A sign marking a property sold by Mooers Realty in Houlton, Maine. Houlton, along with the rest of Aroostook County, is seeing high levels of real estate deals as city-dwellers from out of state find themselves leaving urban areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

Sales of existing single-family homes and prices jumped more than one-fifth in September compared to the same month in 2019, driven by out-of state buyers looking for a safe place to live during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released by the Maine Association of Realtors Thursday.

Historically low interest rates and more prospective buyers than sellers drove up sales of single-family existing homes by 22.78 percent year-to-year. The median sales price for homes throughout the state in September rose 19.56 percent to $273,500. That is the price indicating that half of the homes sold for more and half for less.

Sales from January through September of this year are 2.6 percent ahead of the same period in 2019, marking Maine’s best year ever, said Tom Cole, president of the Maine Association of Realtors. He said the third quarter of this year saw a solid recovery in sales volume. More buyers than sellers in most markets is sparking strong competition, faster sales and higher prices.

“Demand is being powered by historically-low mortgage interest rates combined with the allure of Maine’s quality of life and response to COVID-19 from across the country, while the supply of for-sale properties also remains historically low,” he said.

Cole said about 25 percent of home purchases in the state are typically made by out-of-state buyers, but that has risen to 33 percent during the pandemic. In September 2019, Maine had 445 single family homes purchased by out-of-state buyers, but that rose to 735 this September.

Lincoln County saw the highest rise in units sold, up by more than 43 percent to 254 homes, from July through September of 2020 compared to those three months in 2019. Washington County saw the highest median sales price rise of more than 27 percent to $165,500. Cumberland County sales were up 2.54 percent to 1,370 during the three months and the value was up more than 13 percent to $375,000. Penobscot sales were down almost 2 percent to 618 and prices were up almost 13 percent to $175,000.

Nationwide sales also increased by double-digits. The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that sales nationwide are up 21.8 percent comparing September 2020 to last September and the national median sales price was up 15.2 percent to $316,200. In the regional Northeast, sales of single-family existing homes jumped 22.9 percent and the median price was up 17.8 percent to $354,600.