Maine home sales skyrocketed in December, propelling the state’s 2019 housing market into record territory in terms of both sales volume and median sales price.

Sales of existing single-family homes in December, normally a slow month for real estate, jumped 23 percent in Maine compared with a year earlier, helping to boost 2019 sales to 18,140 homes, a 1.5 percent increase over the 17,864 homes sold in 2018, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Maine Association of Realtors.

The state’s median sales price rose from the record of $215,000 set in 2018 to $225,000 in 2019, an increase of 4.7 percent, the report said. The median price indicates that half of homes sold for more money and half sold for less.

Those increases mirrored the national trend. Nationally, home sales increased from a year earlier by 0.5 percent to just under 4.8 million sales in 2019, while the median sales price increased by 7.8 percent to $274,500, the National Association of Realtors said.

“After an up-and-down year, 2019 ends as a record-breaker,” said Tom Cole, president of the association and managing broker of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate The Masiello Group in Brunswick.

Cole said a tight inventory for homes is leading buyers to act quickly when a house comes on the market, particularly in the $250,000-$300,000 price range.

More potential buyers also are coming in to start their home search this month, Cole said, a few months ahead of the typically busy spring buying season, because they are aware that the market is tight and it might take longer to find a home in their price range, Cole said.

“People aren’t necessarily waiting to buy,” he said.

And some are trying unusual tactics to find a house.

Emily Adour, 35, of South Portland said she and her husband have been looking for a home in Cape Elizabeth for three or four months. A friend who lives in Cape Elizabeth told her that a neighbor, an elderly woman, might be interested in selling, so Adour dropped off a letter Wednesday to say she is interested if the house goes on the market.

Another friend got her house that way, Adour said.

“There’s just a lack of inventory in our price range” of about $500,000, she said. “There’s stuff over $1 million that would be awesome, but …”

Adour said she and her husband have been keeping an eye on the market for the past few months and looking in earnest for the past month or so.

Mini Song, 52, has been looking for a house even longer, since the summer, she said, after selling her house in Plymouth in Penobscot County and moving to Saco.

Song, a school social worker, said the market is so tight that sellers aren’t willing to even wait a few hours for an offer. She said she was ready to put in a bid on one house and asked for time to think about it overnight, but the seller’s agent refused, and the house went to a different buyer.

“When it comes on the market, it’s almost like it’s an inside job,” she said. “It comes on the market and it’s pending in hours.”

Dana Davin of Portland Real Estate Group said that phenomenon is reflected in a key figure in real estate: days on the market.

In 2015, a house in York County was for sale for an average of 54 days before it sold, and in Cumberland County it was 32 days. Now, those figures are down to just 18 days in York County and 13 days in Cumberland County.

“We are already seeing inventory tighten up a bit” this year, Davin said, and inventory is particularly tight for homes priced around $300,000.

Those houses are in short supply, and when one in that range goes up for sale, “they’re just getting snapped up,” she said.

Sometimes, they don’t even make it onto the market. Taylor McFarlane, a broker in Davin’s firm, said some sellers make a transaction “off the market” – telling a broker if they have a client interested in a house like theirs to just bring them in and try to make a quick transaction without having a lot of prospective buyers troop through the house.

Michael Sosnowski, owner of Maine Home Connection in Portland, said there’s nothing on the horizon that looks ominous for the real estate market, with mortgage interest rates expected to remain below 4 percent, but prices should remain high due to the lack of inventory.

“I hate to say it’s as basic as supply and demand,” he said, “but it’s as basic as supply and demand.”

The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that home sales nationwide rose 10.8 percent, from 5 million to 5.54 million, in December from the same month a year ago. The median price also rose, to $274,500 from $254,700 a year earlier, an increase of 7.8 percent. But the same issue of low inventory exists in the nationwide market, with 1.4 million units on the market at the end of December, a decrease of 8.5 percent from the 1.5 million that were on the market a year ago.

The average time on the market nationally was 41 days, the association said, a decrease from 46 days a year ago.


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