Sales of existing single-family homes in Maine plunged by more than 15 percent in April, but sale prices shot up because there were fewer homes on the market.

The number of home sales in the state declined 15.4 percent over April 2019, dropping from 1,259 to 1,065, according to Maine Listings, which is owned by the Maine Association of Realtors. The last time there was such a big decline in home sales was in June 2011, when sales dropped 21.4 percent from the same month a year earlier.

The median sales price for a home in Maine was $235,800 last month, Maine Listings said, up from $210,000 the previous April, an increase of 12.3 percent. The median price indicates that half of homes sold for more money and half sold for less.

The decrease in the number of sales likely reflects the early effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the sales might have been underway before the full impact of the pandemic hit, because real estate sales typically take at least a month to close after buyers and sellers agree on a price.

Most real estate agents expect sales to remain low for the next few months, and for prices to stay high.

Mike Sosnowski of Maine Home Connection in Portland said the market will be fueled by eager buyers who are willing to go through the new routine for home showings – disinfecting high-touch surfaces and donning latex gloves, face masks and booties before entering a home for sale – with casual shoppers discouraged.

“No more going to open houses on Sunday to get interior decorating ideas,” Sosnowski said.

He recently showed a house in Scarborough with buyers going through from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on one day, and there were nine offers as a result. They were all what agents call “motivated buyers.”

“It’s really a hassle to see a home now,” Sosnowski said. “You’ve got to want it.”

Sarah and Jacob Kemer experienced that this winter and spring as they looked for a home in the Lakes Region.

The couple, originally from the Boston area, said they had enjoyed seeing homes for sale with their twin 8-year-old sons at the beginning of their search in February. The twins likewise enjoyed scoping out rooms and seeing what the home would be like for a couple of young boys, Sarah Kemer said.

But after the pandemic spread, the boys usually had to stay in the car while their parents checked out a home for sale, she said. Sometimes the real estate agent would keep an eye on the twins, which meant that the Kemers weren’t able ask questions or get details during a home tour.

Sarah Kemer said the couple took videos of the homes to show their sons.

They are closing on a house at the end of the month, and she said they keep getting conflicting ideas of what to expect, whether it will be buyers and sellers in different rooms at the title company or possibly a drive-in closing, in which they and the sellers will sign all the documents in their car, with the forms shuttled back and forth by a title company employee.

That was the case for Greg Hanhel, who closed on his Portland house a couple of weeks ago. Hanhel said he and his partner signed the documents in their car in the title company’s parking lot.

He said he decided to sell the house in March, the day before the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

“That changed everything,” Hanhel said, and he quickly shot video of the house so potential buyers could see what it was like before deciding to set up a showing.

“That was something we did on the fly,” he said, but the sale still went smoothly. The closing was a couple of weeks ago, Hanhel said, and he has since moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Dava Davin, the owner of Portside Real Estate in Portland, said her agency has a “decision makers-only” rule for home showings, so no children, in-laws or others go to showings.

“It doesn’t make the buying process as fun, but it actually makes it safer,” she said.

It’s a difficult market to read, Davin said, with fewer new listings, but most properties up for sale get multiple offers from buyers.

Sosnowski said the second-home market and higher-priced homes are likely suffering the most because of restrictions on people from out of state coming to Maine. Those who come to Maine are supposed to quarantine themselves for two weeks, a high hurdle for someone coming to the state to look at a second home.

Like Davin, Sosnowski said the impact of the pandemic on the economy, as well as people’s ability to engage in activities such as looking at a home for sale, makes it difficult to assess what will happen next.

“We’re in a crazy time, and I would expect sales numbers to be below last year by 15 to 20 percent for the next few months,” he said.

Maine Listings said the inventory of homes for sale on the market in April was down about 19 percent compared with a year earlier, which, combined with low mortgage interest rates, is helping to push prices up.

Sales ranged widely around the state, with home sales volume jumping from 90 a year ago to 122 this April in Aroostook County, an increase of 35.6 percent. The biggest decline was posted in Lincoln County, where sales declined from 116 last year to 82 this year, a drop of 29.3 percent, Maine Listings said.

Fourteen of Maine’s 16 counties posted increases in median sale prices, led by Waldo County, where the median sales price increased from $152,500 last year to $202,000 this April, a jump of 32.46 percent. Median sales prices declined modestly in Aroostook and Hancock counties.

Nationally, sales of detached, single-family existing homes in April decreased by 15.4 percent compared with the same month a year earlier, and the median sales price nationally rose to $288,700, an increase of 7.3 percent.

Regionally, sales fell by 18.2 percent last month in the Northeast, according to the National Association of Realtors, and the median sales price in the region rose by 8.7 percent to $312,500.

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