The Working Waterfront

Coastal real estate prices rise like the sea

Some counties see double-digit percent increases

By Dorathy Martel
Posted 2024-03-11
Last Modified 2024-03-11

Compared to the rest of the Northeast, housing in Maine looks like a bargain. According to the Maine Real Estate Information System, the median sales price for a Maine home in 2023 was $353,000. For the Northeast as a whole, the fourth quarter 2023 median was $698,000, as reported online by Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED). Nationwide, the median was $417,000.

But a Maine home with water frontage or an ocean view is another story. Yes, you can find a two-bedroom house in Beals listed at $169,000, but that’s a rarity on the Maine coast, where you can also buy a 10-bedroom property on Mount Desert Island for $17 million or an eight-bedroom home for $9,775,000.

Most of the coastal counties have seen a rise in median sales prices from 2022/23 to 2023/24.

Coastal counties saw significant increases—a 10.67% rise in Knox County and nearly 32% jump in Waldo County.

The Maine Association of Realtors reported a year-to-year increase of 8.92% statewide; but except for Washington County (down 2.27%), the coastal counties saw significant increases—from a 10.67% rise in Knox County to a nearly 32% jump in Waldo County. Cumberland County, with the highest median price in the coastal counties ($525,000), saw a 16.6% increase.

Even with high selling prices, “There’s a shortage; inventory is low right now,” says Tacy Redlon, a broker with Better Homes & Gardens, The Masiello Group, who primarily covers Hancock County and eastern Penobscot Bay.

“That pandemic era could not sustain itself,” she notes, referring to a spurt of activity that occurred when more people began working remotely and property changed hands in “a feeding frenzy.”

Monet Yarnell, a broker, auctioneer, and waterfront specialist at Sell 207 in Belfast and president of the Midcoast Board of Realtors, agrees that finding saleable properties is a challenge.

“Across the board we have a limited number of properties available,” she says.

Also, what buyers want tends to be very specific, and, says Yarnell, “Homes are so unique… It’s like a fruit basket.”

Proximity to amenities and airports are among the factors buyers consider. Elizabeth Banwell, senior vice president and broker at Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in Portland, notes: “A lot of times people have in their minds that they want to be a certain distance from Portland or Boston.” Yet she also sees activity in places such as St. George, which has had “a little boomlet,” and Eastport, where a house listed for $375,000 received an offer of $699,000.

Redlon sees buyers looking farther Downeast than they intended, seeking more affordable properties than they can find in Camden or Belfast.

The buyers are a mix of in- and out-of-staters. Redlon says many of her buyers are “early retirees” who have “some energy and some ideas,” and that the more expensive properties are generally going to incomers. Yarnell’s clientele skews younger and is a split of people from Maine and from other states. Banwell, too, sees both buyers from out of state and those who were already living in Maine.

Fears about climate change don’t seem to be dissuading buyers, despite widespread reporting on flooding in Maine in late December and early January and concern about the ability to insure property. All three brokers interviewed said they are frank with potential buyers about the reality of living near the water.

“I do think that people will be more aware,” says Redlon. “They’re going to get some wind and they’re going to get some tide rises.”

Yarnell adds that, “Someone might choose to be a little higher as long as they have access to the beach.” People who are attracted to the coast because they have boats tend to do their research, she says.