Karin Carlson-Snider fears her first home might be her forever home.
The 43-year-old film archivist moved to Bangor in 2017 with her husband, who serves in the Air Force. They bought a $120,000 home on Crestmont Road, planning to live there for a few years, build equity and then move on to a larger house to raise a family.
With today’s high interest rates and home prices, they now can’t afford to move and feel stuck raising their children, ages 2 and 5, in a one-bathroom property with no garage.
“I just feel like we had a plan that is now not really doable,” Carlson-Snider said.
She’s one of many Mainers whose dreams of owning “starter homes” are becoming increasingly unlikely, either because they feel locked into more friendly mortgages inked before the COVID-19 pandemic or because they are simply stretching their budgets to buy the kinds of homes that their parents could have easily afforded a generation ago.
Homes are in low supply right now across the board in Maine. Things are especially competitive at the lower end of the spectrum. In southern areas, it is hard to find a home anywhere for less than $300,000. It is even getting harder in cities north of there.
Any property listed at less than that in the Queen City wouldn’t be on the market for more than a couple of weeks, said Renee Hudgens, a Bangor-based realtor with Realty of Maine. First-time buyers are typically an agent’s biggest pool, but they often aren’t able to find anything because second-time buyers like Carlson-Snider cannot move up the ladder.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” Hudgens said.
One of Hudgens’ listings in Bangor is a perfect example of what would qualify as a starter home. The 1,500-square-foot house on 15th Street has three bedrooms and two bathrooms on a small lot with a garage, according to a listing. Last Monday, it was listed at $189,500. Hudgens showed the home a dozen times. By Friday, it was under contract.
That same home was bought for $67,000 in 1994 at roughly half the national average at that time. It now sits at half of Maine’s median home value of $391,000, according to Zillow. That has shot up by 67 percent over the past five years, a period marked by the pandemic.
These housing affordability problems have shown themselves all over the state. The exceedingly low supply of available housing led Zillow to predict that the Augusta-Waterville region will have the 11th-largest price increases over the next year. Some state employees spoke to the struggle of finding and financing an affordable first home.
Despite a position as a director with the Maine Department of Labor, Victor T., who wanted to be identified only by his first name and last initial because of family privacy reasons, only saved enough for a down payment on a home by living in father’s basement for seven years.
He considers himself a success story. The 33-year-old went slightly above budget and purchased a 1,400-square-foot property in Oakland for $295,000 last year. Victor doesn’t think of his place as a starter home because even with a longer commute and a lack of storage space he now hopes to live there for as long as he possibly can.
“Given how tough it’s been to get one home, I can’t even fathom getting another home,” he said.
His salary is higher than many of his colleagues in state government. Another state employee in Augusta, Desi-Rae Severson, 49, said that many of her colleagues work two jobs to get by. She has worked for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention for 28 years.
A few years ago, she had an offer accepted on a house she would rent to own in Augusta, but it failed inspection and she couldn’t hope to afford the required repairs. The deal fell through. Severson couch-surfed until she saved enough to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Winthrop. To help make the payments, Severson washes dishes every weekend at a local restaurant.
“I work every single day except holidays, and it’s still not enough,” Severson said.
Severson is pre-qualified for a home at $165,000 but can’t find anything under $200,000 in the Gardiner area, where her daughter goes to school. In a couple years, once her daughter graduates, she will have to look at places further north.
For reasons like these and many others, Mainers are grabbing what they can get in this market and working away at improving their homes. That is hard as well.
Carlson-Snider said she had a contractor replace their roof recently and hoped to hire someone to add a second bathroom to her home. She hasn’t found anyone to do it amid a labor shortage.
“Honestly, even just trying to get a quote was impossible,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the age of one of Karin Carlson-Snider’s children.