Maine’s top vacation areas, including Bethel and Rangeley, are seeing strong demand for second homes, bucking a national trend showing a dramatic drop in purchases.
The real estate website Redfin found more than a 50 percent drop in those wanting to buy second homes across the country compared with pre-pandemic levels, pushed down by higher interest rates.
But that isn’t the case in Maine’s vacation destinations, which are seeing more demand than supply of second homes and continued high prices. The state became a safe haven for out-of-state buyers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for second homes has not abated, real estate agents said, with more Mainers also buying property in childhood vacation spots.
Rangeley, a bucolic western Maine town of 1,200 in Franklin County, saw a “coronavirus boom” along with the 2020 sale of the Saddleback Mountain ski resort to Boston investors who upgraded it. Sales continue at a brisk pace, said Jamie Eastlack, co-owner of Morton & Furbish Real Estate in Rangeley.
“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen more new people come here,” he said. “The pandemic and Saddleback put Rangeley back on the map.”
The pandemic drove sales up sharply starting in summer 2020, when the number of all single-family homes sold in Franklin County rose by 30 percent compared with 2019, much higher than the state average of 20 percent, according to Maine Listings data. The median home price rose 26 percent to $194,000 compared with summer 2019. This February, the median price was $225,000.
About 90 percent of Eastlack’s sales are to second-home owners, who occupy a majority of the town, he said. Most buyers still come from other states, primarily Massachusetts. But since Saddleback was reinvigorated, a lot of buyers from southern Maine are moving closer to ski there. Eastlack said sales near Saddleback far exceed those on the lake.
“We are four hours from Boston and have a ski mountain and deep lakes with great fishing,” he said.
Rangeley and other areas of Maine still have a lot of cash sales. Redfin’s data show that elsewhere in the country, the chief deterrents to second-home purchases are rising mortgage rates and higher loan fees. Some 52 percent fewer buyers locked in mortgage rates for second homes in March compared with pre-pandemic levels in early 2020, while there was a 13 percent decrease for primary home loans, Redfin found. The study did not include cash buyers.
Redfin also cited the rising expense for second homes, including higher loan fees added by the federal government in 2022, as causes. The typical second home across the U.S. was worth $465,000 in 2022 compared with $375,000 for a primary home.
High prices may be driving potential buyers to markets such as Greenville, a town of 1,400 at the lower end of Moosehead Lake in Piscataquis County. The median sales price of a home was $166,000 in February, according to Maine Listings.
As in Rangeley, most properties are second homes owned by snowbirds or vacationers. Agent Mark Taylor of Higgins & Taylor Real Estate is seeing buyers and renters stay longer during winter than in the past for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on Mount Kineo.
He said people who have been vacationing in Greenville since childhood are now buying homes there. The uptick in remote work during the pandemic also has boosted sales.
“We’re seeing a lot of Mainers buy second homes here, many from Portland,” he said. “People from New York and Massachusetts aren’t as dominating as they used to be.”
Winter activities also are a draw in Bethel, a town of 2,500 in Oxford County near the Sunday River ski resort. Cindy Hiebert, owner at Mahoosuc Realty, is seeing very high demand this spring, the majority for second homes. Most buyers are from the Boston area and half are paying with cash.
There are more houses on the market this year, according to agent Sally Harkins of Sally Harkins & Co. in nearby Newry. That means fewer multiple offers, although prices haven’t decreased. And buyers from southern Maine are expanding their searches to Bethel, she said.
“There are more properties to look at now for buyers,” she said.
That’s not the case on Maine’s desirable midcoast, where a scarce amount of second homes sell as fast as they come onto the market, which is rare, according to Bruce Tindal of Tindal & Callahan Real Estate in Boothbay.
“They’re almost non-existent,” he said.
Inventory also is tight in the Lakes Region in southwestern Maine, which includes the towns of Bridgton and Naples. Demand remains high, especially from buyers in Massachusetts and Florida, said Diane Monaco, associate broker at Sunset Lakes Real Estate in Casco. She suspects the drop in sales across the country reflects fewer second homes for sale. But there still are a lot of interested prospective purchasers.
“Buyers are still looking at all the properties that come on the market,” she said.