A for sale sign graces a window of a building in Portland on Friday, May 6, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Maine has led the Northeast in homeownership for generations. But that ideal may be stretching out of reach for many here.

For more than 120 years, Maine has led New England in its rate of homeownership, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau going back to 1900. Today, it ranks second in the U.S. with around 73 percent of homes being owner-occupied. It sits only behind West Virginia, a state seeing a significant population exodus and where the median home is valued at just $133,000.

Times have changed significantly. The typical Maine home was worth just around $200,000 (adjusted for inflation) at the beginning of 2000, according to data from Zillow. Today, that value has inflated to $355,000, an 80 percent increase, far above the 57 percent increase seen across the U.S. as a whole.

The price increases could affect the future rate with a new generation of young Mainers finding it increasingly difficult to break into the housing market. Though experts don’t expect the currently inflated housing market to last forever, an increasing number of Americans are pessimistic about getting a chance at homeownership in their lifetime.

Only 43 percent of renters expect to ever own a home, according to data released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last month. This year, homes in Maine became more expensive than those in Connecticut. Data recently released by Zillow showed that gap widening, with a Maine home being worth $4,500 more than a Connecticut home in April.

Those increases have especially affected the Portland area and coastal regions, but have also hit sections of rural Maine. The median value of a home has gone up 25 percent in Aroostook County since 2000 and 12 percent in Oxford County, according to inflation-adjusted Zillow data.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Maine has led the rest of the Northeast in homeownership for so long given its vast, sparsely populated land area. It remains the least densely populated state in the region, about 20 times less dense than neighboring Massachusetts.

Maine saw dramatic population growth from its statehood in 1820 to 1860, with many people moving into new parts of the state to work in agriculture, Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth Jr. said.

That period saw Maine’s population double from 298,000 to 628,000, with many of the state’s communities becoming incorporated during that time including Skowhegan, Lincoln, Houlton, Old Town, Rockland, Presque Isle and Caribou.

Shettleworth said he had not seen Maine’s high homeownership rate mentioned in articles and books from the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. But he said that rate seemed to be in line with the state’s rich history of independence.

“The very nature of our geography, our topography, the way in which we live on the land and the sea, it generates that sense of independence,” Shettleworth said.