Maine home sales inched upward in July, bucking the trend in the region and around the nation.
Statewide, 1,455 single-family homes were sold in July, according to the Maine Association of Realtors, up 2.03 percent over July 2013. The median sales price was 1.4 percent higher than the same time last year, at $181,500.
The July numbers cap a strong quarter for real estate activity. In May, June, and July – a period the Maine Association of Realtors terms a “rolling quarter” – there was a 7.64 percent increase in the number of existing single-family homes sold compared to the same period of 2013. The median sales price was essentially flat, down by 0.56 percent.
Cumberland County saw the greatest number of sales in the rolling quarter at 1,129 homes, with a median price of $249,900. Piscataquis County saw the fewest sales – 66 homes – with a median price of $103,000.
“The economic environment is better than it has been in the past few years,” said Tom Ranello, president of the Greater Portland Board of Realtors. “People are making money in the stock market, interest rates are low, there’s a willingness to lend.”
The uptick in Maine counters what’s happening elsewhere in the region and around the nation. In the Northeast, home sales were down 9.9 percent over July 2013, and nationally, they were down 4.2 percent.
But regional home prices gained 2.4 percent to a median of $273,600 and nationally the median price rose 5.1 percent to $223,900 in July.
With school out and the weather warm, July is typically a hot market for home sales.
Chelsea Locke, a broker with Re/Max By the Bay in Portland, had many situations where there were multiple offers for properties.
“This has definitely been the best July of my career,” she said. “Houses are selling faster than they have in the past.”
One driving force, she added, is that with websites like Zillow and Trulia, buyers have more information about properties at their fingertips than they’ve ever had before.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” she said. “Buyers will make a full price offer because they have a better understanding of the value. But if it’s overpriced even by $5,000 it’s not going to move, even in a great market.”
Sales activity also is being driven by the swell of empty-nesters downsizing to smaller homes and condos.
“They don’t want to heat a house or maintain a property that’s more than they need,” Locke said.
A lot of activity is from more established buyers, with two incomes and established credit, who are buying a home for the second, third or fourth time, and willing to pay $350,000 to $600,000, said Ranello, a broker with Keller Williams in Portland.
“Those homes are selling as soon as they come on the market,” he said.
One area of concern, Ranello said, is the dearth of first-time home buyers. Many young professionals are graduating college with mountains of debt, which hinders their ability and willingness to take on a mortgage.
“With regulatory changes in lending, and the debt people are carrying, it’s more difficult for a bank to approve a first-time home buyer than it has been in years,” he said. “We really need to get affordability to come back into the market.”
The lack of first-time buyers has a negative effect on the market, he said, explaining that without them people who want to move on to their second, third or fourth homes won’t have anyone to sell to and can’t upgrade.
“They’re going to be stuck where they are,” he said. “If we don’t concentrate more on first-time home buyers, no one is going to be able to move up.”
Jennifer Van Allen can be reached at 791-6313 or at: