Meagan Cloutier and her husband, Nathaniel Zmek, are finding slim pickings as they search for their first home in the Ellsworth area. Credit: Courtesy of Meagan Cloutier and Nathaniel Zmek

Nathaniel Zmek and wife Meagan Cloutier have looked at close to 20 properties around Ellsworth in a search for their first home, but stiff competition and dilapidated properties have kept them from making an offer.

They have increased their budget from an original cap of $250,000, but their decision will come down to whether the home would be a good investment. It is the type of decision first-time homebuyers across Maine face as they lose out to buyers who can pay cash or more money. They have decided to keep a close eye on the market along with their realtor, at the same time remaining very patient.

“Maybe we shouldn’t put an offer in on a place that needs $50,000 worth of work on top of a $300,000 asking price,” Zmek, 31, said.

Cloutier, 27, worries about being underwater on the home purchase. Zmek said the home search can be “really disheartening.”

“Going to see some of these houses and seeing the price tag and seeing the quality of the house is a total clash of reality,” he said. “You have a vision of what a place should be for $300,000 and it does not match.”

He advises those searching for homes to not get too excited about a place before seeing it. That even goes for making an offer, because it is easy to lose out in multiple-offer situations.

The couple both work at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and started looking this year for a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath home after living in a small apartment in Ellsworth for the past two years and commuting 40 minutes to work.

They have saved up to be able to pay a down payment and get a loan of up to $250,000, but found houses in that price range to be unlivable. Some that started there were bid out of their range. 

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They continued to save more as they looked for homes but the market “is outpacing our ability to save,” Zmek said. By the time the couple gets ready to make an offer on a property, upwards of 10 offers already are in place.

Hancock County, where the couple live, saw the number of homes on the market in the first three months of this year shrink by 33 percent over the same time last year to 140 units, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. Statewide, the number was down 21 percent.

The median sales price in Hancock County was $300,000, up more than 3 percent over the same three months last year. Statewide the price is up 21 percent. The median sales price means half of the homes sold for more than that and half for less.

Their real estate agent is trying to keep them optimistic.

“With a nod and a wink, he tells us, ‘Something will come up next week,’” Zmek said.