Meg Perry Center board member Will Hessian loads materials into a moving van on Market Street in Portland in this Aug. 22, 2014, file photo. Credit: BDN file

Homebuyers flocking to rural Maine towns like Rangeley and Houlton in the coronavirus pandemic have stoked a hot real estate market and grabbed headlines, but the balance of people moving into and out of the state has not significantly changed slow population growth here.

Slightly more Mainers left the state than moved in 2020 and some Maine counties saw fewer people from out-of-state move into them, according to a recent study by real estate firm CBRE, which analyzed U.S. Postal Service change-of-address forms in 2020 over the previous year, leaving temporary moves out.

Populous and southern Cumberland and York counties continued to see the most move-ins from outside Maine. Rural counties led by Lincoln, Franklin and Washington saw the largest percentage gains over 2019, but their move-ins still only accounted for less than 4 percent of the statewide total. Aroostook and Piscataquis counties saw fewer people move in.

People make big life changes like moving during events like the pandemic or the Great Recession, Matt Mowell, senior economist with CBRE in Boston, said. Maine also is part of a larger trend in the U.S. for people moving out of big cities with dense populations and high living costs, particularly New York City and San Francisco.

The promise of telecommuting to work from anywhere prompted some people to move, while others decided to retire during the pandemic and make the move, he said.

“Many Mainers are staying put, delaying moves during the pandemic and choosing to remain close to family,” Mowell said. “This is consistent with what we are seeing in other rural states.”

The largest share of move-ins to Maine were from Massachusetts, up by nearly 1,400 or 33 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. New York was next with 839, up 106 percent. Maine also saw in-migration from Florida, California, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

The state’s four population centers all saw people leave in 2019, but in 2020 the Lewiston-Auburn area saw 182 more move-ins than move-outs, and Portland-South Portland saw a 2,239 net increase despite high home prices. The Augusta-Waterville area saw a minor decline of 6 more move-outs than move-ins, while Bangor saw 247 more move-outs than people coming into the area.

The Bangor area saw an influx of people from Florida, Connecticut and New York, and even from the Portland and South Portland area. Portland and South Portland saw newcomers mainly from New Hampshire and New York.

In a separate study released in January, United Van Lines found Maine ranked 14th nationally as a moving destination in 2020, with 445 shipments coming into the state and 354 going out. It was in the top 10 of states for people moving to retire (9th), for health reasons (5th) or for a lifestyle change (4th).