LEWISTON — Maine real estate sales rose 13.76 percent in June, compared to the same month last year, according to the Maine Real Estate Information System.

Realtors statewide sold 1,133 homes that month, compared to 996 in June 2008, the South Portland trade organization said in a statement released last week. The median sales price dropped by 9.57 percent from $188,000 to $170,000, it said.

In Androscoggin County, both the median sales price and the number of homes sold decreased, with median price dropping from $155,000 in the second quarter of 2008 to $135,000 in the second quarter of 2009. 

Anita Drake, a Realtor at Rainbow Realty who sells homes in Androscoggin County, said her sales have increased but she believes sales in the area are lagging behind other regions in Maine due to the lack of jobs in the area.

“Basically, we need more jobs. We’re a very service-oriented area and the mills are all gone,” she said.

Drake said that interest in an increasing number of repossessed homes is the reason behind higher home sales and lower listing prices. “We have a lot of bank repos. There are a lot of homes on the market.”

Although Drake does not dabble in the repossessed home market because of poor conditions in many of the homes, she believes the competition for low prices on the repossessed properties is fierce. “Oftentimes, we
have four or five people in line.”

Several Realtors also listed the federal $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers this year and the Maine State Housing Authority’s Gift of Green program, which provides up to a $5,000 for first-time homebuyers, as major reasons behind the increase in sales.

“The number of sales are up because of first-time homebuyers,” said Terry Hewitt of Belanger Realty in Poland. 

“A lot of things that are under $200 (thousand) are moving more quickly
than those in the $200-$300 range,” she said, adding that the incentives are helping her sell homes to first-time buyers
in the $140,000 to $180,000 range.

Hewitt said she believes market values for homes have been driven down as a result of increasing foreclosures and short sales in the state. “They’re having to compete,” she said of homeowners who must be aware of low prices banks will put on foreclosed homes.

Sharon Millett, owner of Millett Realty Coldwell Banker in Auburn, believes now is the time to buy a house.

“Prices never stay down; they always come back up,” she said. She added that prices may begin to rise as early as the fourth quarter of this year as forecasters are predicting the recession may be coming to an end. Contrary to the June 2009 housing report, she said Millett Realty has been doing well selling houses of all price ranges.

In Androscoggin County, where the median sales price is much lower than in southern Maine, Millett believes the tax incentives will continue to bring in an exceptional number of first-time homebuyers. “That’s an awful lot of money for Androscoggin County buyers,” she said.

Dan Fortin, a broker and co-owner of Keller Williams Realty, agreed. “Lewiston-Auburn housing is some of the most affordable housing in Maine,” Fortin said, naming an oversupply of houses in the market as the reason.

Fortin believes prices for homes will climb slowly but steadily as lower-priced properties begin to sell. He estimated that 90 percent of Keller Williams’ sales in Androscoggin County over the past year were under $150,000. 

Fortin hopes potential buyers will take advantage of the ideal buyers’ market before interest rates begin to rise and tax credit programs expire. “There’s never been a time that’s so conducive to buying a house.”

Maine is not the only state experiencing a drop in MSP values. The National Association of Realtors reports that the existing home sales price across the country decreased 15 percent from June 2008 to June 2009. 

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