BY JESSICA HALL

Portland Press Herald

Sales of existing single-family homes in Maine surged 23.6 percent in November, outpacing national gains, as buyers took advantage of low interest rates and a large inventory of homes on the market.

The increase from November 2011 built on a similar jump in sales of 24.55 percent in October.

“It’s a continuation of a trend all year long of growing confidence,” said Michael Sosnowski, a broker with Maine Home Connection. “People aren’t really worried about the fiscal cliff as much as the media might suggest.”

In November, 1,058 existing single-family homes were sold, up from 856 homes in the same period a year ago, according to the Maine Real Estate Information System Inc. The median sales price for those homes inched up 1.92 percent to $172,250.

On a year-to-date basis, sales across the state have risen 16 percent and prices have increased 2.4 percent, Sosnowski said.

Portland is on a pace to sell more than 400 homes this year, marking the highest sales level since 2007 — before the recession, Sosnoswki estimated.

“The market is heading in a very positive direction,” said Tina Lucas of Lucas Real Estate in Portland and president of the Maine Association of Realtors. “However, sellers need to be careful when pricing property, as it remains a buyers’ market.”

Potential buyers moved to make purchase decisions before the winter sets in and before historically low interest rates potentially increase, real estate agents said. Sellers also have gotten smarter about showing homes that have been fixed up and staged, or decorated and de-cluttered, agents said.

Some well-maintained, “properly priced” homes are fetching multiple offers, Lucas said.

“Although the market remains tilted in the buyers’ favor, it is beginning to stabilize toward a more balanced environment where both buyers and sellers have more equal weight in the negotiation process,” Lucas said.

From Sept. 1 through Nov. 30, there were 3,284 sales statewide, up 18.6 percent from the same period a year ago. The median sales price rose 4.36 percent. In that three-month period, the biggest gains were seen in Washington, Sagadahoc, Penobscot, Franklin and Cumberland counties, according to the Maine Real Estate Information System.

Nationally, sales of single-family homes rose 12.4 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. The national median sale price rose 10.1 percent to $180,600 last month.

“Momentum continues to build in the housing market from growing jobs and a bursting out of household formation,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. “With lower rental vacancy rates and rising rents, combined with still historically favorable affordability conditions, more people are buying homes. Areas impacted by (superstorm) Sandy show storm-related disruptions but overall activity in the Northeast is up, offset by gains in unaffected areas.”

In the Northeast, sales increased 14.8 percent, but the regional median sales price dipped 2 percent to $232,900.

Superstorm Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York on Oct. 29, disrupted parts of the Northeast market but appeared to have little impact in Maine, Realtors said.