine, the unemployment rate edged down to 5.5 percent last month, compared to 6.7 percent from June of 2013, and the lowest its been since August 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. unemployment rate estimate declined to 6.1 percent in June, down from 7.5 percent one year ago.
But Levesque, for one, is relying on indicators a little closer to home to understand how the market is faring.
“If the phones are ringing, that’s a good sign,” she said. “And the phones are really ringing.”
Jennifer Van Allen can be contacted at 791-6313 or at: