So Your Maine Home Is Suddenly Worth More Than You Thought!

But if you sell, you’ll be left house-hunting in a seller’s market. So what’s a Maine homeowner to do? We talked to a few who found different ways to take advantage of the current moment.

Illustration by Kelsey Grass
By Jesse Ellison

1. You Could Sell and Find Temporary Quarters Until the Market Cools 

Michael Reed and Allison Thorner, Brunswick

Reed and Thorner put their Topsham home on the market on a whim at the end of last year. They’d heard sales and home prices were up, and they were planning a move anyway — but a few years from now, after Reed retires from his role as vice president for inclusion and diversity at Bowdoin College. 

“Allison said, ‘Let’s just put the house on the market and see what happens,’” Reed says. “I’m like, ‘Nobody is going to buy anything in December — it’s the middle of winter.’”

But within a week of calling a broker, a bidding war had broken out over their four-bedroom home. The offer they accepted came from a family from Long Island, New York, who only saw the place via Zoom and offered $100,000 above what Reed and Thorner paid just three years ago.

“It was insane,” Reed says. “It was like one of those Godfather things: ‘I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.’”

The couple plans to move to Pennsylvania when Reed retires and to live in Bowdoin faculty housing until then, which Reed estimates will save $30,000 to $40,000 a year. Mainers with an affordable place they can rent temporarily or otherwise hole up might similarly cash in, some brokers suggest, then seek a new place when (er . . . if?) Maine’s intense demand eases up.

“I don’t understand it,” Reed says. “I’m not complaining about it, but there are obviously folks who desperately want to live in Maine.”

2. You Could Sell and (Gasp!) Leave Maine Altogether

George Eaton and Hannah Barrows, Kinross, Scotland

The Eatons had long planned to move to George’s native Scotland — it just happened way earlier than they expected. “The way the year was going, between the pandemic and politics, it moved our schedule up by five years, at least,” George says. The couple spent the summer readying the Rockland home they call “the cabbage” — half cabin, half cottage — and they put it on the market the first week of September. Agents were so busy at the time, the Eatons ended up taking photos of the place with an iPhone rather than waiting for the professional photographer their agent was planning to send.

Turns out, it didn’t matter. The listing went live on a Monday afternoon, and by Friday, the Eatons had picked a buyer from multiple offers. The highest was $40,000 over their asking price, but they went with the second highest, mainly because it was cash. In the end, they walked away with $30,000 more than what they’d asked.

For Mainers in a similar position — contemplating a dramatic change of scenery — there may be no time like the present. For now, George and Hannah and their 6-year-old son are staying with George’s parents in a village north of Edinburgh, while the couple looks for new jobs. They’re still in limbo, they say, but have no regrets.

“My son is in my old primary school. Health care is free,” George says. “All these worries just dropped away.” And the money they made on the sale? It’s sitting in the bank. “We’re waiting for Brexit to completely tank the pound,” George jokes.

3. You Could Stay Put and Refinance

Jim Chalfant, Rockport

Chalfant has worked in real estate on the midcoast for nearly two decades, and part of his job is to monitor new properties that pop up daily on the state’s Multiple Listing Service. He has a notification set up to alert him to any new property within a 50-mile radius of Rockport, covering the coast from Southport to Searsport and including the islands. In recent years, he’s been accustomed to seeing 30 to 40 new listings per day. One day last winter, for the first time in his career, there were zero. For many of his clients — and for himself, Chalfant says — selling just isn’t an option, because there’s nowhere to buy.

“Where would I go?” Chalfant asks. “There’s no inventory. And I want to live here. I like it here. I think most of us feel the same way.”

So instead, Chalfant took advantage of the booming market and extremely low interest rates and refinanced his Rockport home. “I was pretty surprised at the appraisal,” he says, “but frankly, had I waited two months, I would have done even better. If the appraiser had done it a few months later, it would have been worth maybe 10 to 15 percent more.”

Does he wish he’d have held out? Not so much. “It’s like people who think they can time the market,” Chalfant says. “If you get lucky, you get lucky.”

Read more from our March 2021 Maine real estate feature.