A "sold" sign is posted on a home in Westfield, Ind., Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Credit: Michael Conroy / AP

Millennials have a reputation for being urban apartment dwellers or living with parents, but new research finds they are active buyers in Maine’s competitive real estate market and they are turning to smaller homes in more affordable small towns along major highways.

Born between 1982 and 2002, millennials are waiting longer than their parents did before buying their first home, a Better Homes and Gardens real estate group survey found. Despite being burdened by student debt and sluggish wage increases, they have managed to save and form a large portion of the buyers in Maine right now, realtors said.

Nationwide, half of all home buyers in 2021 were under the age of 41, with the median age of 36, according to online real estate market Zillow. Millennials made up 67 percent of first-time home purchase applications last year, according to CoreLogic Loan Application Database.

In Maine and neighboring New Hampshire, millennials are starting to move out of cities to more affordable small towns along Interstate 95.

“More green space is a big piece of that,” Mark Pilot, a real estate agent in Better Homes and Gardens’ Auburn office, said. “Taxes are also lower outside of the city.”

A big yard was important to Rudy Fish, who moved his wife and three young children from Gardiner to nearby Winthrop in December. Like most homebuyers, he looked at almost a dozen homes and was outbid on three before the offer of $265,000 on the Winthrop property was accepted.

The new home isn’t as convenient to the interstate, but he’s comfortable with the 12-minute drive and the good school system.

“We were looking in Sidney and West Gardiner, which are closer to the interstate, but the offers that were accepted on those places were quite a bit higher than our offers,” Fish said. Those other offers ranged from $40,000 to $60,000 higher than his. He said he did not consider living in Augusta or another city because it is too expensive.

Citing housing and mortgage statistics, Better Homes and Gardens said affordability is the top factor for millennial homebuyers and they are willing to move further out to get what they want, including a large yard, quiet neighborhood and a garden.

“They’re very cost-conscious,” Joel Alexander, a real estate agent for Better Homes and Gardens in Augusta, said. “They want smaller, more energy-efficient homes.”

The real estate group also found millennial buyers want smaller homes because they are having smaller families than past generations. They also tend to be more environmentally conscious and may not want the impact and expense of heating and cooling a 2,500-square-foot home. The average size for a millennial home is 1,700 square feet.

Millennials also are going for homes they can afford to take care of rather than costly old homes that may need lots of repairs, Melissa Bartlett, a real estate agent for Better Homes and Gardens in Pittsfield, said. Maine has some of the oldest housing stock in the nation.

“As inflation rises, they are thinking about the heating and electric bills,” Gina Letourneau, a Better Homes and Gardens real estate agent in Auburn, said.

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...