Homebuyers from away aren't flocking to Maine ... yet
Real estate agents say they are seeing more out-of-state homebuyers looking to move to Maine, but so far in 2020, there's been no surge of people from away actually buying homes in the state.
The Maine Association of Realtors said data collected from sales in April through June show that about three-quarters of all Maine homes are being sold to other Mainers, in line with historical figures. The other quarter sold largely to people from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and other states along the East Coast.
Realtors have expected an increase in sales to out-of-staters, partly because the coronavirus has not spread as widely and quickly in Maine as in many other states. They also said some people who have been forced to work from home realize that they could do that just as easily in a state with a high quality of life and none of the big-city hassles.
One home shopper from Massachusetts told real estate broker Madeleine Hill of Bailey Island-based Roxanne York Real Estate that her company decided to "abandon" their office and switch to work-from-home for everyone.
"Then why not move to Maine?" the woman told Hill.
Another broker with Roxanne York, L. Ryan Haggerty, recently helped a couple from Virginia purchase a home in Maine.
For the couple, Howard and Sheryl Search, it's actually a move back. They lived in Maine from 2011 to 2015, when Sheryl Search worked in Maine Medical Center's radiation oncology department.
She was then recruited back to a job in a hospital oncology center in Staunton, Va., in 2015. After she retired in 2019, she and her husband, a retired pharmacist, started looking to return to Maine.
Sheryl Search said the house-hunting during their first go-around in Maine was much easier, with more choices on the market and, of course, lower prices.
It took them about a year this time, but they have a house in Brunswick under contract and they plan to close in early September. They liked Maine so much in their earlier residency that they aren't even concerned about giving up milder winters.
"I'm originally from Vermont, and that's the best time of the year," Howard Search said about winter.
It could take a few more months for any sort of trend related to out-of-state buyers to show up in home sales data. If someone needs to sell a house elsewhere before buying a property in Maine, the process could take more than the four months since the pandemic became a major issue in mid-March, agents and brokers said.
"We don't see a huge impact yet, but I think we will," said Tom Cole, president of the Maine Association of Realtors.
Sherri Dunbar of Tim Dunham Realty in Topsham said interest in Maine homes from out-of-staters typically picks up in the summer. Many vacationers in the state enjoy their time enough to look at homes on the market, either as a primary residence or a second home, she said.
But even in normal times, Dunbar said, that process can take months to complete, with the sales closing in late summer or the fall.
Out-of-state residents looking to buy in Maine face the same tight housing market that in-state homebuyers contend with, Cole said, with a limited number of homes on the market and rising prices that result.
Overall, Maine home sales fell by 4.3% in June compared to the same month a year ago, according to figures the association released last week. But the tight inventory, a feature of the market for much of the past year, led to a 4.2% increase in the median sales price, from $239,085 a year ago to $249,000 last month. The median indicates that half of homes sold for more money and half sold for less.
Still, the decrease was not as sharp as in April, when the number of homes sold dropped by 15% from a year earlier, and in May, when Maine home sales were down 21%.
The more moderate decrease in June suggests that a rebound from the steep sales declines at the height of the pandemic might be on the horizon.
For the three-month period ending June 30, home sales in Maine fell by more than 13% from the same the three-month period a year earlier. The median sales price of homes increased by more than 6 percent to $228,000 for the same period.
Home sales fell sharply in April and May as the pandemic raged and real estate agents, buyers and sellers all had to change their practices. The days of open houses, when dozens of buyers could check out a home for sale on the same day, were gone, ushering in video tours of homes on the market and closings conducted in parking lots.
Realtors said the lower turnover and price increase in June reflected a scarcity of homes, rather than sellers and buyers turning away from the market completely because of the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for houses remains high, they said, and the low inventory of available homes usually means quick sales and multiple offers.
"Anything I put on the market seems to move very quickly," Dunbar said.
Cole said some home sellers took their homes off the market for a couple of months in March, concerned over having dozens of strangers troop through their houses when the virus was surging through the country.
But he said some of those fears are easing.
"Things are normalizing now," Cole said. "If we had more inventory, we'd be selling more houses because demand is pent-up."
Sales and prices for the second quarter varied around the state. Oxford County logged an increase in home sales from 185 to 201 during the most recent rolling quarter of April, May and June. Sales in Lincoln County fell by more than 25%, from 142 to 106.
Price changes varied as well, with the median in Franklin County jumping from $135,000 to $183,000, an increase of more than 35%. But the median price in Aroostook County fell from $101,000 to $95,000, a decrease of nearly 6%.
Home sales decreased nationally by 9.9% last month compared with June 2019, the National Association of Realtors reported. The median sales prices rose by 3.5% to $298,600.
Regionally, sales fell by 27.9% in the Northeast compared to the same month a year ago, and the median sales price rose by 3.6% to $332,900.