Sales and Prices of Homes Increase Steadily in Washington County

By Lura Jackson

 

The number of houses sold in Washington County has been growing steadily over the past few years – along with the value of the houses sold. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of houses sold per year increased by almost 60 percent, while the average value of the houses sold has gone up more than 20 percent.

According to Due East Real Estate agent Jessie Howard who operates around Calais and Baileyville, the sales of higher-end homes around the area has increased “tremendously” in recent years. “I think people are starting to get more secure in their financial status,” Howard said, referencing how the recession that began in 2008 left a lasting impact on the market. “We had such a big scare. People are still being smart about their investments, but they’re getting a little more comfortable using retirement money or savings. I think they realize that no matter how bad it gets, we’re probably going to come out of it.”

In 2014, Washington County sales data indicated that there were 694 houses sold around the county, representing $65.5 million in total with an average cost per home of $68,000. Each category has increased every year since then. 2017 closed with 1,086 sales representing a total of $124.4 million, with an average home price of $82,000. 2018 has started strong, with 244 confirmed sales and 85 now pending; the average price thus far has been $84,500.

 Howard, who has been a real estate agent since 2012, said the difference has been noticeable. “Before, people liked to generally say [$150,000], now they’re looking into the [$200,000s] and above.” Higher-end homes are receiving steady inquiries and occasional offers. “Four or five years ago, they wouldn’t even have had showings on them let alone anyone interested,” Howard said. Additionally, many of the offers are much closer to the asking price, whereas before offers would typically be lowballed.

The incoming population in the Calais and Baileyville area is partly a mixture of young locals returning home with their families, members of the Border Patrol, Customs, and Coast Guard, and skilled workers coming in to work at the mill. “They enjoy that it’s really quiet here and they can let the kids out to play,” Howard said. “They like the community here.”

Some buyers utilize first-time homebuyer loans, which are designed for households that make less than $60,000. To qualify for such loans, individuals need to have credit scores in the mid-500s or higher, though the specific number depends on the bank. When using first-time homebuyer loans, individuals can opt to participate in the Home Advantage program, which pays up to $3,500 in closing costs. Visit www.mainehousing.org/programs-services/homebuyer to learn about first-time homebuyer loans and current interest rates.

There are advantages to choosing to purchase a home in Washington County. According to SmartAsset, a financial technology company, the median home values of Washington County are the second lowest in the state, next to Aroostook, while the average effective property tax rate – which is a measure of how much tax is paid compared to the value of the home – is 7th highest in the state. With that said, SmartAsset ranks the tax burden of the county – which integrates fuel tax into the assessment – as second lowest in the state overall.

Another consideration for those who live in the area already is the cost of renting a home compared to paying a mortgage. Using data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the US Census Bureau 2016 American Community Survey, SmartAsset ranks Washington County as 5th in the state for its rent vs. buy index. The determination was made using an average monthly rent of $1,022, an average mortgage payment of $699 and an average home price of $180,828. Based on those numbers, the study found it would take 2.2 years to break even after the initial costs of purchasing a home.