Interior designer sitting at desk and looking at printed photos of clients rooms after renovation

By Crystal Sands

My husband and I have lived in our home outside of the Bangor area for 10 years, and during this time, we have turned our little place into a homestead. My husband has built fences for ducks and chickens, constructed raised beds for strawberries, converted sheds to coops and rehabilitated our soil. We have planted blueberry bushes, raspberries, apple trees and pear trees. There are so many things we love about our home—but there’s a problem. Our house has a tiny kitchen. 

This may not be a problem to some, but for us, the tiny kitchen is a big problem. We process food from our garden and cook everything from scratch. We spend a good portion of our lives in that kitchen, and when two of us are in there, it becomes an exercise in frustration as we dodge each other and look for any little bit of counter space we can find. 

Should we buy?

As much as we love our home, we considered the possibility of selling and looking for a new home, only to find there were no homes available, at least not homes that were already set up for homesteads—and in our price range. We would essentially have to start over building a homestead if we wanted a house with a bigger kitchen. 

The housing market seemed to be so hot that we also worried about the possibility of selling our home and simply not being able to purchase another one in this area. We heard stories of people trying for months to purchase a home with no luck—and we heard stories about bidding wars. 

It turns out we are not alone in our concerns about finding a different home. The market in Maine has been extremely competitive for some time. Louise Morrison, real estate agent from the Rock Team at ERA Dawson in Bangor, says that, indeed, the housing market in the Bangor area is something like he has never seen. He says, it’s more like we are in “uncharted territory.” 

In speaking with agents who have been working in this area for as long as 50 years, Morrison says they have never seen anything like this. Although all of Maine is seeing an influx of people moving here from across the country, the Portland and Bangor areas are seeing some of the highest rates of growth. He emphasizes that the massive wave of migration to Maine is having a powerful impact on the housing market. 

When I asked him about the theoretical possibility of selling our home and finding another, Morrison said that it would be easy to sell but made it clear that it would not be so easy to buy another. Talking with Morrison helped me better understand that our concerns about selling and then buying in our area were valid. It seemed we were stuck with a tiny kitchen, but we began to wonder about the possibility of remodeling, which was beginning to look like the best option for our family.   

Should we renovate?

Remodeling may be the best option for others as well, especially people like us who are happy with our property, just not our house, and there are resources in our area to help those who are interested in remodeling. Fred Perkins is the Senior Vice President of Sales at Hammond Lumber Company. He says that Hammond Lumber Company offers a variety of services to help those interested in remodeling, and he says it’s been a busy year, despite the high cost of lumber. 

Perkins says, “2021 has been a year of extremes. We are having a record-breaking year in all aspects of construction. Remodeling and renovations of existing homes is a substantial part of our business. Kitchen and bath renovations are up dramatically as well as window replacements, siding and roofing projects.”

Of course, those who have heard about the skyrocketing prices of lumber may have concerns related to costs of a home remodel, but Perkins says that costs are settling down a bit and that it can be worth it to upgrade your home. 

“In 2020, many consumers reflected how and where they spent their time,” Perkins says. “Many determined that they should invest in their families and their personal property based on travel restrictions and the fear of additional, potential limitations due to the pandemic.” As a result, Hammond Lumber has seen record construction years for both 2020 and 2021. Of course, with the supply chains for lumber and other materials interrupted due to the pandemic and this increase in demand, prices for construction have been inflated. But Perkins emphasizes that prices are coming down a bit, though they are not yet—and may never be—at pre-pandemic prices. 

“We began to see some projects being canceled or down-sized. Nationally the pace began to slow some and now we are seeing the cost of material settle down. They are not yet to the old levels however we may be at our ‘new normal.’ Time will tell,” Perkins says. 

It’s true that we have all been spending more time at home, and as COVID-19 cases are on the rise again and many of us are looking at the possibility of more time at home, making our home spaces more comfortable and inviting seems like a good idea, and local banks are responding to this trend as well. 

One perk of the hot real estate market is that our home values are increasing, and many Mainers are using that increase in their home’s value, coupled with historically-low interest rates, as an opportunity to refinance their homes. 

Bruce Ocko, Senior Vice President and Director of Mortgage and Consumer Lending at Bangor Savings Bank, says while there hasn’t been an increase in people applying for home equity lines of credit for renovations, there has been an increase in refinancing in our area. 

“Home values in most areas are significantly appreciating and inventories are at historic lows…what we are seeing is an uptick in refinances of mortgages,” Ocko explains. “Customers are taking advantage of the appreciated value in their homes and low interest rates to complete home renovations, consolidate debt, pay off existing higher rate equity lines and make large purchases.”

Ultimately, the good news is that there are options for people like my husband and I who have a home with a tiny kitchen. We made the decision to stay put, and though we refinanced to take advantage of the lower interest rates, we have decided to keep our debt low and pay for our renovations out of pocket. But, for those who may not have that option, it’s good to know that the rising prices of homes in our area has at least some benefits. 

Home renovations can make a big difference in how happy we feel in our homes, and it’s good to know we have such valuable resources in our area. Fred Perkins from Hammond Lumber emphasizes they are there to help. He says, “These days construction projects can proceed all year long. Plus, prices are lower and inventory levels are coming back up.”

See this Section as it appeared in print here