Sometimes the numbers don’t add up.

Maine, like the rest of the nation, is struggling to recover from a recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The unemployment rate has dropped  to pre-recession levels, but there are still about 50,000 Mainers receiving weekly unemployment benefits, and that has repercussions throughout the economy.

But at the same time, we are having something of a housing boom, with sales of existing homes and prices on the increase all across the state.

In the three months between November 2020 and January, the number of units sold was nearly 30 percent higher than the same period a year ago, before most people had heard of COVID. Prices increased by nearly 20 percent, with the median home sold going for $269,000.

The numbers are even higher in some especially hot areas. Home sales between November and January in Hancock County were up 51 percent over the previous year, and the median price shot up 44 percent to $317,000 for the median sale. In Lincoln County there was 27 percent increase in sales over that period, and the median sales price jumped 47 percent to $334,500.

This is not supposed to happen during a period when unemployment is high and there is less upward pressure on wages. But this is not your typical recession and we shouldn’t expect it to behave like one.


For one thing, these sales numbers should remind us that the pain of the recession has not been evenly distributed. Many people have been mildly inconvenienced by the pandemic and others have had their lives turned upside down. People who could work from home never missed a day of work or a paycheck, while thousands of jobs have disappeared for good.

Another factor reported by people in real estate community is that many of the buyers come from other states where home prices have been higher than Maine’s for a long time. Jobs have become more portable than ever during the pandemic, and a significant number of people are able to move to a place where they can have a better quality of life.

This can be a good trend for Maine. A few hundred such moves is as good for the state’s economy as the development a new company that employs a few hundred people. Families moving to Maine, buying houses, paying taxes, sending children to school will build communities.

But home prices are already too high for many Maine wage earners, and these trends create anxiety for people who wonder if they will ever be able to get a place in the housing market.

Waiting for the free market to find equilibrium won’t solve their problem. It will take intervention on the state and local levels to create land-use and closely related transportation policies that make housing affordable for everyone who wants to live here, including those who are here already.

Maine is a great place to live, and it shouldn’t surprise us that other people are figuring that out. But it will take some work now to make sure it stays that way in the years to come.

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