Maine real estate sales, prices sink

Posted Dec. 24, 2008, at 7:07 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Maine hasn’t escaped the bad news of the national real estate market, with existing, single-family home sales down statewide more than 22 percent between November 2007 and the same month this year.

In Penobscot County, the drop is even more dramatic: Realtors report selling 20 percent fewer single-family homes from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 than during the same period of 2007, according to the Maine Association of Realtors.

“It’s slow in general. You’re seeing a lot of Realtors drop out of the business,” said Venise Bard of Town & Country Realtors in Bangor. “I don’t want to be negative, but you’re definitely seeing the sales and the prices drop.”

The median sales price also declined statewide from November 2007 to November 2008 — from $188,000 to $172,415.

The median sales price indicates that half the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

In Penobscot County, the median sales price actually increased nearly 2 percent, from $130,000 to $132,575, from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30.

For Manon de Carlo of Realty of Maine, it’s a question of the national trends hitting close to home.

“We’re just a microcosm of what’s happening in the rest of the country,” she said Wednesday. “There’s an abundance of inventory on the market and buyers are very skittish at this point.”

She said that compared with two years ago, there is “just not enough” business for all the area real estate agents right now.

“I think we’re all feeling the impact,” de Carlo said. “My income, I will say, is down dramatically.”

Fred Russell of ERA Dawson-Bradford said he has been paying attention to the increasing numbers of Maine real estate agents who have not taken the mandatory courses to keep their licenses.

“We have a lot of people who have not taken the mandatory Realtor certification. I suspect that using that as an indicator, we’re going to get a lot of people out of the real estate business,” Russell said. “Sometimes you get busy and overlook it. But at this point … there are very few people who are that busy in this market.”

The three Realtors all agreed that the nation is in a strong buyer’s market right now — that is, if anyone were buying.

“I think we’ll see all-time lows for interest rates of 4.5 percent in January,” de Carlo said. “It’s a good time to buy.”

One bright spot, Bard said, is that the real estate prices in Maine lagged behind the national price escalation.

“The prices weren’t inflated as quickly, [so] the correction isn’t as dramatic, either,” Bard said.

Other counties in Maine followed the trend of fewer homes sold for less money — except for Washington County, which, according to the Maine Association of Realtors, showed a dramatic increase in sales of 80 percent in the quarter from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 over the same period in 2007.

According to the association, 10 Washington County homes were sold in that quarter in 2007 compared with 18 in 2008.

The median sales price there, on the other hand, declined by nearly as much — from $193,000 during the 2007 three-month period to only $49,500 in 2008.

“The reason the number of sales in Washington County have shot up is because the prices have gone down so dramatically,” de Carlo said.

Russell, who has been in the business since 1991, has seen ups and downs over the years, including the high interest rates of the early 1990s, which made it more difficult for buyers.

He can be philosophical about the current downward trend in real estate, and about what might happen in the future.

“The trend is definitely down, but it’s really difficult to tell how long it’s going to persist,” Russell said. “Most of our data is very similar to driving a car by looking through a rear-view mirror. We can tell what has happened, but it’s very difficult to tell what’s going to happen. I don’t know anybody who can predict the future accurately.”

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

990-8133

By the numbers

Changes in sales of existing, single-family homes between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, 2007, and the same period in 2008, according to the Maine Association of Realtors:

• Aroostook County: Sales decreased by 24.35 percent and the median sales price increased by 12.88 percent, from $88,500 to $99,900.

• Hancock County: Sales decreased by 18 percent and the median sales price decreased by 5.21 percent, from $211,000 to $200,000.

• Knox County: Sales decreased by 12.75 percent and the median sales price decreased by 21.32 percent, from $206,531 to $162,500.

• Penobscot County: Sales decreased by 20.5 percent and the median sales price increased by 1.98 percent, from $130,000 to $132,575.

• Piscataquis County: Sales decreased by 25 percent and the median sales price decreased by 24.06 percent, from $125,100 to $95,000.

• Somerset County: Sales decreased by 21.28 percent and the median sales price decreased by 16.33 percent, from $117,500 to $98,313.

• Waldo County: Sales decreased by 28.07 percent and the median sales price decreased by 18.22 percent, from $193,500 to $158,250.

• Washington County: Sales increased by 80 percent and the median sales price decreased by 74.35 percent, from $193,000 to $49,500.

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