CAMDEN, Maine — Some real estate agents in the midcoast area are saying that they are seeing the first signs of hope in the moribund real estate market.
Ellis Cohn, the owner of Jaret & Cohn, said that his real estate agents sold more houses in February than they sold at the same time last year.
“We had a very active February,” he said. “What with the snow and the incredible lack of confidence out there, I was surprised.”
Cohn said that he thinks that previously plummeting house prices may have stabilized, at least in the houses priced between $125,000 and $300,000. The seven-figure market has “all but dried up,” he said and speculated that trend might reflect the falling stock market’s devaluation of retirement accounts.
“I think the younger buyers are saying, ‘Hey, I need a house, and this is a good time to do it,’” Cohn said. “I think this is the first sign of life in real estate.”
It’s too soon to see statewide numbers for February from the Maine Real Estate Information System Inc., but the January figures were grim. According to the Maine Association of Realtors, January 2009 sales statewide declined more than 17 percent from the same month in 2008. Moreover, the median sales price decreased more than 17 percent from the previous year.
The lower prices likely are contributing to any increase in sales, real estate professionals say. Another reason for hope is the recently passed $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time home buyers.
Jim Ianello, a co-owner of Rock Maple Realty in Union, said that he is having a banner made to hang over his door that heralds the tax credit.
“It’s such a good deal, and people don’t have to pay it back,” he said.
Ianello has 22 years experience in selling real estate, and he said that homes in Maine were “overpriced, just like everywhere else.”
Knox County had the second-highest drop in the state in median home prices — about 40 percent — between the three-month period of November 2007 to January 2008 and the same quarter a year later. That percentage drop was only surpassed in Washington County, which posted a 71 percent decline over the same quarters.
Esther Darres of Realty of Maine in Belfast sounded an optimistic note on Wednesday.
“It’s hitting,” she said. “The phone’s been ringing off the wall this morning.”
Darres said she is seeing some bargains on her books — at least in the lower price ranges.
“We live in such a unique area. I think that’s a pull for a lot of the baby boomers who are retiring,” she said. “Because of what happened in the stock market, they want to secure some real estate.”