Homebuyers cool to low prices, rates

Posted April 25, 2009, at 12:13 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Despite numerous enticing factors, Maine’s real estate market continues to struggle, according to recent data compiled by the Maine Real Estate Information System.

Single-family home sales statewide dropped 14 percent this March compared with March 2008, while the median price fell by 20 percent, from $187,000 to $150,000. That means as many houses sold for more than $150,000 as sold for less.

Even with lower prices and falling mortgage rates, though, sales haven’t responded. In hard numbers, 558 homes were sold in Maine last month compared with 650 in March 2008.

Louise Rolnick, a real estate agent with Town & Country in Bangor, said Friday the numbers do not represent the high interest she is seeing.

“There are a number of homes under contract and more that have multiple offers pending,” she said. “I think in the next couple months, the numbers are really going to catch up.”

As for the price drop, extremely low prices for rural camps and fixer-upper homes have at least partially contributed to that trend, according to the Maine Real Estate Information System. Nearly 300 residential properties in Maine right now are listed at $50,000 or less.

In general, Rolnick said, “Prices are leveling off to where they probably should have been late last year.”

The Maine Real Estate Information System also tracks county data on a quarterly level. For the first quarter of 2009, the statewide drop in sales was nearly 18 percent. Franklin, Waldo, Lincoln and Knox counties all saw significant drop-offs in terms of percentage, but the hard numbers were not as troubling. Similarly, Aroostook, Piscataquis and Washington counties saw increases, but the numbers were small.

For example, Franklin County saw 17 fewer homes sold in the first quarter of 2009 than during the same period in 2008, a drop of almost 44 percent. Cumberland County, by comparison, saw home sales decrease by 24 percent, but the hard numbers showed 103 fewer homes sold.

Maine’s recent figures were more pronounced than the national averages. U.S. sales dropped 4 percent between March 2008 and this March, while the national median sales price dropped about 12 percent to $175,000, according to the National Association of Realtors. However, the Northeast region was among the worst nationwide, both in terms of sales (a 20 percent decrease) and median price (an 18 percent decrease).

A bright spot has been in first-time homebuyer sales, as more and more people attempt to take advantage of an $8,000 federal tax credit that remains available through the end of the year.

“This is not the time to be sitting on the sidelines,” said Geoff MacLean of Keller Williams Realty in Portland. “Combine the lowest mortgage rates in history with $8,000 in first-time buyer tax credits and [buyers have] the opportunity of lifetime.”

Information about the tax credit program is available online at: http://yourpieceofmaine.com.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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