I still remember the first real estate transaction I ever witnessed. It was a summer morning in the late 1950s when Dr. Herbert Ward came walking down our driveway for one of his rare visits.

After some small talk – which wasn’t the real point of Dr. Ward’s visit – he told my father that the little house he owned on a patch of land near the end of our driveway was for sale, and he wanted my father to have the first shot at buying it. He said his was asking $400 for the house and lot and was hoping to sell it before the end of the summer.

I remember it was in the middle of their conversation that my father went into the next room and came back with his checkbook. Dad said he’d give him a $100 deposit right now and if the title checked out, they should be able to close on the house within a week to 10 days.

Dr. Ward asked if my father wanted to look at the place first before giving a deposit. My father assured him that he knew the place well enough to buy it right now.

There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that there would be no problems with the property owned by Dr. Ward. As expected, the closing was held nine days later and our family became the owners of the little house at the end of our driveway.

By today’s standards, the house was pretty basic. It had a dug well, no running water and no central heat. But this was 1950s Maine.

My father had a local carpenter do a few repairs inside and had him slap a coat of paint on it. He had a plumber put in running water and a bathroom, and we used it as a guest house for all our out-of-state relatives.

Dad kept the place for about 12 years, and then sold it for considerably more than $400. I don’t know what the place is worth today, but considering what places around it now sell for I’d guess the humble house on the patch of land at the end of the our old driveway could easily fetch more than $200,000.

Things have changed a bit in Maine real estate through the years.

As a kid, I remember there was a beautiful 800-acre island a few miles off from our place with a large stone house and a few outbuildings on it, but no one ever seemed to be there. Sometimes my brother and I would take our Novi skiff out to the island to dig a mess of clams or chase the sheep. We didn’t go there too often, though, because people said the owner didn’t like visitors, and if he was there he’d start shooting at trespassers. I don’t know if the story was true but I wasn’t that eager to find out, either. Anyway, I remember someone saying that in the mid-1950s the whole 800-acre island could have been bought for $2,000.

What is my own experience in the area of Maine real estate? Well, over the years I’ve owned five Maine houses, the last one a house I had built. Despite the fact that I’ve bought and sold four Maine houses and despite all that dabbling in Maine real estate, I’ve yet to make my first million.

Oh well.

How are your real estate investments doing?

John McDonald is the author of six books on Maine, including his latest, “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tales.” Contact him at [email protected]

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