PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — At the end of June, realtors in parts of central and southern Maine noted that the sluggish housing market was slowly being rejuvenated, crediting a combination of state and federal incentives for much of the change.
While that is also true for some parts of Aroostook County, others are saying that buyers are continuing to give the cold shoulder to available property.
Consumers across the nation have struggled with the grip of recession, which economic forecasters now are saying is starting to loosen. In central Aroostook, evidence of that is apparent.
“Houses that are priced up to $150,000 are moving more rapidly than they were a year ago,” Rick Castonguay, designated broker and co-owner at Big Bear Real Estate Co. in Presque Isle, said Thursday. “I think that the programs being offered to buyers right now are a big incentive.”
“The market has gone in fits and starts, but it has definitely picked up here in the past month,” agreed Lehrle Kieffer, a broker-owner at RE/MAX in Caribou. “It is great to see.”
To convince more consumers to open their wallets, the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created a tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers. First-time homebuyers who buy or bought a home in 2009 are eligible for a tax credit of 10 percent of the value of the home up to $8,000. The money does not have to be repaid. First-time homebuyers are defined as anyone who has not owned a home in the last three years.
MaineHousing also has launched its Gift of Green program, which will provide up to $5,500 to eligible homebuyers who choose a MaineHousing mortgage. The money will not be added to the loan amount and does not need to be paid back.
County Realtors said Thursday that most eligible customers are taking advantage of the tax credit and benefiting from low interest rates.
“We are seeing many first-time buyers taking advantage of these programs,” said Kieffer. “Right now, we are selling homes that mainly cost $100,000 or less, but we still have people who are buying in a variety of price ranges.”
Castonguay said that commercial and recreational property is selling more slowly in the area, an observation that Kieffer agreed with.
“Land has been selling even during the economic downturn, though,” she said. “There is a lot of affordable land out there for people to invest in.”
In Madawaska, however, one veteran Realtor said that market conditions are not as bright.
John Shaw of John Richard Shaw Real Estate said he has plenty of homes on the market but few buyers who want them.
“I have been here 37 years, and this is the worst I have seen it,” he said of the housing market. “I think it has picked up a bit just because more people tend to buy in warmer weather, but I would still classify it as poor. We are listing a lot of property, but we don’t have a lot of buyers.”
In Houlton, sales agent Sam Henderson of Northern Maine Realty is facing a similar situation.
“I have many properties for sale with limited buyers,” he said Thursday. “The first five months of the year were pretty bad.”
Still, Henderson noted, “sales have picked up dramatically in June, July and August.”
“There are still a lot of homes on the market,” he said. “But I am seeing more buyers for homes now that are between $70,000 and $80,000.”
Greg Miller, associate broker at RE/MAX in Houlton, said he felt the housing market was “mediocre.”
“This year is unusual compared to past years,” he said. “The buyers have mostly been local and first-time home buyers. In past years, buyers from all over the East Coast have been looking for property. I have not seen that this year.”
Miller also said he had a great deal of property on the market.
“It has not been overwhelmingly busy,” he said. “But I think that things would have been slower if not for the stimulus money and other programs.”
In Madawaska, Shaw said he believes consumers have been heavily influenced by the economic downturn.
“People have lost money in stocks and their own houses have dropped in value,” he said. “People do not feel as wealthy anymore.”
Back in Caribou, Kieffer is optimistic that the housing market will improve, along with the rest of the economy.
“I believe it may take awhile,” she said. “But it will happen.”