Kortnie Mullins and her husband Nick Mullins bought this house on Garland Street in Bangor in 2018. They renovated the property to rent it out. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

This story was originally published in September 2020.

From the beautiful scenery and wide open spaces to bustling art and culture hubs, Maine is a wonderful place to call home. But coming from away to live in the Pine Tree State, there are certain things you have to consider about Maine’s unique housing stock before purchasing.

Here are a few essential questions you should ask before you buy a house in Maine.

Are you ready to buy a house in Maine?

Readiness when it comes to buying a house comes in many forms. Susan Lane, broker at the Realty of Maine in Bangor, said the first question she asks her clients is always whether they have actually been to Maine.

“I’m from away, so I understand the adjustments,” Lane said. “I warn them about the winter [and] about driving in the snow and ice. We’ll be talking to a buyer from Manhattan and we’ll be discussing a house by the post office and they’re probably thinking the house is in the city. There’s a lot of education before they start looking.”

Where is the house?

The old adage “location, location, location” applies even more in Maine, where your access to services can be limited by the location of your house.

“You may have to travel several miles to get to the nearest store,” said Julie Hammer, associate broker at Realty of Maine in Ellsworth. “Finding out what amenities a buyer needs or wants to live near is important.”

The location is also important for the lifestyle and activities you wish to pursue.

“For example, if a buyer likes to kayak, perhaps finding a home that has a local, public area to be able to use is important,” Hammer said. “More inland buyers might like to snowmobile in the winter. Having access to trails during the winter might be a plus.”

How reliable is the internet in the area?

If you are planning to work remotely in Maine, having internet access is important — and not always guaranteed depending on where you live.

“[Some] more rural spots don’t even have high speed internet, so we end up using satellite or radio relay hotspots,” said Dolly Perkins, broker at Realty of Maine in Dover-Foxcroft.

Ask your agent about internet providers in the area, as well as how reliable and fast the services usually are.

How old is the house?

In Maine, it is important to keep a keen eye out for certain toxic hazards in disclosures and inspection reports. Maine’s housing stock consists largely of older homes. If your house was built before 1978, the presence of lead paint can be a concern.

“The seller is required to fill out a lead paint addendum to disclose if there is any known lead paint in the home,” Hammer said. “If there are specific concerns, you could have additional testing done.”

Peter Drinkwater, broker at the Realty of Maine in Winter Harbor, said that radon is also prevalent in some parts of Maine, especially older homes built on granite.

“[In the] Blue Hill peninsula, I believe they have more radon in that area down there, but in Schoodic [it’s] not that extensive,” Drinkwater said.

Newer houses aren’t immune to radon, though. Hammer said that some newer homes lack the ventilation and can trap radon gas in the house. For that reason, newer homes are also more susceptible to mold.

“Homes now are made so airtight that you should see if they have an air exchanger in them so it moves the air around so you don’t get mold and it keeps the moisture down,” Drinkwater added.

Who clears the snow?

Homebuyers who have never experienced a Maine winter before may not be prepared for the challenges that come with snow.

“We have roads that do not work in the winter,” Perkins said. “You have to have your own plow truck or join a road association where they have to plow [and] salt the road. These things may not occur to you if you’re coming in from California or Florida or from a more urban area in New England.”

Many municipalities have snow removal protocols already in place, but houses in more remote areas may be on private roads, which are not publicly serviced.

“If you have a private road that isn’t maintained by the town, it’s important to have a means to clear your own driveway,” said Mike Ellis, sales agent at Realty of Maine in Bangor. “There are a lot of people that you can call that will plow your road for a fee. [Sometimes there are] agreements on private roads, [like] Mr. Johnson usually plows.”

This is also important if you are using a first-time homebuyers loan.

“If it is on a private road typically for first time homeowners, they require it to be on a publicly maintained road for loans, or have a written agreement on who will take care of the road,” Ellis said.

How is the house heated and insulated?

Well-maintained heating systems are essential to surviving a Maine winter. An inspector can evaluate if heating systems are up to snuff, but also ask about how often it’s been serviced (a sticker on the side of a furnace may have this information filled in). Back-up heat sources like a generator or a wood-burning fireplace that will function in the event of an outage are a handy bonus.

Ellis also said to make sure the house is well-insulated, which is something a home inspector can address or you can do a little sleuthing and deduce for yourself.

“Look in the disclosure to see how much fuel the home burns per year,” Ellis said. “[That will give] a good idea of if the home is insulated well, is the house drafty, things like that.”

Make sure your house is still well-ventilated, though, especially in the attic.

“If the attic can’t breathe you’ll get mold up there,” Drinkwater said. “The moisture in the house rises up. If it can’t breathe, you’re going to have a problem.”

Does the house have a wet basement?

Wet basements are fairly common in Maine because of the state’s older housing stock and snowy winters that thaw in the spring.

“Older homes are more prone to taking on moisture just because of the nature of the foundation,” Ellis said. “You need to have protocols for water to get drained [and ask] does the basement have an adequate drainage system.”

It is also important to check where the water flows in the yard to avoid excessive flooding.

“Make sure the water is flowing away from the house so you’re not getting water into the basement,” Drinkwater said.

How close is the house to the water?

Waterfront property is desirable and has a high resale value, but it can also come with hidden costs. Property taxes can be higher on the shoreland, and waterfront homes that have on-site septic systems require regular inspection.

“On shoreland within 250 feet of water, the state requires to have your septic inspected,” Drinkwater said. “Those are expenses that a first time homeowner is going to have to expect to do.”

Waterfront properties — whether they are coastal or lakefront — may have specific requirements in order to maintain the natural landscape.

“There are strict regulations about what you can plant and what you can cut down,” Lane said. “[The Maine Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t] want people indiscriminately changing the landscape so that erosion takes place.”

You will also need to check if the house is in a flood zone, even if you are on the shore of a small body of water.

“I had a house [where] there was a little stream that ran in the back of the house [and] that house was in a flood zone [because] that little stream has a chance in 100 years of overflowing,” Drinkwater said. “It’s just not all coastal or around ponds. Have your agent check that for you.”

How can I use the land on the property?

Do you have a fantasy about moving to Maine and having chickens and a garden in your yard? Check zoning laws to make sure that you can.

“Some [towns] won’t allow you to have roosters, some have limits of chickens, depending on where you are,” Perkins said.

Knowing about the land also matters in terms of maintenance it requires. Some properties may also have deed restrictions — for example, public accessways on the land that need to be kept open.

“Perhaps some of the land has woods and can be left alone, where some portions of the land may have fields that need to be mowed once a year,” Hammer said. “Or it could be that a portion will need to be mowed once a week. Is this a maintenance that the homeowner wants to do or perhaps pay for a mowing service?”

Rural towns in Maine that do not have zoning laws come with their own risks.

“A pig farm could open up next to them or maybe a grocery store,” Lane said. “It’s not unusual to find a mobile home next to a $800,000 home, particularly on the coast.”