By Jessica Hall
Sales of single-family homes in Maine surged 24.55 percent in October over the same month last year, driven by pent-up demand, low interest rates and modest prices.
A total of 1,177 homes changed hands in Maine last month, up from 945 homes in October 2011, according to Maine Listings, a unit of the Maine Association of Realtors. The median sales price rose 3.33 percent to $170,500.
The jump in Maine outpaced the 9.6 percent gain nationally in sales of single-family existing homes during the same period. Nationally, the median sales price rose 10.9 percent to $178,700, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes rose 5 points to 46 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index for November. That marked the seventh consecutive monthly gain in the confidence gauge and pushes it to its highest point since May 2006.
"People are realizing that interest rates are not going to stay at this rate forever," said Marie Flaherty, a real estate agent with Prudential Northeast Properties. "There's pent-up demand. People can't keep their lives on hold anymore."
In the three months from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, sales in Maine rose 15.96 percent over the same period last year. Median home prices rose 3.23 percent to $170,000 in that period, according to Maine Listings. In Cumberland County, sales over that three months rose 22.68 percent, while in York County, sales rose 7.3 percent. The biggest percentage gains were seen in Washington and Sagadahoc counties, at 110 percent and 42.11 percent, respectively.
Nationally, sales over the three months rose 10.1 percent over the same period in 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Although Mainers have been hesitant to put their homes on the market for several years, sellers now appear to have more confidence that the recent momentum in the market will continue. Still, houses must be in good locations, be "well presented" in sellable shape and priced at market rates, real estate experts said.
"We still have a lot of inventory in the system. Some properties sell really fast. But we're so far away from where we were in 2006 and 2007," said Michael Sosnowski, a broker with Maine Home Connection. "The nice properties that are well-priced are moving."
In addition to the best properties moving quickly, there are other signs that the market is improving overall. Sellers are more often getting multiple offers for homes, and some are getting offers above asking price for homes in prime locations, such as the East End of Portland, agents said. The luckiest sellers are getting cash offers with immediate closing dates, agents said.
"We are seeing across-the-board activity -- first-time home buyers, investors buying multi-family properties and higher price homes selling as well," said Tina Lucas, president of the Maine Association of Realtors. "All categories of potential purchases are getting into the market while the attractive pricing lasts."
"I believe that if this continues, as it appears poised to do, it will clearly demonstrate the bottom of the market has come and gone," Lucas said. "However, sellers must be diligent with proper pricing, staging and maintenance, as buyers continue to be very particular."
In the Northeast, sales were up 13.7 percent in October over last year, the National Association of Realtors said.
Superstorm Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York on Oct. 29, could disrupt the Northeast market in November and December. In Maine, where the storm did less damage, the impact should be less pronounced, real estate agents said.
But although it is improving this year, the housing market continues to be jittery, real estate experts said.
"The biggest fear I hear is what's going to happen after the election. Well, the election has come and gone. So, now it's about what's going to happen after the first of the year. People are still very nervous -- there's always something to have angst about," Sosnowski said.
Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: