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February 13, 2019

Inside the Maine's 'hottest towns' real estate sales list

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Rob Edgerley, of Maine Life Real Estate in Scarborough, crunches 2018 "Hottest Towns" list numbers.

When Rob Edgerley, founder and CEO of Maine Life Real Estate saw a "hottest towns" real estate sales list for another state a few years ago, he thought it might be fun to do one for Maine.

The fourth one came out this year, revealing Standish, a Cumberland County town 20 miles west of Portland, as the hottest town in Maine residential real estate sales in 2018.

When he compiles the list, Edgerley said, it's all about the numbers. "I don't go in with any preconceived notions," he said.

Still, the list is about more than numbers — it's a snapshot into what's going on in Maine development on a variety of levels.

A few weeks ago, Edgerley, who lives and works in Scarborough, released the fourth "Hottest Towns in Maine" list. Last week, he sat down with Mainebiz to discuss the list.

With the 2017 list, Edgerley broke out the 10 hottest towns, something that he continued this year, but he still goes deeper — this year's had 34 towns and cities, some not so hot.

He limits the list to towns and cities with a minimum volume of around 130 or 140 sales — which is one reason some hot areas may not be included.

While he doesn't have the data, or time, to drill down and determine what it all means, he does see cycles and draws conclusions.

Here, in no particular order, are some insights into the market behind the 2018 Hottest Towns list.

Standish wasn't a surprise

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Gardenside Estates in Standish, a 38-unit condo 0ver-55 development , helped put the town at the top of the list.

"I wasn't surprised at all to see Standish [at the top of the list]," Edgerley said.

In Standish, which was fourth last year, 195 houses and condos were sold, compared to 166 in 2017 for a 17.47% increase. The median price was $233,633, up from $230,250 in 2017 for a 1.47% increase.

Edgerley said he knew Standish was hot, based on the activity his firm had seen in the Lake Region town of 10,000 that's 20 miles from Portland and on the southern end of Sebago Lake.

"People we work with love the area," he said.

He said new construction tells the story: Of the Standish homes sold in 2018, six were built in 2018 and eight in 2017.

One notable development is Gardenside Estates, a 55-and-older community that will have 38 units once it's completed. The development, by Standish Realtor Mark Floor, is on Route 25 in the center of town, and several of the one-bedroom, 832-square-foot units have been sold.

Edgerley said one development can spike the numbers for a town.

But sometimes, there are surprises.

"A couple of years ago, Bath surprised me," he said.

Bath was the top town in 2016, when it had a 42% increase in sales.

In 2018, Bath was 16th with 162 homes sold, down from 164 in 2017. The median price rose up, though, to $185,250 from $180,000.

Millennials and Boomers want the same thing

Baby Boomers, either downsizing or retiring to Maine from somewhere else, and Millennials with families are competing for the same houses.

The Boomers may be unloading the four-bedroom Colonial they raised their family in for something smaller, while the Millennial couple may be living in an apartment, have just had a kid and are thinking about having another, "and they want some more space."

Many of both groups, Edgerley said, are from out of state.

One hot spot for out-of-state retirees? Old Orchard Beach.

While sales dropped in 2018 — 248 as opposed to 2017's 271 — it remains a go-to location for many.

Edgerley said people who have spent summers in Maine, or have another connection, when they get to a point where they can choose where to live, want to come to that place in Maine that they enjoyed so much.

One thing he hears a lot: "I always come up here to Maine in the summertime."

He said the largest group his firm deals with is from Massachusetts, and they're in their late 50s or 60s who are looking for a quality of life place to live.

"I think they've figured it out," he said.

Many also buy the house and rent it out until they're ready to retired and move here part-time.

Biddeford, third on the list, is hot in part because it's a city that has enough going on that people who work in Portland, or elsewhere, can live there and have a downtown where they can enjoy bars and restaurants. It had a 14.22% increase in sales, from 225 to 257, and a 9.19% increase in median price, from $232,369 to $253,733.

But he said that job growth at places like UNUM, IDEXX and WEX, all in the Portland area, are bringing young families in, too.

They want to live close to work, but also in a place they can afford, he said.

That's boosted sales in other towns near Standish, like Gray, Buxton and Hollis.

Aging, tight inventory part of story

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Downtown Waterville is undergoing big changes, helping to keep the housing market hot despite low, old inventory.

Waterville, which didn't even make the top 20 in previous years, debuted at the top of last year's list. This year, it fell to fifth, which is still remarkable for the city of 16,000.

In 2018, 176 homes were sold in Waterville compared to 159 in 2017, for a 10.69% increase. Median price rose to $119,900 from $111,500, a 7.53%.

The mill city on the Kennebec River has been bolstered the past couple of years by a major downtown development, driven by $100 million in investment by Colby College.

But Edgerley said the newest house sold in 2018 was built in 2012.

He said the market is still strong in towns and cities with aging inventory, even if the sales aren't high.

"There's no growth in sales, but there's growth in price," he said.

Augusta, which has an aging housing stock, has held a steady 13th in sales for two years, but median prices rose 14.81%, to $139,950 from $121,900.

In Lewiston, sales decreased 5.18%, dropping it from sixth to 24th, but median price went to $149,450 from $139,250, a 7.32% increase.

Sales in South Portland dropped to 380 from 390, a decrease of 2.56%, but median price went up 8.58%, to $280,000 from $257,875.

He also said Portland, 14th on the list, has great homes available outside the peninsula, where the inventory is tight and prices are high.

In 2018, 913 homes were sold in the city, down from 924 in 2017. Median price was $320,000 in 2018, compared to $289,950 in 2017, a 10.36% increase.

The list has limits

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Piscataquis County had the top 2018 increase in housing sales, but, no towns on it made the list. Pictured: Sebec.

The top county for percentage increase of home sales in 2018 was Piscataquis, according to Maine Association of Realtors statistics.

Yet, no town from the county, which has 17,000 residents and is in north central Maine, was among the hottest towns.

Dover-Foxcroft, the county seat and with a population of 4,000 the biggest town in the county, had about 16 sales transactions in 2018, well below his cut-off number.

The county overall had 350 transactions in 2018, compared with 2017's 288, a 21.% increase.

Edgerley said the sales were spread through the county's small towns, many of which are on lakes. He speculated that much of the sales may be second homes, which is a sign people have confidence in the economy.

Other towns and cities may fly under the radar a little, or not seem hot, but are still in demand.

Cumberland, for instance, is a favorite among those who want to live in the coastal communities just north of Portland.

While Falmouth and Yarmouth, which bookend it, are in the top 10, Cumberland was 32nd, with 153 houses sold, as opposed to 170 in 2017. Median price also dropped, to $396,300 from $409,500.

He said towns like Cumberland — which has homes on the water in Cumberland Foreside that sell for seven figures — can see a spike in median price for a year from one sale.

Warming up in 2019

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Single family homes are among the former Navy housing being sold at Brunswick Landing .

Edgerley said there are a number of communities poised to leap up the list this year, many of which have major developments in the works, like Scarborough.

Growth there will be boosted by the 500-acre mixed-use development at the former Scarborough Downs and other large projects.

He also predicted his hometown, Brunswick, which was fourth this year, will heat up more, largely boosted by development at Brunswick Landing.

More than 300 units of former Navy housing are or will be up for sale at the former base.

He said Sanford and South Portland have been consistently hot, and will probably remain so.

Other communities on the watch list are Windham, which is next to Standish and has "a lot of land" for development and Topsham, adjacent to Brunswick, where former Navy housing is also being marketed.

Edgerley said the Maine housing market in general will stay hot.

"I don't think it's going to stop," he said. "We've got something really special."

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