Canadian Jan van Eck bought a midcoast Maine house sight unseen in April so he could be near the forestry manufacturing business he plans to start within a year.
The pandemic prevented him from coming to the U.S. while he searched for a home, so he had to rely on images and descriptions from the seller’s real estate agent. When he finally crossed the border and saw the house, he saw extensive damage from frozen pipes. That, along with other repairs and upgrades will cost about $100,000.
Now, he will have to spread out work to repair and modernize the 1900-built home’s narrow steps and realign tilted floors because he needs money to start his company.
“I was told it was fully winterized, but the furnace had failed and the frozen pipes ruined the building from the inside,” he said.
Van Eck’s circumstances are novel, but this type of story is not unusual in Maine’s fast-paced, expensive housing market where anecdotes abound of buyers, particularly from out of state, waiving inspections and paying over asking price to get an edge on other house hunters, only to find more expenses lie ahead for repairs and upgrades.
Even those who had inspections are getting sticker shock when they try to hire plumbers and other contractors amid worker shortages, long wait times and increasing costs. Others are staying out of the market until it settles.
“If you don’t have an inspection, you have no idea what’s behind the covered doors or whether the outlets are grounded,” said Rhonda Gopan, a real estate agent at Berkshire Hathaway in Bangor who insists that her buyers get an inspection.
There are surprises even for those who do learn about needed repairs before the final home price is agreed upon or who plan for a new kitchen. Gopan said that before the recent heated housing market, it would take about a month to get a contractor for a kitchen remodel. Now it’s several months and possibly into the winter or longer.
Farrar Carpentry Services, a general contractor in Bangor, said busy contracting companies are booked out for a year and the ones that aren’t should raise warning signs to homeowners.
“If they aren’t busy, there’s a reason,” Jordan Farrar, owner of the general contracting company, said.
Farrar said it also is difficult to give accurate project costs because of price fluctuations for lumber and other materials.
Diane Frank, who moved from Massachusetts to Nobleboro in June as part of a career change from biotechnology to aquaculture, was fortunate to have found a contractor before she bought her new home. The contractor, along with an inspector, helped her estimate how much she would have to spend to fully remodel the home for which she paid $47,000 over asking price.
Frank expects to spend more than $300,000 for the remodel, which includes a new kitchen, walk-out basement, roof replacement and solar panels. Because it has been difficult to get an electrician, wiring is two months or so behind schedule. Meantime, she and her pets are sleeping in a camper on the property.
“You have to be really flexible and willing to look at options,” she said.
Gretchen Schaefer’s option after looking at high-priced houses that needed major repairs in Bangor is pricing out a significant addition to her home, including a larger kitchen and another bathroom. Things are tight with the family of four having one bathroom and two teenage daughters.
Even with a $300,000 budget for a new home and an acceptance to buy one that was “dated but doable,” she found no suitable property with more room for her family and a guest space for her aging parents.
“If we’re going to put an additional six figures into our housing situation, then we might get more for our money with an addition,” said Schaefer, a Bangor city councilor.