A real estate for sale sign sits outside 65 George St. in South Portland on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. South Portland now ranks in the top 10 most competitive U.S. cities in which to buy a house. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The real estate market in Maine’s least populated county was robust during 2020.

While final year-long statistics from Maine Real Estate Information, Inc., won’t be released until Jan. 22, property sales in Piscataquis County through the end of November already had exceeded the year-long total for 2019.

Sales in the county — with its population of approximately 16,800 — for January through November 2020 totaled 413 properties, according to Maine Real Estate Information, which does business as Maine Listings. That compares to 344 properties sold during all of 2019 and is the most for any year in that county since at least 2007, exceeding the previous high during that span of 350 in 2018.

“I would call it a surprise,” said Neil Mallett, co-owner of Mallett Real Estate in Dover-Foxcroft with his wife Patsy. “We actually had a real good year in 2019, but when that pandemic came in during March I said, ‘Oh my God, things are going to die down now’.”

The Piscataquis County statistics mirrored a similar increase in home and property sales around the state in 2020. Through the end of November, Maine Listings reported 17,953 sales statewide, compared to 16,643 during the first 11 months of 2019.

“The interest rate has been so low it’s a buyer’s market and it’s a seller’s market because a lot of times you’re getting bidding wars because there’s so few houses on the market,” Donna Jones, owner of DeWitt-Jones Realty in Milo since 2011, said.

Mallett, a former school teacher who began selling real estate as a summer job in 1971, noticed an uptick in interested land buyers early in the year. That was followed by an increase in homes and waterfront property sales.

“I started to notice around April that people were buying more expensive properties, and we had some that we never expected to get the prices that we sold them at,” he said. “I remember one property we sold that was priced at $275,000 or $280,000 that I didn’t think we’d ever get. It went under contract and was appraised and the appraisal came in way low but the people said, ‘We don’t care, we’re going to buy it anyway’,” he said.

It got busy in July and August, he said.

“We were really busy right up until Christmas and we’re still closing deals right now.”

Jones, who has been selling real estate for more than two decades, experienced a similar buying surge beginning in late spring.

“Before mid-November we were busy seven days a week,” she said. “Summer went right by me. I’d think I was going to get home from work at 6 but a lot of times it would be 7 or 7:30 with trying to get all the paperwork done as well as the showings. It wasn’t until mid-November that it really started to slow at all.”

Jones and Mallett said a mix of people comprised this year’s house hunters in the region, from young families to buyers from southern Maine and out of state.

“The brokers are bringing more buyers up here as things get sold off down in Portland and that area, then they’re pushing up into central Maine to look at property,” Mallett said. “When we put something out there it doesn’t sit, it gets looked at.”

Mallett said interior Maine may be becoming more appealing to current home buyers, in part to get away from more congested pandemic hot spots and also because of increasing opportunities to work at home.

“We talk a lot about this to people from away,” he said. “A lot of people believe working at home is probably going to stick after this pandemic ends. People have found out how they can live their lives this way and they’re going to be doing more of it.

“That might be good for our area, having more people that can work right out of their living rooms.”

All different types of homes found new owners during 2020.

“Everybody loves ranches, they don’t last long,” Jones said, whose agency sold 102 properties last year compared to 79 in 2019. “But they were buying them in all shapes and sizes.”

Mallett said his agency had approximately 80 closings in 2020, including an increased number of land sales compared to a year earlier.

Both Mallett and Jones said one challenge facing Piscataquis County real estate agents in 2021 will be a lack of available listings.

“We’re at about a third of the listings we had back in 2013 or 2014,” Mallett said. “There was an overabundance of listings back then, a real glut. Now there’s not even a third of the properties on the market that there was then. There just isn’t enough housing on the market.”

Jones, for one, plans a tried and true approach in an attempt to address that dilemma.

“I’m going to have to go pound the pavement, I guess,” she said.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...