With a chill in the air and sea birds in the sky, a visitor to Fishermen's Point takes in the sunrise, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, in South Portland, Maine. Historic Portland Head Light sits on the rocky coast 1.5 miles to the south. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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People have dreamed of a home along the Maine coast for generations. But never has the financial divide between coastal and interior homes been larger.

In January 2000, there was an inflation-adjusted $104,000 difference between the median price in coastal and non-coastal areas among the 136 communities across Maine on which Zillow has data for going back to 2000. Today, the difference is $159,000.

The median home in a coastal Maine community now costs just under $400,000 as of April 2022, 72 percent more than for a community within the state’s interior, where homes have a median value that is significantly less: $231,000.

Many people have long aspired for homes on the Maine coast for various reasons, including increased opportunities and access to higher-paying jobs. Residents of Maine’s coastal communities tend to be wealthier and more educated than those in the state’s interior. Cumberland County, the economic center of the state, is on the coast.

Practically all of Maine’s most expensive places are as well, including Kennebunkport, Cape Elizabeth and Mount Desert. Of the top 30 priciest locations, 27 are along the coast. The other three — North Yarmouth, Eliot and Pownal — lie only one town away from the ocean. Of the 30 cheapest communities, all are inland except for Pembroke in Washington County.

The shift can be seen in individual listings. A three-bedroom home on 18 acres with a lap pool and sauna in the basement would sound ideal to most Mainers. One was just recently listed for just $324,000 and a sale is now pending.

Why is it so cheap? Likely because it is in the small Piscataquis County community of Wellington, an hour and a half from the closest oceanfront spot. A two-bedroom York home right by the water that is one-third the size went for $800,000 late last year.

“[Coastal properties] have always been in demand,” said one real estate agent who specializes in coastal properties but did not want to be named. “Since the pandemic, it’s gone out of sight.”

Out-of-state residents are flocking to move to many of Maine’s coastal communities, but other areas are struggling to keep populations they already have. Aroostook County, far away from Maine’s coast, led Maine in losing 7 percent of its population since 2010 while Cumberland and York Counties led the state, each gaining 8 percent.

Of the seven counties that lost population, only one was coastal: Washington County, which is by far the cheapest place to live along the coast in Maine.

Trends that have begun since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — during which interest in rural areas has grown — could provide an opportunity to find cheaper homes in Maine’s rural interior, said Kate Werner, a real estate agent with Balsam Realty in Freeport.

But it remains to be seen whether the influx some interior communities have seen could lessen the gap between rural and coastal real estate.

“People are thinking it might be nice to have a little more land,” Werner said. “And maybe move to a smaller town.”