By Wanda Curtis

The real estate industry in Maine and across the nation is booming this year. After a plunge between 2008 and 2009, the market continues to rebound. Inventory remains low. Houses are selling quickly and for higher prices than last year.

“The last three to four years have been very active,” said Bill Sprague, president and owner of Sprague and Curtis Real Estate in Augusta. “A lot of people are moving around. Interest rates are historically low. It’s a great time to walk into a long-term mortgage.”

According to Sprague, the current trend is representative of what takes place in the real estate market every ten to fifteen years. He said that when the economy is strong, the demand for housing is strong and there are more buyers than sellers. He said that when the market slows up, then the inventory can build back up.

“There’s never a perfect balance [between buyers and sellers],” said Sprague. “Because there are more buyers than sellers and houses are moving quickly, buyers must be more aggressive in looking for a home. They need to keep on top of what’s coming on the market and get out and look. They need to act quickly.”

Sprague advises homebuyers to become well educated regarding their options by looking at a number of homes rather than just a few. He said that they will learn, as they look, what’s available. He recommends that buyers also find a good realtor who can help them become well educated and it’s important to ask a lot of questions.

“No question is a dumb question,” said Sprague.

Homebuyers must narrow down what’s most important to them in a home. What’s a deal breaker and maker? What can you compromise on? How important is a certain style or size versus having a deck or a garage or is it really just about location for you?

“[New homebuyers] need to set priorities,” said Sprague. “If they set their priorities and have a lot of patience, most of them can find a great buy.”

Michael Byrne, president and owner of Century 21 Surette Real Estate in Waterville, also stressed the importance of finding a good real estate agent. Find an agent, he said, who is readily available to show homes and get information about properties because homes are moving quickly. He said that no transaction is ever totally smooth but that an experienced agent can help homebuyers overcome some of the hurdles they may encounter when buying a new home.

“It’s important to be comfortable with the real estate agent that you’ve chosen to represent you,” he said.

However, Byrne advised that even before finding a good agent, the first step potential homebuyers should take is to get prequalified with a financial institution to determine how much they can spend for a home. They should also find out what types of lending programs are available to them because that will affect the type of home they’re able to buy.

Homes that are selling the most quickly today are those that are ready to move into with little or no maintenance or repairs needed. Buyers with construction and DIY skills are at an advantage.

Always remember: the price of a home is not just the mortgage. When considering how much they can afford, Byrne said it’s important for homebuyers to also keep in mind the cost of property taxes, homeowners insurance and maintenance.