Maine’s housing market heated up in July despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, thanks in part to an increase in sales to out-of-state buyers.

Sales of existing single-family homes in the state rose by double digits in July as the market for homes rebounded from sharp dips in April and May. The median price of Maine homes sold in July also increased by more than 10 percent compared with a year earlier.

The number of homes sold in the state grew by 12.4 percent last month compared with the same month year ago, according to a report released Friday by Maine Listings, a subsidiary of the Maine Association of Realtors. The share of homes sold to out-of-state buyers increased by 5.5 percent.

Brian Linscott of ReMax Horizon in South Portland said he works with a lot of out-of-state buyers who are very eager to buy a house in Maine. Most do plenty of research ahead of time and arrive in the state with a short list of prospective homes, many of them outside of Portland.

“People are saying, ‘Let’s bug out for the country,'” he said. “We have folks who are very serious buyers. These are buyers who don’t kick tires, they don’t see 10 houses, they see two.”

Linscott said one buyer was a Maine native who was in the military and is currently in Washington state. He bought a house in South Portland sight unseen, although his parents, who still live in Maine, did check it out for him.

The buyer, who paid $395,000 for the house – $36,000 above the asking price – is currently renting the house out and expects to move back to Maine and into the house next year, Linscott said.

David and Janet Gilmore moved to Maine late last fall from Glastonbury, Connecticut, a suburb of Hartford. They are currently renting a house in Portland, but will be closing on a house in Hollis at the end of the month.

Gilmore and his wife relocated for new jobs, but he had a choice with offers from American Steel & Aluminum in South Portland and another company in Nashville, Tennessee. Gilmore said the couple chose Maine because they like New England and would like to retire in the state in a couple of years.

But instead of downsizing, they bought a house in Hollis that has more than 4,700 square feet, more than three times the size of their house in Connecticut. Gilmore said the couple fell in love with the house because it comes with more than 8 acres of land and will give them privacy. They paid $485,000.

Maine will keep them close to family in Connecticut, he said, and the warmer climate in Tennessee didn’t appeal to them.

“We love Maine, we love the shore very much, we love New England and we wouldn’t like the heat,” Gilmore said.

Many out-of-state buyers put reliable high-speed internet service high on the list of their needs in a new house, said Tom Cole, president of the Maine Association of Realtors and managing broker of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate/The Masiello Group in Brunswick. They tell Cole that they are working from home because of  the coronavirus pandemic, and that gives them the flexibility to move away to somewhere with less congestion and a more relaxed lifestyle.

Cole said he has high hopes for the rest of the year, which is normally a slower period than the first half. The tight inventory of houses on the market, he said, often means that people need to shop longer. December 2019, he said, was the busiest December ever for home sales in Maine.

He said he expects more home sales to out-of-state buyers are underway and should be completed in the next month or two, and those sales will show up on real estate reports in September and October.

Cole said the fact that the market has recovered from the huge impact of the pandemic in April and May is important. Part of that slump was because sellers pulled their homes off the market, and efforts to control the spread of the virus made it difficult for out-of-state buyers to see Maine homes.

Initially, it appeared that home buyers from out of state would have to quarantine for two weeks in Maine before checking out houses for sale. State rules now allow prospective buyers to check out a limited number of homes as long as they wear masks and gloves and take other precautions.

Cole said real estate agents are insisting that the protocols are followed and using other tools, such as video tours of houses, to help people winnow down their choices.

The tight inventory has put upward pressure on prices all year long, and the state’s median sales price in July was $254,900, an increase of 10.8 percent above a year earlier. The median indicates that half of homes sold for more money and half sold for less.

The number of homes sold during the month grew from 1,866 in July 2019 to 2,098 last month. The median sales price was up from $230,000 during the same month last year.

Home sales fell by 15 percent in April and 21 percent in May compared with the same months a year earlier. But with increases early in the year and growth in June and July, sales for all of 2020 so far are just 1.1 percent down compared to the same period a year ago, Maine Listings said. Last year was the best ever for home sales in the state.

The figures show the biggest increase in sales was in Washington County, where transactions grew to 132 units during the most recent three-month period, compared with 107 units during the same quarter a year ago, an increase of 23.4 percent.

The biggest increase by county in the median sales price was in Franklin County, where the median of $198,000 was an increase of nearly 27 percent over the median of $156,000 in May through July of 2019.

Cumberland County posted the biggest decrease in sales, dropping from 1,258 units during the May-July period a year ago to 1,037 this year, a decline of more than 17.5 percent. But the median sales price in Cumberland Country still rose, from $343,950 last year to $362,000 this year, an increase of 5.25 percent.

Sales figures in Cumberland and York counties – where sales dipped by 8.3 percent but prices rose by 10 percent – suggests the market is most affected by a low number of homes on the market, and that the same factor is behind the rising prices.

Median sales prices declined in two counties, Piscataquis ( down 3.5 percent) and Washington ( down 2.2 percent), although both counties showed healthy gains in the number of homes sold.

Regionally, single-family home sales rose by 5.9 percent in the Northeast, and the median sales price increased by 4 percent to $307,800 in July compared with a year earlier. Nationally, sales were up 9.8 percent compared with the same month a year earlier, while the median sales price increased by 8.5 percent to $317,800.

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