Strong Maine home sales in February may not be long-lived

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High demand and low interest rates continued to drive strong sales of existing single-family homes in Maine in February, according Maine Listings said.

Home sales rose 5.75% last month compared to February 2019. The median sales price for the 865 homes sold was $216,900, up 8.45% over the year's period. The median sales price indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half for less.

The figures follow record-breaking sales in 2019. Sales remained strong in January, rising to a 20-year high, up nearly 27% compared with January 2019. That was almost triple the 10 percent rise nationally in January. The median sales price in Maine was up 11% to $220,900.

"February 2020 was an especially strong month for real estate sales, recording the second-highest number of February sales (865) since we began keeping statistics 20 years ago," said Tom Cole, president of the Maine Association of Realtors.

Nationwide, sales of single-family existing homes were up 7.3% this February compared to February 2019. The median sales price was up 8.1% over the year to $272,400.

Lawrence Yin, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said February's home sales are encouraging, but they don't reflect the current turmoil in the stock market or the significant hit the economy is expected to take because of the coronavirus and corresponding social quarantines.

"These figures show that housing was on a positive trajectory, but the coronavirus has undoubtedly slowed buyer traffic and it is difficult to predict what short-term effects the pandemic will have on future sales," Yun said.

Cole said Maine real estate agents are concerned about the health of their customers.

"With the current COVID-19 outbreak, Realtors have listened to, and are adapting to, clients' and customers' concerns and needs," he said. Realtors are following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to keep buyers and sellers safe, he said.

Nine of Maine's 16 counties saw home sales rise more than 20% in the three months from December 2019 to February 2020 compared to that same timeframe in 2018-2019. Franklin, Somerset and Washington counties saw median sales price rises of more than 20%.

Franklin County experienced the highest unit sales rise of 41%, with 100 homes sold. Prices also rose 24% to $160,000.

In Cumberland County, unit sales rose 20% to 770 homes sold at a median sales price of $317,250, up 9%.

Penobscot County also saw a rise of 21% to 350 homes with a median sales price of $155,150, up almost 15%.

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