Two Maine real estate developers are taking a multimillion-dollar gamble on their ability to convince hundreds of Portland-area residents to buy or lease refurbished military housing units in Brunswick.

Over the past two years, Chris Rhoades and Andrew Preston of Brunswick Landing Venture LLC have bought up 120 acres of former base housing and buildable land inside Brunswick Landing, a decommissioned naval air station that was converted to private ownership in 2011. The developers also have purchased former military housing in Topsham and the iconic but neglected Time & Temperature Building in Portland.

The Brunswick Landing property bought by Rhoades and Preston includes over 500 detached single-family homes, duplexes, quadraplexes and townhouses that they have been renovating. The developers haven’t disclosed how much they paid, but they estimated that the homes’ total market value is about $125 million.

Developers Chris Rhoades, right, and Andrew Preston have hundreds of former military homes available for sale at Brunswick Landing. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In December, they began offering 82 of the refurbished homes for sale, nine of which have been sold with another 22 under contract. Brunswick real estate agents describe the mass listing as unprecedented, saying no developer in the town has ever placed so many homes on the market in such a short time.

To avoid flooding the market, Rhoades and Preston have chosen to limit concurrent listings in the Maine Listings database to 12 at a time, but Rhoades said any of the homes designated for sale can be purchased right now.

“We can sell them as fast as we can get buyers,” he said.

But whether they will be able to court Portland buyers remains to be seen.

In their favor is price. The largest homes are four-bedroom, 2½ bathroom, 1,740-square-foot units with one-car garages being sold for $250,000. There is also a slightly smaller three-bedroom model being sold for $240,000.

Those prices compare favorably with Brunswick’s 2018 median home sale price of $265,000 and Portland’s median home price of $316,250. Also in the community’s favor is its proximity to the ocean, nearby amenities such as an executive golf course and its location being equidistant from Augusta and Portland.

Working against it is its military-housing aesthetic. Like most base housing, the homes lack distinctive architectural features and have a very functional look to them. They are also packed pretty tightly together, with most units sharing at least one common wall with their neighbors.

Another challenge is that most buyers don’t think of Brunswick as being part of the Greater Portland area. Real estate brokers said it will take some convincing to change their minds.

Tom Landry, broker and owner of Benchmark Residential & Investment Real Estate in Portland, said the homes won’t likely appeal to everyone, particularly those with their hearts set on Portland.

“I don’t look at it as something that’s going to soften the Portland market,” Landry said, despite the sheer volume of homes on offer. “I think that people who are maybe priced out of areas, if you think about the hottest areas like Portland’s peninsula, if you will, they start to go out more suburban.”

INVENTORY RELIEF

The roughly 450 other homes at Brunswick Landing are available for lease, with some undergoing renovations and many already occupied by tenants. Rhoades and Preston said they haven’t decided when or if any of the rental properties will be placed on the market for sale.

Jane Millett, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Riverside in Topsham and member of the Brunswick Town Council, said the volume of homes Rhoades and Preston are offering will have a big impact on the area’s housing market.

“In their price range, that is a very significant amount,” she said. “Inventory is one of the problems we always have at this time of the year, and in recent years it’s been exacerbated. I think what we’re finding is that the brokers from Portland are bringing customers up here, and even brokers from other areas.”

Millett said the homes at Brunswick Landing are priced appropriately for many working families to afford, which will help alleviate a shortage of affordable housing that has plagued the Brunswick market recently. Excluding the homes being offered for sale by Rhoades and Preston, there were fewer than 60 homes for sale on Maine Listings in Brunswick as of Wednesday.

Similarly, there has been a dearth of affordable rental housing available in the town, as evidenced by its perennially low vacancy rate, Millett said. A group of nearly 200 small townhouses currently being renovated by Rhoades and Preston are leasing for $1,075 a month with most major utilities included.

“Having these on the market is really good,” she said.

SPREADING THE WORD

Rhoades and Preston believe home buyers and renters will flock to Brunswick if they market it as an attractive and affordable alternative to Portland, where finding a place to live has become progressively more frustrating and expensive.

In addition to traditional marketing and advertising, the developers have begun hosting tour groups of Portland-area real estate agents to present their pitch for the community and show off model homes. Their goal is to get more agents to suggest Brunswick Landing to their clients as a potential buying opportunity.

Landry went on one such tour with a group of his agents in early March. Landry said he was “blown away” by what he saw.

“I think it’s probably one of the least known and probably one of the best values of anything in the Greater Portland area,” he said.

With many Portland-area home buyers losing out to competitive bids on other properties, Landry said he thinks the Brunswick Landing homes will be an easy sell to buyers looking for a suburban dwelling.

The biggest challenge for Rhoades and Preston, he said, is that suburban buyers don’t typically think of Brunswick when they are considering alternatives to Portland. Landry said it’s going to take a considerable amount of effort to change that.

“I think it’s almost this mind shift that needs to happen about what does Greater Portland mean,” he said.

Falmouth resident Hugh Farrington is one of the recent home buyers at Brunswick Landing. Farrington purchased a three-bedroom duplex unit for $240,000 as an investment and said he is leasing it to a friend from Vermont.

“I found out about it through an ad in the newspaper,” he said. “It’s a heck of a deal.”

Farrington said he considers the home’s location inside Brunswick Landing to be a huge plus.

“Brunswick is a booming town, as I’m sure you know,” he said. “That property, it has a nine-hole golf course, it has a workout facility on the property, it’s very attractive to people who want to live in that area.”

WHY BRUNSWICK?

Sue Spann, broker and owner of RE/MAX Riverside and the listing broker for Brunswick Landing Venture, said Brunswick has three key attributes that appeal to many home buyers: It is close to the ocean, sits along a major highway and is equidistant from the urban centers of Portland and Augusta.

“What we’ve seen in recent years is an influx of people who I think like the charm of Brunswick and all of the activities that the town itself and the community offer, and (they) don’t mind at all the 30-minute drive to work in Portland,” Spann said. “We’re seeing more and more of that. We’re also seeing more of a push into this area from the Portland market, because the demand in Portland has just become very difficult for people looking to buy a home.”

It was that sort of logic that convinced the owners of Brunswick Landing Venture to make their big play for the former base housing.

In July 2017, Rhoades and Preston purchased 334 housing units inside Brunswick Landing from Schott Management, owned by Auburn developer George Schott, which had been offering the properties strictly as rentals. They partnered on the purchase with The Presidium Group, a Dallas-based real estate company that owns thousands of rental units in Texas and Oklahoma.

In February 2018, Rhoades and Preston purchased an adjacent property containing 190 townhouse units of 750 square feet each with two rooms on the upper floor and a kitchen and bathroom on the ground floor, which are currently being renovated. In addition to the existing units, Rhoades said there is enough buildable land in the community for an additional 120 units of condominiums or townhouses.

Most of the for-sale properties are duplex homes built in the mid-2000s that are being renovated by the developers as needed, often adding new paint, flooring or carpeting, fixtures and other upgrades.

Because the entirety of Brunswick Landing is privately owned and maintained, including its roads and other infrastructure, buyers must agree to pay a monthly association fee of up to $240 to cover the costs of maintaining streets, playgrounds and other common areas. Still, Rhoades said the homes remain a bargain because properties of comparable size and condition in Portland would easily sell for over $400,000.

The developers are banking on the idea that if they can just get Brunswick Landing on buyers’ radar, they will see the value in a community that offers dozens of affordable, move-in ready homes for sale with no waiting lists, haggling or competitive bidding required.

“People don’t know that this is out here,” Rhoades said.

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